By Jeff Krajewski
Following Jesus is tough. Most days, I prefer simply to practice a little religion.
Jesus calls me to a constant dying to the desires of my flesh and to sacrificial service. Meanwhile I experience constant assault on my spirit to do the things I know do not honor Christ. All of this takes a toll on my emotions, my relationships, and my sanity.
The point of Jesus descending to this foul place called earth was to demonstrate for us the kind of life we were created to live. I believe in such a life, but living it is extremely treacherous. There are temptations at every turn. I am tempted to turn from servant to CEO. I am tempted to use the authority available to me as lead pastor to my own advantage. I am tempted to think I am quite something and make personal decisions out of a sense of entitlement.
All this to say, following Jesus is tough. There are times when I trade following Jesus for the practice of religious ceremony. To follow is to admit weakness and beg God to give me strength in that place of desperation. When I am most honest about myself, I recognize I am wretched, stinking, and hapless. Apart from Jesus I have no capacity for goodness. I know Christ wants to give me so much more than I can give myself, but to get from wretchedness to victory, I need help.
The cross is my victory, the resurrection is my hope, and the Holy Spirit is the power toward this new life. Yet I find I am apt to remain right where I am. In order for this desperation to find comfort, I must have a release through which to share my struggles. I need someone to talk to, someone to confide in. I need a friend.
The difficulty for most salaried church workers is we do not have any release. There is nowhere to turn. We cannot confide in anyone. Everyone thinks we are someone we are not, and most days we believe it as well.
Jesus had friends whom he confided in. Peter, James, and John were the go-to guys for Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane he took them aside, looked them straight in the eye, and said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). The Son of God was overwhelmed with sorrow. The King of kings was at the end of his rope. The fullness of the humanity of Jesus was seen in that statement, and I believe a significant truth was communicated. We need other people. The God/man needed other people. Clothed in flesh and bones was the One who spoke all things into being, and in this moment he needed to articulate the deepest groaning of his heart. He was overwhelmed; he needed to confide.
Ultimately, it was his Father in Heaven who supplied him with what he needed most. Peter, James, and John slept. They didn’t have the capacity to provide the fuel that Jesus’ soul needed, but they served a valuable part in the process. They were ears to listen, hearts to receive. They were friends.
Solomon tells us a man without a friend is pitiful. He has no one to help him up, no one to watch his back, no one to keep him warm. The imagery is of war. You cannot go to war alone; you need others to walk the treacherous road with you.
A Place of Safety
I understand that image. War would be a great way to describe my life. The war of the flesh and the Spirit. The war of the kingdom of the Heavens and the kingdom of this present earth. They are both fighting for my allegiance, and I need a friend, many friends, to walk with me on this road of life.
My friends cannot save me or heal what is broken. That is the role of my Savior. My friends can be an ear to listen when I am confused. They can pray for me when I am in need. They can speak words of truth into my life where I would typically lie to myself. They can cry with me and laugh with me and rejoice with me when God brings victory.
This is the role of the church. So often the place where we should be most human is the place where we suppress our humanity in favor of a more respectable and righteous façade. The church must be a place of safety where people can express the difficulty of following Jesus in a world that is hostile toward the message of the cross. We must cultivate communities of grace that allow space for our humanness to be expressed.
If your soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, where do you turn? Who are your garden friends?
The unfortunate reality is that many people who serve in paid and unpaid leadership positions in the church today do not have a friend with whom they can be honest and open about their humanness. What is more unfortunate is many of you would be removed from office if you shared the truest reality of your hearts with those in your church. This is a sad but true commentary on the landscape of the church today. The community that was set apart by Christ as the context for spiritual formation and new life can become the barrier that prevents the purpose from being realized.
In order for people in our community to embrace the reality of their own humanity, they need those who have been called to serve them to demonstrate what it means to be broken. They need to see what it looks like to be a man or woman who can say, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” or “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
I have come to realize that in order for our community to be a place of healing and restoration I needed to first experience this grace myself. It is not enough to have authenticity as a core value. It needs to be a core practice. How do we practice authenticity and how do we as leaders help cultivate a community of grace?
Late one night many years ago, I sat with a friend in the parking lot of a golf course. It was in that van that we both determined to trust each other with our hearts. We both recognized the desperation of the war we were in and admitted that we could not go it alone. We plunged into the chaotic world of authentic friendship.
Over the years we have ebbed and flowed. There have been seasons of plenty and seasons of wanting, but all in all life has emerged where death would have reigned.
You need a friend. Satan will lie and say you can deal with the pressure on your own. He will tell you there is no one in your church who can handle the unique challenges of ministry.
He is wrong. Ask God to give you a friend.
Jeff Krajewski is lead pastor for Common Ground Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jeff began his ministry with the staff of Traders Point Christian Church in 1995. A Bible study he led there grew into a Saturday service and eventually morphed into Common Ground. It was a “church within a church” for about two years until its launch by Traders Point in May 2001 with 300 people. “We were given the building we’re in,” Jeff reports. “It’s a 300-seater with 65 parking spaces, and we run somewhere around 975 adults each week in three services.” He adds, “The story of who we are and how we got here is still in process. It is the story of a people who are being formed together toward the image of Jesus for the glory of God. And we tell that story in the world in which we live by the quality and quantity of our love.”
Jeff graduated from Cincinnati Bible College in 1994. He was married to Nicole 12 years ago; they have two children, Tucker (10) and Kezley (7).