Since I’ve been following Christ, God has put wonderful women in my life to follow the example of, be encouraged by, and lay my life down for. And through my years of ministry, I’ve experienced and seen the struggles that can come when linking arms with other women in your respective ministries. Now, I’m not talking about being friends in general, doing fun stuff together, or having the same interests. I’m talking about nothing less than those things, but a friendship built on a foundation of linking arms with other women in obedience to the Great Commission—relationships where you can be known and laugh together, but most importantly push each other to know Christ and make Him known . There are a variety of challenges that keep many friendships in the shallow end of the pool, but Christ calls us to deep, meaningful friendships that embrace the pursuit of holiness and God’s kingdom above our personal comfort.
I’m not sure what the silver bullet answer to this struggle is, but I think it’s a combination of things. We as women can often get in our own way when it comes to befriending other women for the sake of God’s purposes. Pride, comparison, control issues, clashing personalities or backgrounds—to name a few complications—can all get in the way of authentic, mission-focused friendship. One of the great realities for Christians to understand is that we are all broken and in need of a Savior, which gives us a common humility to build a friendship without measuring ourselves against each other.
The truth is that we are more effective for God’s kingdom when we link arms and march together. But Satan knows that, and he will do anything to put a drift between us.
We need to reflect and ask, “Are my primary friendships operating at the surface level of common interest or as co-laborers with common purpose?”
I had a small group of women in college who were, and still are, some of the biggest gifts to my Christian walk. Now, I want to preface that these friendships were anything but perfect. We had baggage, conflict, different personalities, and a lot of seasons of difficulty (often with each other!). But the one thing that we had in common was that we wanted to be kingdom-shakers. We wanted to love Christ more than anything else and endure in our walk with Him.
I want to encourage you to find relationships like this because the fruit that can be produced is unimaginable! I would hate for you to miss out on the beautiful gift that God has provided in co-laboring friendships! Here are three reasons to pursue mutual gospel-centered friendships.
TO BE SHARPENED
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
A true friend will strengthen your faith in Christ. They will do this by preaching the Gospel to you when you’re struggling to believe it. They’ll speak hard truth to you by calling out your blind spots or sin. They will sanctify you by their different giftings. They will do these things so you can love Jesus more deeply and love others who need Him.
My friends gently spoke the Gospel to me whenever I was discouraged, they held me accountable to the Bible’s standards, lifted me up with kind words, had fun with me, spoke hard truth to me (often when I didn’t want to hear it), and loved me at my worst. Because of their Jesus-like love for me I was blessed to experience the Gospel in each of them.
A major factor in these friendships was that they sharpened me to consider others’ interests above my own. At each ministry gathering, we would look across a room at each other and nod—knowing that we were there to be on mission for other people who needed our encouragement and love. That required security in our friendships, which could only come through believing the Gospel and believing the best about each other. When push came to shove, we were cheering each other on—to love people for the sake of the Gospel.
Kelly Needham said this in a recent blog post: “We usually assume everyone in the room is more secure than us, less lonely than us, and has more friends than us. And so we wonder, ‘Who will say hi to me? Who will welcome me? Who will be my friend?’ But if you are a follower of Jesus, this is not the way to think. You are called to consider others needs as superior to your own. We should walk into communal spaces asking, ‘Who can I say hi to? Who can I welcome? Who can I befriend?’ And isn’t this attitude so much more joyful? It’s truly more blessed to give friendship than to receive it. To come into social settings with something to give rather than coming hoping to get. But how is this possible? How can we do this? Because Jesus is our living water and has already met our needs in abundance. It’s our friendship with Jesus that powers an others-centered approach to social settings.” We sharpened each other to look outward to give, rather than inward to receive.
TO BEAR THE WEIGHT OF MINISTRY TOGETHER
“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
All too often it’s tempting to fly solo and be out on mission on our own, but that is a lot to handle, and honestly, it’s exhausting! People are messy and we need other friends who can share in the burden of messy situations with us. I asked a friend what her take on discipling women together was and she said “Linking arms allows us to support each other’s discipleship relationships, and it allows your disciples to have a more well-rounded spiritual upbringing, rather than them solely meeting up with you. It’s a safeguard for healthy discipleship that is less likely to lead to codependency or idolization. You aren’t alone to handle it by yourself.”
In gospel-centered friendships you get to share the weight of ministry together—in the sweet moments to rejoice with one another in ministry success or to comfort one another in ministry hardship. You will have a team to lift each other up in prayer and preach the Gospel to one another.
We walked through many years of ministry together where we were faced with adversity and trials. We saw a lot of people that we were trying to love and disciple walk away from Christ and follow their sinful desires. But through thick and thin, these women were like strong pillars to me and encouraged me to keep going because God had promised that he was with me.
TO BE KNOWN
“We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8
It took time (I mean a lot of time) to cultivate my friendships and get to a place where we felt comfortable with one another. Some of these friendships started off where I was just a young believer, and over time, we became peers.
To get to that point—to be known—we had to let each other into the deep and messy parts of our souls. Vulnerability and humility are key here, and they are not learned over night. Often, we learn how to be vulnerable and humble through friendship. And to do this well we need to call to mind how undeserving of God’s grace we are, and how Christ leans into us and loves us despite our weaknesses and sin.
Friendship is a sweet picture of the Gospel, and as Tim Keller says, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
To be known comes at a great cost. Are you willing? Willing to be vulnerable? Have hard and uncomfortable conversations? Be exposed? Come alongside women in their darkest and brightest seasons?
You will be far from disappointed if you partner with the other women in your ministry. It is such a gift to be known and loved despite your shortcomings! If you don’t know where your friendships stand and you want to make disciples together, sit down with someone and invite them in. Look for someone who is intent on growing. Ask, “Will you come alongside me to pursue Jesus, challenge me to grow, and make disciples together?” That’s a question that is costly because friendship is not always easy, but it’s a question that you will not regret asking. Imagine the future women who will come to know Christ and follow your example because you were willing to get uncomfortable with one another for the sake of the Gospel.