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When my husband and I were drawn into full-time ministry, I didn’t consider the impact our vocation would have on my friendships. Yet, soon enough I found myself admitting to a friend how lonely it felt at times, and how very small my circle of close friends had become. I won’t forget how she stopped, surprised and said, “but it seems like you have all kinds of friends.” And that’s when I realized the situation. Yes, I had many acquaintances, scores of them actually from all around the world. We had many who supported the ministry to which God had called us, read our newsletters, and prayed for us. We also had a number of people who knew of us and about the ministry.
Yet, acquaintances and supporters and people who recognize your name aren’t automatically friends.
Maybe you know someone who is a missionary or in full-time ministry, someone who seems to “have all kinds of friends?” If God has you in or nudges you towards that vital role of friend to one such individual, please know you are a rich blessing and a tangible expression of God’s love for her. Here are five ways to bless your friend and build a meaningful friendship:
Your friend doesn’t want to be held in such high regard. What may seem like honoring or esteeming her can actually just feel like distance. Pastors, missionaries, full-time ministry workers and such are all simply humans living out the calling God has on their lives, just as you are surrendering to the calling He has on your life; they shouldn’t be put on a pedestal. Further, the higher you put your friend on that pedestal, the more devastating it will be for your relationship when you discover eventually that she has flaws and issues like every Christian.
Don’t share details of conversations or situations your friend has shared with you. Those in ministry need a guarded space to struggle, doubt, and question within the context of Christian community, yet for some it is too great a risk to take. Can you give that kind of grace and space to your friend? Certainly, friends who value genuine friendship over being “in the know” are rare gems. A leaked statement or two “just so others know how to pray” can be harmful, even devastating. Thus, it’s imperative for your friend to be able to talk openly with you and to know you will not repeat any of it. Sadly, once confidence has been broken in any friendship, the temptation is to pull away and isolate oneself from fellowship and authenticity. Guard your friend from that. Don’t break confidentiality. Encourage transparency and openness in your friendship with your trustworthiness.
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Wrap your friendship in the warmth of acceptance, in which she can find comfort. As a missionary, I can say it’s been frightening to realize how much pressure (some perceived, some actual) is felt by many missionaries to meet tangible goals and appear successful. Further, it can be incredibly hard to know how much can be or even should be shared publically. Thus, often it’s only the surface-level good news and happy pictures that gets shared. On a large scale, this may be necessary, easier, and safer than openly delving into every struggle of ministry life or every detail of people involved. Yet, on a personal level, let your friend take off what often feels like a mask. Ministry isn’t all roses with amazing stories of transformation – can you deal with that? Can you step into defeat and failure and unknowns with her? Can your faith handle the fact that sometimes God is silent and good intentions gets messy? If so, you’ll be a wonderful friend whose strength and patience will be invaluable.
It takes true sensitivity to move past the actual ministry or mission and seek to bless your friend in quietness, where no one will see. Many people want to support the frontline work, the visible needs and picture-worthy projects. Yet, rarely do people consider the administrative background work that is required in ministry or the toll it all takes on family life and marriage. But friends do. Be the kind of friend who remembers to pray during her busy weeks, or takes over a meal, or cares for a kid to two to help out. Remember, she’s just as human as you are. She’s not superwoman (remember point #1); she’s leaning hard on the grace of God and the community of friends and family He’s provided.
If you have a friend in full-time ministry, you probably understand that there is nothing “full-time” about it; it’s an all the time and around the clock type of calling. Yet, it’s good and healthy to have hobbies, likes and dislikes, quirks, stories, and experiences outside of ministry. Encourage your friend in those ways. Don’t feel the need to talk about ministry all the time with her. Every conversation doesn’t need to be forced into spiritual topics. Help her to have fun downtime and to decompress every once in a while. Make your friendship a breath of fresh air for her, where she can step away from ministry demands, if necessary, and regain some balance.
In conclusion, there is a deep and wide and special place for dear friends like you in the life of a person in ministry. May you be a source of strength that keeps her feet plodding on and encouragement that helps her get back up and out there again and again. Dear Friend, your love and care matter greatly to her and ultimately to the kingdom of God – so, thank you.
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Anne Dahlhauser blogs at Front Porch, Inspired about surrendering everyday living for sacred purposes. She and her husband, Jay, are founders of a ministry called The Bridge, focusing on missional living, training, and intercultural relationships. She holds an MA in Teaching Languages (English and Spanish) and is a lover of words and the Word, culture and communication. Jay and Anne have four young kids, a front door that can’t stay closed, and an abundance of messy, holy chaos at their neighborhood center/home in Iowa – of all places.