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A leader’s friends

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Two people on Addison's Walk outside Oxford, England (Credit: Mark Cook)

 Apple is attempting to sink its hooks even deeper into our pocketbooks with its recent release of its new streaming music service. Apple Music is a relatively simple idea: pay a monthly fee in return for access to an enormous database of music that you can stream as much as you want. Services like Spotify and Rdio already do as much, but Apple is hoping to corner the market via its massive network of iTunes users.

The service is free for 3 months, and part of the way it works is that it asks for you to tap circular icons representing the genres of music you like and dislike. It combines this information with your purchasing and listening history on iTunes to offer you curated lists of music as well as suggestions for new artists you might like. Apple Music works on the premise that it wants to get to know you and your music habits.

The technology we use on a daily basis is actively seeking to get to know us better, but we are becoming lonelier as a culture. The irony is astounding. Work in the Generalized Social Survey has revealed that Americans have few confidants, but larger circles of friends. We know a lot of people, but don’t have many we can really talk to. We live a mile wide and an inch deep.

It’s even worse for leaders. The natural position of a leader means that there is increased distance from others. It’s difficult to balance oversight, direction, and accountability along with trust, intimacy, and openness in relationships. Many leaders give up trying to forge friendships with those they lead because it’s simply too hard. We build our technology on the foundational principle that it works better when it knows more about us, but we don’t follow the same principle in our lives.

Perhaps it is because friendships, like all relationships, take time, effort, and energy. Leaders face tremendous pressure to handle stress and make difficult decisions, and at the end of the day it can seem exhausting to think about others. So we choose the path of least resistance and pick relationships we can manage on our time. Isn’t it interesting, though, that the requirements of managing others (oversight, direction, and accountability) that drive us away from others are exactly what we need most in our friends?

I recently returned from a study trip to England, where I had the chance to trace some of the footsteps of one of my heroes, C.S. Lewis. Our group visited his home outside of Oxford, known as “The Kilns”, and walked historic Addison’s Walk. As we considered his legacy, the theme of community kept coming to the fore. Lewis intentionally surrounded himself with friends who influenced every facet of his life. In a letter to a former pupil, he describes the impact of his friends upon his life:

“Williams, Dyson of Reading, & my brother (Anglicans) and Tolkien and my doctor, Havard (your Church) are the ‘Inklings’ to whom my Problem of Pain was dedicated. We meet on Friday evenings in my rooms: theoretically to talk about literature, but in fact nearly always to talk about something better. What I owe to them all is incalculable. Dyson and Tolkien were the immediate human causes of my own conversion. Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?”

A friendless leader is a lonely, isolated soul that is most vulnerable to the whispers of the Enemy. We need friends to encourage us and remind us of who we are in Christ. We need friends for all the highs and lows of both leadership and general life. We need friends for the richness they bring to life.

Proverbs 17:7 says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Who are the friends that walk with you through life? Have you taken the time to thank God for them today? To Lewis, friendship was the “chief happiness of life.” Can you say the same?