My observation is that, whether in traditional church settings or more organic ones, this dynamic is often sorely missing. We do activities together: meetings, services, bible studies, house church gatherings. But too often we are not developing the kind of rich community of friends described by John Eldredge:
We hear each other's stories. We discover each other's glories. We learn to walk with God together. We pray for each other's healing. We cover each other's back. This small core fellowship is the essential ingredient for the Christian life.
Like healthy marriages and families, this type of community life requires commitment, perseverance, a deep willingness to be vulnerable with each other, and the fortitude to deal honestly with conflicts and messiness that are the inevitable part of deeper relationships.
The truth is, we often opt for the easier route of more superficial connections. Or we simply move from one fellowship sphere to the next particularly if we experience anything uncomfortable. The result is the ekklesia-church then lacks the deep one-another bonds that root us in Jesus and provide a solid foundation for spiritual life, strength, and fruitfulness.
One of my joys, over the past ten years, has been to work at investing in spiritual friends that have nothing to do with external ‘church associations.’ These are simply and purely spiritual friends—undoubtedly life-time friends.
The result of this investment was never more clear than when our adult-son passed away two years ago—obviously one of the most painful times of my life.
I want to repeat what I wrote two years ago in the midst of this tragedy:
I do want to say… that our life during this difficult season has been richly supported by the kind of authentic, caring, compassionate friends (both local, cyber, and around the world) that one hopes to see in all of our Christian communities. It certainly speaks loudly to me of the significance of building our spiritual families with the intentional, relational building blocks of true love and care for one another. I have deep gratitude toward all of you: my family of brothers and sisters.
Two years later, I cannot express how profoundly strengthened and supported my wife and I continue to be by such spiritual family/friends.
I am simply reminding myself today that, first of all, I am most grateful for the spiritual friends I do have and, secondly, I hope to press into developing such friendships in greater measure, depth and commitment. May God grant us grace for this!