Reading adapted from a message by Bill Hybels

There is a great story that dates back to the early 1960s when Vince Lombardi took over the reins of the Green Bay Packers. Most likely you’ve heard it before. It’s become legendary. The Packer franchise had been losing for almost ten straight years. They were at the bottom of the standings, and morale was sagging.

Enter Vince Lombardi as the new coach. He is charged with the challenge of turning this franchise around, and he’s all pumped up about it. He began leading practices, inspiring, training, motivating. But at one point in a practice, he just got so frustrated with what was going on with the players that he blew the whistle.

“Everybody stop and gather around,” he said. Then he knelt down, picked up the pigskin, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning. This is a football. These are the yard markers. I’m the coach. You are the players.” He went on, in the most elementary of ways, to explain the basics of football. Every once in a while, we all need a breathtakingly basic talk about something — a “this is a football” talk or, in this case, a “this is a friendship” talk.

The Right Idea

The Bible says that friendship — community — is one of the richest experiences you can have in life. It makes your heart bigger. It helps keep you steady in a storm. It ends your aloneness. It is key to personal transformation. God wired us up to know and be known, to love and be loved, to serve and be served, to celebrate and be celebrated. If community is so wonderful, how, in painstakingly basic terms, do you move from where you are now into deep relating patterns that would fit the definition of this thing called community?

You have to start by making sure that you have the right idea about the nature of friendship. Do you want to wreck the possibility of a relationship? Then go into it with the idea that there’s someone out there just sitting on a park bench waiting to nurture you, affirm you, comfort you, envelop you with round-the-clock care — and all you have to do is show up with 150 pounds of need. If that’s the expectation you are bringing into friendship, you’ll probably find potential friends making themselves curiously scarce.

The right idea of friendship involves the mutual exchange of knowledge, kindness, service, and celebration. It is a growing commitment among peers to seek the well-being of each other. That very radical concept is the central message of Philippians 2:1?11. The core of biblical friendship is seeking the interest of the person you have befriended. It is the joyful sublimation of your own agenda once in a while for the sheer pleasure of meeting a need or bringing a smile to the face of a friend. It is the consistent resistance of the urge to be independent and self-preoccupied.

Is it self-examination time? How much do you bring to the relationships you’re building? How much do you expect to receive? What is your self-preoccupation factor? If you are even five or ten percent off from a balanced view of friendship, you’ll probably find your relationships aren’t working all that well.

The “Want To” Factor
The next step in moving from aloneness to community is to face a sobering reality about the friendship-building process. Selecting and building friendships is an inexact and often lengthy, frustrating endeavor. It requires energy, risk, and, quite possibly, hurt. That is the plain truth.

When the Bible says that certain friends bring words that are comparable to silver and gold, it is certainly underscoring that friends are valuable. They have worth. But in addition to this, the friendship-development process itself might be compared to panning for silver and gold. You’ve got to work at it. Sometimes when you are mining for silver or gold, you think you have found it and you get all excited about it only to find out it’s “fool’s gold.” Then you’re let down and hurt.

There is a price to be paid up front for the eventual discovery of the mother lode — this thing called community. We would prefer a drive-up window. We would much rather pull up to the deep friendship window and say, “I want two, with change back from my dollar.” Most of the time life doesn’t work that way.

Community building is not easy. Very seldom can you just get plunked into a premade group and immediately experience community without some awkwardness, some trial and error. There has to be an internal “want to” factor that is strong enough to be able to push you through the false starts and stops that are going to happen as you build community.

Moving toward Authenticity
The next challenge you’ll face in your quest for community is to move beyond the level of superficiality. When you start developing a relationship, you generally start out with conversations that are a bit shallow. And that is as it should be. Trust has to be built. The basic knowledge-base concerning one another must develop. But if you stay stuck at the superficial level — where all you’re talking about is the weather, the stock market, and what movie you rented last weekend — you will probably start to say, “I was created for more than this.”

Most of us get tired of surface relationships and wish we could move on. But how? The single best tool I have discovered to move relationships beyond the level of yawning superficiality is the asking of a carefully thought-out question and the urging of an honest, sincere answer. What question do we ask almost everybody whenever we see them? “How are you doing?” The standard answers usually are, “Fine,” “Good,” or “Not bad.”

What if you asked the question this way, “How are you doing, really?” “How are you doing, really — because I have a few moments and would love to listen to whatever it is that you’d like to talk about. How are things at work, really? How are things at home, really?”

From Groups, Copyright © 2000 by John Ortberg and published by Zondervan. Used with permission.

John Ortberg is a teaching pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, and previously served as teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church. He is the bestselling author of Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them; If You Want to walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat; Love Beyond Reason; and Old Testament Challenge. He has written for Christianity Today and is a frequent contributor to Leadership Journal.;Judson Poling works with small group ministries at Willow Creek. He is coauthor of the Walking with God series and general editor of The Journey: A Study Bible for Spiritual Seekers.

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