[rb_dropcap]O[/rb_dropcap]ld friends and new ask: “So what do you do?” I’ll answer: “Bernice and I run a small ministry called Graceworks.” Of course this only begs the question: “What does Graceworks do?” Well, Graceworks has been around for almost six years now and maybe its time to articulate our mission afresh. Here is our official mission statement:

“Graceworks is a consultancy committed to the promotion of spiritual friendship in church and society through publishing and training.”

What is spiritual friendship? We define it this way:

“It is friendship that is rooted in Christ, for the purpose of growing in Christ.”

But we think Paul J. Wadell explains it best. He defines spiritual friendship in this way:

… spiritual friendship is a discipleship life, a way in which people who are committed to growing in Christ help one another imitate Christ and grow in gospel virtues. Spiritual friends, through their life together, learn from one another what discipleship means and how we can acquire and develop the attitudes and virtues of Christ — they help each other become better friends of God. (Paul J. Wadell, Becoming Friends, Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002, 108.)

With Wadell, we understand that God’s desire is that His people grow in Christlikeness, and that we grow in Christlikeness in the context of community. Empowered by the Spirit and based on the Word, spiritual friends help each other mature in Christ.

Some are confused as to how a whole ministry can be focused on friendship. Isn’t friendship something that is basic and obvious? Precisely. Friendship should be something that is basic to human life. But it is not. Or no longer. We live in an age when someone could have 1,000 friends on Facebook but no face-to-face friends. We live in an increasingly lonely world and the church is not spared. God said that it is not good for humankind to be alone (Genesis 2:18). The destructive effects of loneliness are well documented. The loneliness of much of modern church life also means the church loses a key way to help her members grow in Christlikeness.

The main way that people are taught in many of our churches is through some form of instruction — sermons, talks, lectures, etc. People sit in rows, passively listening as someone talks. There is little or no interaction between the teacher and the audience or between the members of the audience. Contrast this with how Jesus nurtures His disciples. He calls them to a relationship with Him (Mark 3:13–19) and He spends three years in community with twelve of them, spending extra time with three of them (Mark 9:2). Indeed, He specifically calls them His friends (John 15:13–15). Jesus teaches His disciples relationally. Therefore we think it is critical that churches recover this relational approach to helping followers of Jesus mature in Christlikeness. This is at the heart of the ministry of Graceworks.

In support of this ministry, we provide teaching and training in areas like:

  • Spiritual friendship
  • Spiritual mentoring
  • Healthy small groups
  • Relational leadership

We go to churches and groups who invite us to provide training in these areas. Sometimes we run seminars ourselves, as Graceworks events. Soo Inn also has the privilege to teach on some of these subjects in some seminaries.

We also practice spiritual friendship. Bernice and I both have our groups of spiritual friends. And we also run spiritual mentoring groups. We have groups for those who are making the transition from tertiary education to working life. We call these groups FIT groups, that is, Friends in Transition groups. We are also running a group for young adults, those in their late twenties to early thirties. Our present young adult group has three couples, key young adult leaders from three different churches. We have also been invited to provide mentoring help to senior leaders and ministry staff in midlife transitions, a reminder that we too are getting older.

Looking to the future, we feel convicted to develop ministries for two age groups. First, we want to think through how we can mentor and disciple young adults more effectively. We find that many churches struggle to minister to Generation Y (born 1977 – 1994). But they are the future church, and a generation capable of incredible sacrifice and service if we know how to walk with them. This is also an age group that hits home. We have four sons in this age group. Next, we also want to develop practical, biblical strategies for discipling seniors, those in their sixties and older. With better healthcare, many will live longer and be in better health. How do we mentor folks in the third third of life to fulfil their potential for Christ? This question will become increasingly more pressing as our population greys.

So what does Graceworks do? We promote spiritual friendship and other relational ministries through teaching, training and modelling. We also publish books and we will look at this aspect of our ministry in next week’s column.

None of us can minister alone. We invite you to partner us in this key ministry. Some things you can do:

  1. Pray.
  2. Volunteer time and service. For example, our present FIT groups are now run by young adults who are “graduates” of earlier FIT groups. We also need help in administrative support.
  3. Give. Graceworks is a company and not allowed to solicit or to receive donations. But you can sponsor our work financially. Ask us how.

Why are we promoting spiritual friendship? Because we believe it is what the Lord has called us to do. But I have another reason. When my first wife died of cancer, I was lost. Her death marked the beginning of ten very difficult years in my life. I don’t know how I survived those ten black years. I am not a strong person. But I do know how I survived. I was sustained by the grace of God, and the love of my friends. Friends for life. It’s more than a slogan.