Stories of Spiritual Friendship
Real people. Real Stories.
They’re a Reminder of God’s Faithfulness
” ‘Funny how we need to be reminded to continue meeting one another.’ This passing comment made me to realise the sad truth, that unless we take measures or are told to meet up with one another, life will just slip by and we will inevitably allow everything else to take the place of our primal need for relationships and community.
Over the past 1.5 years of meeting together with my 3-2-1 group, God has worked in ways we least expected Him to and fulfilled His purposes in His own time. This bunch has always been a reminder of God’s faithfulness –how He allowed this friendship to begin and how He has sustained us, even through planning a camp together.
I look forward to every meeting because the time we spend sharing our lives with one another, under His grace and love; it’s like indulging in a shot of happiness. This journey has taught me to treasure my friendships and relationships with the people He has placed in my life. I have also realised that I take things far too seriously. More often than not, I’m the one who turns the conversation solemn and all it takes is a witty comment from either of them to make us erupt in spontaneous laughter. They have shown me that it’s perfectly fine to let loose and let our sovereign Father work.
We face challenges too, especially when is comes to scheduling. No doubt it will continue to get even harder, but I pray we will persevere to meet. I also pray that we will not let our familiarity become a stumbling block for gentle and loving rebuking, when the need arises. Together, may we grow deeper in our convictions of the gospel and continue to rejoice in His love. In building one another up, let us continually sharpen and encourage one another on this journey of faith, looking to Him.”
— Timothy, 26
Is This Discipleship or Spiritual Friendship?
“When I first heard about the concept of 3-2-1 spiritual friendships I was really excited to try it. I had never had a group of friends with whom I felt I could share my deepest fears and greatest joys. It seemed so simple yet so revolutionary at the same time. Our cell group decided to put it into practice and we began our journeys.
I journeyed with two younger cell members and, while I was glad for their eagerness to meet and share life, I felt I couldn’t truly share. In ‘3-2-1: Following Jesus in Threes’, Soo-Inn mentions Roberta Hestenes’s 5 levels of human communication. I found I couldn’t get to level 5 — peak communication, sharing with openness, transparency, and self-disclosure — without defensiveness or barriers. I didn’t feel I could share about my spiritual struggles because they were only just beginning their spiritual journeys, and I didn’t want to confuse or overwhelm them. I didn’t feel I could share about the despairs and fears I had as a leader because I didn’t want to discourage them as members. And even if I did lay aside those fears and share, would biblical discernment, encouragement and comfort from the Word follow?
I examined myself and enquired of God — was it pride preventing me from sharing, did I have to learn to be a friend instead of a leader, what needed to change? After some time I decided I would continue with the group but consider it a discipling group; I would find my ‘relational oasis’ (as Soo-Inn put it) elsewhere.
We still meet and there is much joy and encouragement as we share and discover what God is doing in our lives, but I have learnt that there are many different ways to walk with a friend and each has its place and season. Sometimes it takes the form of discipleship, other times spiritual friendship, and sometimes the latter grows into the former. Each has a vital role to play as we grow in Christ. I haven’t found a 3-2-1 (yet) but God has blessed me with a dear friend to walk with; perhaps 2 will become 3 someday.”
— Shi Yun, 25
“For me, 421 came about after a church-wide push. My regular Bible study group took it up, and the leaders arranged our groupings.
Mine was quite the eclectic bunch. Girly Lydia, artsy supersmart overachiever non-mainstream Rachel, everybody-loves-Ruth, and me. We began our first session deciding the general programme for each meeting (devo, sharing, prayer), confidentiality business (sacred unless jointly agreed otherwise, e.g. for reasons of safety), and naming the strengths and weaknesses we saw in each other. The last was quite intense.
For a year, the girls traveled with me over southwest France, as I spent some months in different houses earning my keep doing different jobs. Thanks to technology, we were constantly each others’ support group over Skype and WhatsApp. No problem was too small; every text asking for prayer for any situation was met with a flurry of replies from all of us. No trite responses either; replies were questions finding out more, words of empathy, promises of prayer, and followed up with expressions of concern and love.
I know the many 4/321 groups in my church have had all sorts of experiences, ranging from the ideal to disappointing. Mine was the textbook ideal.
We’re in different groups now, having been reshuffled. We have plans to meet quarterly this year, before preggy Lyds becomes servant to baby Socipater (in-group joke #sorrynotsorry), and Rachy leaves us for her turn overseas. Whether we last for a lifetime or are this season’s blessings, I am profoundly grateful for my girls, my 421.“
— Rachel, 29
4 Pastors, 2 Hours, 1 Meal a Month
Spiritual Friendship & Leadership
“I didn’t set out to start a 3-2-1 group per se, but my thinking about spiritual friendship has been profoundly shaped by dad’s (Soo Inn) work. So, when by God’s grace, I assembled a small team of Core Leaders for Regeneration Church I knew that to be the best leadership team we could be we needed to focus on spiritual friendship.
To that end, our leaders’ meetings were designed to prioritise spiritual friendship. We currently meet once a month for 2 to 2 and a half hours. We spend the first hour on spiritual friendship and the second hour on business and strategy. When we first meet, we catch up on what has been happening in our lives, praying for each other, at times confessing sin to each other, then one of us would lead the others in a devotional bible study based on a passage they had read in their own devotional time. We try to practice transparency, accountability and plurality of leadership as we take turns leading the devotional time.
One of the core values that we are pursuing as a church is “Transcultural Community” and we believe that having diversity is a strength as we learn from people who see the world in a slightly different way. We are already beginning to see the fruits of having an Aussie (Samuel), a Vietnamese Australian (Kien) and a Malaysian Chinese (me) following Christ together. We hope to see many more spiritual friendships blossom as we try to advance God’s kingdom here in Monash, Melbourne.”
— Stephen Tan, 30, a City to City affiliated church planter seeking to plant Regeneration Church, a new church for the City of Monash, Melbourne, Australia.
A Real Relationship Between Real People
“In 2010, Bernice and I had the privilege to help facilitate a retreat for the staff of Singapore Navigators. We talked about the need to follow Christ in the company of friends— our need for spiritual friends. Towards the end of the retreat I asked the director, Doug Erdmann, if he was interested in being part of a spiritual friendship group, a 3-2-1 group— three friends meeting two hours once a month, usually over a meal, committed to helping each other better follow Christ. After all, one can’t just know the theory of spiritual friendship, one must experience it.
Doug had had the same idea and agreed. We prayed about a third person and felt led to invite Lam Kok Hiang, head of Singapore CRU. He accepted and we met most months till the end of 2016 when Doug returned to the U.S. to take up a new appointment. Our meetings were a relational oasis for me, a safe place to share life.
Committed to following Christ, we grappled with ministry issues, helping each other to think clearly when we faced key decisions. We also shared about how our families were doing and provided each other with much needed encouragement. We also took turns to bear each other’s burdens when we went through tough times.
There were times, though not often, when we disagreed strongly about a certain approach to ministry, but we always affirmed our love for each other even when we disagreed. This was a real relationship between real people. That meant that we became familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses and were committed to speak the truth in love to each other. We ended every meeting with prayer.
We understood that our friendship was one that was rooted in Jesus. We miss our friend Doug. No one can replace him. Indeed no one can replace anyone else. But Kok Hiang and I are praying for the Lord to lead us to another person to be part of a new 3-2-1. We need it.”