Our Triune God Loves His People to Work in Community Just as He Does.

The Story
On Sunday morning, the tinkling of teaspoons in teacups was the signal for me to slip out of bed and join the fun in my parents’ bedroom. Settled between them with a cup of tea and some Maria biscuits in my saucer, I joined them to sip, dip and nibble. After fifteen minutes of joy, my Mom would leave us to make breakfast, and the story would begin.

The stories usually were about a young man going out into the world to “seek his fortune.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but as he walked along the road, he would meet someone who had a special ability. One could swing his sword so fast he could use it as an umbrella during a rainstorm. The two would decide to seek their fortune together. Soon they would meet others with different special talents, and they would join the group.

Eventually, they would meet a problem, a princess held by a giant, for instance, and the young man and his group would devise a plan to defeat the giant and rescue the princess, each member using his unique skill. The result was often measured in bags of gold for each of them.

The Impression
Each story my dad told was different, but each had that same theme, and they made a profound impression on me. I make up similar stories to tell my children and grandchildren. When my wife and I went to Brazil as linguists, teachers, and Bible translators, I saw myself as the young man going out to gather a group of people with compensating talents to work together to “seek our fortune.” Wycliffe was a good fit for us since the agency values people with a wide variety of skills, but all of whom see themselves as a vital part of every translation team.

Working Together: It's the Right Thing to Do

Working Together: It’s the Right Thing to Do

The Result
As Jo and I lived with the Canela people, God led us to connect with men and women who had a natural gifting in various areas. We helped them develop these talents. One young man became very skilled at extracting rotten teeth. Others loved teaching people to read. An artist illustrated the translated Scriptures with sketches of Canela life. Several learned to type, and one had the knack of making sentences flow smoothly. At times, a dozen people worked together on various aspects of the translation work.

This way of working together interdependently fitted right in with the Canela culture. Together we accomplished things so massive, difficult and complicated, no single one of us could have achieved them as an individual.

The Contrast
Unfortunately, our North American culture glorifies independence. Our hero is the lone pioneer, conquering the wild west, building a log house for his family with his own hands, and clearing the land with his own axe.

Businesses, and even churches, in North America, spend much time and money teaching people to work together as a team. It doesn’t come naturally to us. We have a cultural bias against the concept. Only in sports like hockey or football do we value the team.

The Trinity
In that respect, Canela culture is far more godly than North American culture. Here’s why. God said, “Let Us make man in Our own likeness.” God is a community of three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They made human beings in Their likeness, to be people with the same need to live and work together in community as They had.

This kind of working community is a far cry from the military and industrial model of exploiting the labour of individuals to accomplish objectives set by generals or executives. The strength of the interdependent community lies in its people, not in its bosses. The more people grow in a deep appreciation for the variety of contributions from others in the community, the more productive the community becomes.

The Questions
So, is yours a godly (god-like) family? That is, does your family work together, as the Holy Trinity does?

What about your church? Are all the members engaged in ministry, each contributing to the whole with their own talents and abilities?

Six Things a Man Must Do to Get What Every Man Needs, But Few Get

“I was appointed as my denomination’s pastoral counselor,” the clergy conference speaker said. “My job is to counsel pastors. The job is demanding, filling my schedule several weeks ahead. I have been doing this for over three years and I have yet to counsel a single pastor of my own denomination. They are all from other denominations.”

I looked at the pastors around me. No surprised looks. A few wry grins. Most quietly nodded their heads in silent understanding. The speaker went on to review what his audience already knew: no pastor dares to bare his soul with a representative from his denomination for fear it gets back to the administration.

Lack of Trust

Several pastors commented on my column What Every Man Needs, But Few Get, saying they have made good deep-level friendships with other pastors, though not from their denomination. That’s why some pastors form good friendships with retired non-denominational missionaries.

Lack of trust blocks men from making deep friendships. One non-Wycliffe correspondent put it well, “The competition for promotion, for power, for funding, all work against men forming deep relationships. These traits and behaviors were part of my team experience in every assignment. I found it very unwise to ever let my hair down, to express my deeper thoughts and emotions, because the superficial things I did share I found used against me. I learned to keep quiet.”

He concluded, “Perfect love has yet to be realized in the local church (1 John 4:18), so the fear of what we share with another being used against us remains. Vulnerability is thus sacrificed on the altar of self-preservation, and loneliness becomes our way of life.”

Three Relationship Circles

Every man has three concentric circles of relationships. The large Fellowship circle is made up of the dozens of men he knows. The much smaller Friends circle is comprised of people he knows well, his colleagues, his neighbours, etc. Then there is a very small Freedom circle in which are the trusted men from whom he does not need to hide anything. For most men the Freedom circle is empty.

One friend commented on my admission “I cried my heart out with longing” when I heard about the deep friendships of the Billy Graham team at the Amsterdam conference. He and I were both at that conference and often talked with each other. He wrote, “Jack, the sad irony of your story is that I . . . had no idea of what was going on in your heart. I wonder how often this happens with men?” True, I hurt terribly inside, but didn’t share it with this brother. Loneliness had become my way of life.

Pastors making special friendships with men in their congregation run the risk of being accused of favoritism. Nor can he discuss pastoral issues with a member of the congregation. Missionaries too struggle with conflict of interest issues. They are life-long fundraisers for their ministries, their projects and, in the case of “faith missionaries”, their salaries. I have felt it myself. As I tried to develop a deep level friendship on furlough, I also had the thought, “I wonder if he might like to support us financially?” Maybe the potential friend was thinking something similar, “I wonder if Jack is developing this friendship with the hope of getting me to support him?”

Several leaders wrote to say they felt isolated in their leadership position. Yes! I was the CEO of Wycliffe Canada for six years and of Wycliffe Caribbean for three years. Leadership is a lonely calling. Even my wife, Jo, disliked the role of CEO’s wife. Although she oozes friendliness and is the soul of discretion, she felt that her friends were not as close as they had been before.

(By the way, although my focus is on men, from the growing number of emails from women I gather they too find it hard to develop Freedom circle friendships.) So what’s a man to do?

Friends Out for a Walk

Six Things We Men Must Do

  1. Recognize that God created us and other human beings to be relational. God is relational: He is a Community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God made us “in His image” which includes the need for relating to others on an intimate level.
  2. We need to be absolutely convinced that having an intimate, deep-level Freedom circle friendship with another man is God’s will for us.
  3. Knowing that God wants us to have a close, deep level friend, we set developing one as a top priority in our life, asking for God’s help daily.
  4. We must always stay within our gender. Men develop friendships with men, women with women.
  5. To avoid conflicts of interests, or competition, we may need to make intimate friends with someone outside of our workplace or workgroup. Pastors may need to go outside the church, and leaders outside their organization to find and develop a mutually satisfying friendship.
  6. We must continue the relationship even while we are apart by using the phone, email, Skype, or other technology to keep in touch. This may not grow the friendship, but at least will maintain it.

Those of you who already have trusted Freedom circle friends with whom you are mutually accountable tell me, “It’s worth the time and effort. Just do it!” Please pray for the rest of us so we will persevere in asking, seeking and knocking, trusting that we will receive, find, and see an open door. Luke 11:9.