Saturday, June 18, 2011


Charles Colton said..."True friendship is like good health; the value of it is seldom known until it is lost."  I love pithy sayings...especially when they are true. This one is.

I've thought a lot about friendships through the years. This is partly because as a pastor I was always finding people [sometimes it seemed like most of them] in the churches I pastored who wanted to be my best friend. How in the world can anyone be a best friend to everyone? In fact, can a pastor have a best friend in a congregation? Or even a real friend? These are not questions with easy answers as I found out in my own journey as a pastor.

I've come to see, in my simple way of thinking, that there may be several levels to friendships. People can be found on every level but all people WILL NEVER be found on any one level in my opinion. I want to name and describe those levels as I see them. Some are just fun and light while some are serious. All are just my simple way of thinking about the subject with no research involved. 

There is the Face Book/blog level. This is where you communicate with someone you have perhaps never met but have befriended on FB or a blog. You enjoy their comments and even occasionally you enjoy writing on their Wall or blog as you follow their journey of life in writing. It's fun, informative, safe [generally] and you really do get to know a lot about some people and can count them as friends to a small degree. 

I've also found that when an occasion presents itself where you meet them personally there can be an instant bond. Rex Ray and Rodney Sprayberry are two of my now personal friendships that came about in this fashion. Some people discount this level as totally unimportant, but, for me, it has been a good experience.

There is also a personal acquaintance level. This is made up of people you've met before and maybe even recognize their face when you see them again, but are unsure where you met them or how you know them or even what their name might be. You usually ask your wife, as I have on many occasions when I walk away, "Who are they?" Unfortunately, many people I pastored in forty years of pastoring fall into this category. But... they don't know it...and I don't want to tell them either. I'm too chicken to do that.

Then there IS the real friendship level. This is where you know them, relate to them, hear from them, see them occasionally, and are, generally, glad to be with them when those occasions do happen. 

I say "generally" because there are exceptions. Not everyone on this level is the kind of person you completely enjoy as a friend. There are a couple of types that find their way to this level and one of those types can give you some problems. But the other is a delight. 

The delightful one first. They see themselves on a level ground with you and require little maintenance. They are enjoyable, interesting, a fun person to be around and you smile big when you see them and love to catch up. This type you really view as a friend. You're there if they need you and they are there for you on occasion as well. A lot of the people in any congregation can be found here.

The other person on this level is a different story. They are high maintenance. They are always needy and looking for something that will fix their particular situation whatever that may be. It seems to always be a broken situation. They "pick your brain," so to speak, about what you think they should do about life, kids, job, health, ministry, whatever that broken situation is at the time. 

This is not the kind of friend that you talk to about YOUR struggles as that would only add to their list of broken things and they would feel abandoned by the loss of your help. [We weren't really talking about your problems!!]  So there is, of course,  little or no regard for your struggles. There can't be. Their list is long enough already.

This person drains you quickly. You don't mind helping WHEN you can because of a desire to help WHERE you can, but, you have to guard against an unhealthy dependency that can occur and sometimes can even masquerade as Christian ministry because it makes you feel good to be someone's source for the answers to life. 

But, since there is no reciprocity, you will always be the one giving to the relationship and never being replenished by it. Thus, creating an unhealthy and unwise relationship. When you are totally honest you have to admit this person wears you out and is not one you relish being around for any extended length of time if you don't play that masquerade Christianity game.  Unfortunately, I've found that many church members can be found in this category particularly where a Pastor is concerned.

My final category is made up of people who are friends in the truest sense of the word. They are on the life long friendship level. This is the person who is on an equal basis with you and there is total reciprocity in the relationship. 

Here is what that reciprocity looks like. You love them and they love you. You're there for them when they need you, and they for you when needed. When they fail, you don't abandon them, nor they you. You know their weaknesses and strengths and cherish both because it's who they are in their journey and you're with them in it all, and they with you. 

When you are not together for some time, but then you see them, it is as though no time has gone by and there is no distance to make up in the relationship because no gap has arisen. There are no expectations about writing, calling, or a list kept of who communicated last and waiting until it's your turn. 

If you want to talk you call. If you don't call they may. But no record is kept of who has or hasn't called or written. No feelings are hurt because you didn't acknowledge them in some way or think about some situation the same way as they do. You're friends and you love each other and love doesn't keep records.  

You find yourself experiencing, when with them, being happy, angry, laughing, crying, agreeing, disagreeing, and a ton of other authentic emotions all with the relationship intact. In them you really have found someone who sticks "closer than a brother." They are your life long friend and will be until the day you or they die. [There may even be family members who are on this level.] 

You know...while writing this I realized why my wife is my best friend and I also realized that there are a few others I count can as being life long friends.They are, indeed,  a treasure.

"True friendship is like good health; the value of it is seldom known until it is lost" My wish for you is that your true friendships will prosper as does your health. Mine are and I'm thankful for His grace that allows it to be so. 

Paul B. 


Aussie John said...


My blogging friend, this article has to be unique!It's realistic too!

It certainly gels with my own experience, with my wife being my best earthly friend.

On a less happy note, I would add another category I experienced when very young, particularly in the denominational churches I sought to serve in: the "interrogator friend",the self appointed official of the imaginary denominational ecclesiastical court, who whilst appearing super friendly,sought knowledge of something to gripe about.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I'm afraid I've experienced my share of "interrogator friends" also. They always found what they were seeking for didn't they!! Sad.

M.J. Austin said...

Happy Father's Day! Hope you have a relaxing yet fun filled day! Love ya!

Paul Burleson said...


Thank you. I miss your voice on FB. But I'm glad to see your comment here. I love you too.

Christiane said...


I just read the wonderful Father's Day tribute that Wade wrote over on his blog site . . . he is so proud of you.

I hope you have a wonderful day and hopefully can spend it with many in your family.

God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rodney! I thought it was awful nice of Paul to mention us as blogging friends of his. Wonder if he ever feels like a father trying to keep us from behaving like two brothers fussing for their parents attention or tattling – 'make him stop touching me'?

For five years our relationship was discussing/arguing over letters I'd written the Baptist Standard when I lived in Grand Prairie.
When it changed to pastor/deacon I told you I'd heard a good sermon that members were 'married' to their pastor, and in our case it would be like some marriages – each trying to change the other.

I've said that I wear the pants in the family but my wife tells me which ones to wear.

In practice with you and me, I tattle on the blog, and you tattle to the deacons and ?? (Last night as Belle and I were eating out, a 'stranger' seemed to know me quite well. Said his church had grown to 45 members and asked: “How are you and Rodney getting along?”)

The latest was a letter I'd written Rodney complaining that the June 5 church bulletin was like a non-citizen could not vote but could be a member of congress because the bulletin read: “If you are interest in serving on one of our church teams, as a leader or member, please let the church office know. You do not need to be a member of NZ to serve!”

We all agree the church wears the 'pants', but who tells which ones to wear – teams, deacons, or church office?

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Paul, insightful words...

In a postmodern world were we are more interconnected than every before without regard to past obstacles (distance, religion, language, etc) yet in some ways still "far apart." It is fascinating to explore the various levels and opportunities for relationships that are available today.

It seems to me that technology and modern developments can be wonderful things.

Facebook, smart phones, and the internet can be a help or a hindrance depending on the application of healthy relational tools.

But then again so can typical interactions found in friendships, marriages, or churches

The human heart longs to connect with "another". Even though such desire can be marred by self-protection, self-promotion, self-centereness the hunger is meaningful and legitimate.

I thank God that Grace received leads to Grace extended in fulfilling such longings.

Just a few relationships where this is a reality make life tolerable in the bad times and almost unbearable(in a joyous way) the good.


I see that you have your computer back!Good for you. If your email is working I sent you a long overdue response to your questions earlier today.

Paul Burleson said...

Christiane, Rex, Rodney,

I've been away from the comment section a couple of days. Thanks for stopping by.


The pride goes both ways. Thanks.

gbray1 said...

Hmmmm. I thought I had a pretty good handle on friendship but as I hit mid-life I'm not so sure I understand it very well anymore.

I've never really liked the term "best" friend because friends are like apples and oranges ... how can I compare one to another? But I do have some that are "closer" than others.

Of course, my wife certainly qualifies as my best friend ... just don't like it in reference to others.

We live in a disposable society. Something breaks and we throw it away. I'm sad that it seems we often do this with relationships ... when they hit snags we just throw them away instead of working through conflict.

I may have some more time to figure this out ... You may only know that someone is a life-time friend when you reach the end. Then you see they've been your friend for life.

Paul Burleson said...

gbray 1,

I would say your final sentence is in the spirit of the point of the Charles Colton quote. I certainly agree with it. The phrase "There may be a few others I can count on as being..." may be speaking of hope rather than knowledge.