Richard Lamb is the author of The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends. He is a long-time InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff member and has served at Stanford, U. C. Santa Cruz, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College and Brandeis. Lamb now supervises their ministry in the western United States
One of the things that you establish in this book is that you were not a natural people person. Doing something in the company of friends was really more of a learned behavior than a natural behavior for you.
In fact, I was trained as a scientist in college. I would have to say somebody else might have called me a nerd back then. I became involved in a Christian fellowship in college and that became a very vital shaping experience.
I would come to the InterVarsity Fellowship meetings on my own and leave on my own, and I was both committed but also detached.
I want to get to the very thesis that you're establishing. How would you describe the basic point of this book?
Well, these two things are attractive to us: the pursuit of God and the company of friends. They're not alone. These things have an interplay with one another. The one reinforces the other and vice versa. I think if you were to query people about what the pursuit of God involves, you might come up with fairly individualistic answers like deepening in prayer, growing in my relationship with God, spending more time reading the scriptures.
On the one hand, community is a very attractive notion. Friendship is a very attractive notion. But I think even in churches we can often find that we don't have language to talk about things that are closest to our hearts in our relationship with God. And so I'm trying to connect those two very attractive concepts together in a single process that I think is the process Jesus used with his disciples.
Community is a buzz word. Everybody is talking about community. What essentially are people missing when they talk about community in the Christian community today?
I'm not sure if there's one thing. But part of the answer involves understanding what I think are three essential and kind of irreducible components of community. Community involves a move outward, a move inward, and a relational glue that keeps us together. I call the move outward partnership in mission; the move inward is accountability, depth of relationship; and the glue, the relational glue is friendship.
This book is a series of stories about the painful experiences you've had in learning these lessons. And one of them has to do with starting a church in Cambridge. Tell us a little bit about the Cambridge church, how it represents so many of the principles you're talking about here, and how it became a place where you could be shaped.
I'm in touch with a lot of people who are InterVarsity alumni. And we had a sense that there would be a place for a new church to emerge that would have a kind of a charismatic focus, but not a kind of high Pentecostalism, if that makes sense, a kind of an academic Vineyard.
We gathered together, and our belief was there's a lot of firepower here. We're serious Christians, we're eager, ready to rock and roll, planting a new church. Bur our team had the hardest time getting off the ground. There was conflict and judgment and relational tension. And at one point, one of the key people in the group said, we're hoping that this church will attract hundreds, but our ability to be a small group that lives out what we believe is going to be essential to our ability to have anything to offer to dozens, let alone hundreds.
That was a turning point. It was a personal challenge to me because I was right at the heart of one of the tensions. And I was not performing well. It was really an invitation to expect God to be present, Jesus has to be right here in our midst.
One of the points that you make in your chapter on presence and intimacy is the time factor involved in pursuing God in the company of friends. And you talk about Jesus and how he had a way of using his time that reached a lot of people but maximized that company of friends as a more important use of his time.
The whole notion there is a focus on the few for the sake of the many. This is an ancient notion and well discussed by Robert Coleman in his book of 40 years ago, The Master Plan of Evangelism. The idea of being intentional with people can be a little intimidating because it feels like, if I spend more time with this member of my small group then do I have to be fair about it? Just realize, Jesus focused on a few. He had 12 that he spent a lot of time with, and he had three that he was even more intimate with. And his pattern of relationship can be our pattern as well.
You talk about getting with people different than you are. Well, most churches are based around affinity groups. They're based around homogenous units.
That may be true church by church, but you can still go into any small group you find and look around and say, oh, these people aren't like me. And that may be our natural gut reaction. But the second reaction, which we need to train ourselves into, is to say, thank God they're not like me. I'm in this group, and I have something to learn from them. I have something to learn from them and not just because they're all my demographic. No, the people here who are pretty different from me are here for a reason, and I have something to learn.
Many times the company of friends doesn't really have a stated leader, but there is an interplay between serving and leading.
Part of what I'm trying to recover is the notion that friendship and intentionality somehow don't go together. Friendship should be spontaneous. Intentionality implies work and insincerity. And I'm saying the deepest friendships are going to be highly intentional where we think about people even when they're not in the room, and we pray for them even beyond what they're asking prayer for.
That's a part of the case I'm trying to make that the effort and thoughtfulness applied to our friendships really strengthens those friendships.
What about somebody who hungers for community, but they feel they are alone? They don't feel like they have any friends, and what you're describing is even making that feel more painful.
I think everybody has a chance to find a group, like a small group or a new church perhaps, or a new small group. But you show up at that church or at that small group and you look around and you say, these people aren't like me. Or, I don't really feel like this is really meeting my needs. And one of the primary pathways or primary steps to community is to decide to make a commitment to a community.
You say this small group didn't meet my needs tonight. And it may not meet my needs for several months, but if I commit to this group of people over time, by virtue of that commitment I'm going to experience a deeper experience of community. I will no longer be alone. Then I can make other choices like deciding I am going to let them know what's going on in my life. I'm not just going to wait around and see if they like me. I'm going to be a part of making this group community for me.
We all can make those kinds of choices in our lives. We don't have to feel like that's a party to which we have not been invited.
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