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lynne baab – preaching about friendship

Alert!  Blatant, unashamed (but brief) self-promotion coming…

My book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, was recently released and is available in bookstores and from online book sellers. It focuses on friendship as a Christian spiritual practice in this Facebook age, and I hope and pray it will help people grow in showing love to their current friends and potential friends.

When I did the research for the book, I paid careful attention to magazine articles, blogs posts, sermons and adult education opportunities that focused on relationships. What do they say about friendship?

Very little.

Evidently when Christians think about relationships, they focus mostly on dating, marriage and family. Yet for most people, friendships are a significant place for learning how to reach out, listen, care, and forgive. In recent years, Facebook, Twitter and texting have gotten a lot of attention, but the focus has been either on expressing reservations about new communication technologies or on defending them. Very little nuanced thinking is being done about friendship and the many ways our friendships – even friendships that involve electronic communication – help us learn Christ-like love.

I want to advocate friendship as a relevant and timely topic for sermons. How might someone committed to expositional preaching go about focusing on friendship?

Several friendships can be observed on the pages of the Bible, such as Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, Jeremiah and Baruch, Mary and Elizabeth, and Paul and Barnabas. Each of these relationships can teach us some lovely lessons about friendship. But their usefulness as models for friendship is unfortunately limited. Each of the biblical writers who told these stories was focused on something other than friendship as the main emphasis of the stories. First and foremost, the writers were trying to convey the acts of God in human history. Therefore their descriptions of the friendships between individuals were a secondary emphasis, and the friendship details are frustratingly limited.

In somewhat the same way, the admonitions about life in the body of Christ so common throughout the epistles focus on building up the fledgling Christian communities of the first century. They don’t address friendship in and of itself.

Despite these limitations, I believe preachers could engage with issues about friendship far more often in sermons. One option is to use stories about friendships more often to illustrate sermon themes.

Many sermon illustrations centre on marriage and family life. This makes sense, because preachers often have partners and children. However, many people sitting in the pews are divorced, widowed or never married. Many parents have children who are far away. Their primary relationships on a daily basis are with friends, neighbors or work/volunteering colleagues. Even people who live with a partner and children will engage in countless interactions with friends and colleagues over the course of a week. Therefore, it makes sense to use illustrations that focus on friendships as well as illustrations that focus on family life.

I long for illustrations in sermons that focus on the real, everyday challenges of friendship. What does it look like to support a friend who is many miles away or who seems to work 24/7? What does it look like to confront a friend about something we’re concerned about or to work to forgive a friend for an act that felt like a betrayal? In what ways can the new communication technologies be used to show love and support for friends? On a daily basis, what are the ways our friendships help us grow into the image of Jesus? Many passages in the Bible raise issues that relate to these questions.

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Lynne M. Baab is lecturer in pastoral theology at the University of Otago. She is a Presbyterian minister and the author of numerous books, including Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, Reaching Out in a Networked World, Sabbath Keeping and Fasting. Many of her articles and information about her books can be found on her website: www.lynnebaab.com.

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Allen Hince says:

    I have noticed as I’ve become well and truly middle-aged, male companionship has become something that I’ve valued. As a younger man I didn’t really care but now… well, I do… It seems for me function I need to spend time with a genuine friend (somebody to whom I’m not their pastor!). On the face of it not much is accomplished but that’s the point isn’t it? Just being… makes us more human somehow.
    On sermon illustrations, If you want to hear different illustrations perhaps you can come to our church as we have a wide variety of illustrations; pajamas, buying rice at a supermarket and even how to seduce a woman. This reflects the hectic life of the preacher you see, all fairly exciting and not very predictable – and yes, our illustrations do reflect the people rather than just the preacher.

  2. Scott Mackay says:

    Proverbs has heaps about friendship. I heard a sermon on friendship from Proverbs earlier this year.

  3. Sean says:

    Stephen Fowl’s commentary on Philippians has a wonderful theological reflection on *friendship* building on the themes of Philippians, which many believe to conform to the genre of a *friendship* letter in the Graeco-Roman world. Friendship was one of the most discussed topics of the ancient world, and I’m glad to see another contribution to this conversation from a contemporary perspective.

  4. Lynne Baab says:

    Allen, I love what you said about friendship as a place just to be, which makes us more human. Lovely. Scott and Sean, thanks for the suggestions of Proverbs and Philippians. Very helpful.

  5. Mark Maffey says:

    One of the best relationship books is Brian Hathaway’s “Living Below With The Saints We Know”. Well worth a read, one of his primary theses is the “love one another” commands and teaching seen peppered throughout the New Testament, especially in John’s writings. John 13v34 should be our litmus test for all our relationships “By this shall all men know you are my disciples, by your love one for another”

    I agree there are many friendships displayed through the Old Testament, I think we see grittiness and realness in relationships between Paul and his colleagues, Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Timothy, Peter and Paul etc. Preaching in this area cannot romanticise that we are all to be lovey-dovey and everything is perfect, rather we need to teach in a way that deals with the ups and downs of life in community. The Feeding of the Widows in Acts, the need to appoint deacons etc.. I recommend get a copy of Living Below With The Saints We Know, it will give food for thought for many sermons

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