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Friendship (Part 1)

Friendship (Part 1)

JANUARY 18, 2022  |  17.5 MINUTE LISTEN

Listen on Spotify, Apple, and Google

Episode Overview:

Friendship has changed for Generation Z. They can communicate using memes and gifs and social media, whereas previous generations used landlines. How can adults walking with Gen Z model life-giving and formative friendships? Where do we as Christ-followers get the model for these types of friendship? We’ll discuss and pray over that as we look to walk with and pray for the next generation.


James Ballard is the Director of WGM’s Asbury Student Involvement Center, where he walks with the next generation every day so that they can become more like Jesus. His friendship with Gen Z is genuine and helps shape them to be more like Jesus. James has led many students on mission trips, seeking to build friendship and create a heart for the world in the next generation.

Read the Script

Connor: Welcome to The Approach, a microcast where we help you walk with and pray for the next generation as they seek to journey with Jesus and participate in the great commission. I'm Connor Owen.

John: I'm John Rinehimer.

Connor: And we both serve on staff at World Gospel Mission. John is also working on his PhD, where he focuses on spiritual formation and Gen Z. And today our focus is on friendship and what that looks like for Gen Z. So, John, you and I were just talking about how Gen Z communicates differently than previous generations like yours and mine. What are some of those new trends you're seeing?

John: Well, first off, one of the things that's pretty different is that Gen Z doesn't always even use words to communicate. They use emojis and memes and GIFs and TikTok and Snapchat and online gaming and FaceTime. You get the point. There's a lot of mediums out there that they're using. And that's kind of different, because the previous generations, we were kind of used to hugs and high fives and handshakes and calling each other on a landline. And if you don't know what a landline is, you can look that up on YouTube and probably find that relic there. But the point is, all of us have a desire for friendship and in every generation, God has used the power of friendships to help us grow in our walk with Jesus. And it really reminds me of one of my favorite verses on friendship. It's Proverbs 13:20, and it says, "Walk with the wise and become wise, associate with fools and get in trouble."

Connor: That's a good point about friendship, John, and how it shapes who we are in the direction of our lives. And I know you watched this, it was the documentary Last Dance about Michael Jordan, who, if you don't know who that is, player for the Chicago Bulls.

John: Shame on you.

Connor: Shame on you, yes, thank you, John. So anyways, they did a ten-part series on him, and they were talking about his first year. And he gets on the Bulls, and there's the veteran guys. They're into some, let's just say, less than legal activity. And Michael ends up in a room with all of them, and he's got a choice at this moment. Do I want to partake in this or not? Well, Michael had a goal. His goal was to become the greatest basketball player of all time. We all know he did that. We're not going to get into that argument. But he had a goal and he realized that if he hung out there, most likely he was not going to achieve that goal. So he left the room, and then he had this desire to build a circle around himself of older and wiser men who could shape him and refine him as he worked toward that goal. And it makes me wonder, what happens to Michael Jordan if he doesn't have those friends. Or is he the household name he is now?

John: Yeah. I really like a documentary as well, but it reminds me, hey, what was your nickname in high school? Wasn't it air Connor or Con air or...?

Connor: One of those? I can't jump over a piece of paper, so it never stuck. I tried, but it didn't work out.

John: That hurts more because you can still block my shot. But anyway, Michael Jordan's decision on who his friends would be, who that inner circle would be, really embodies a phrase that I heard growing up and I heard my, I think it was my youth pastor say it to me. And he would say, "Show me your friends and I'll show you your future." And while that may just sound like a nice little anecdote or cliché, I think it's really true. And I think it exemplifies maybe even how the Bible talks about friendship. One of the words that uses in Hebrew, in the Old Testament, is the word nephesh. And it's this Old Testament word for, our inner being, the deepest part of you or in English, a lot of times the Bible has translated, a soul.

So it just points back to this God-given desire for friendship and how at our inner being, our soul, our nephesh, it longs for this friendship with God and with others were made for this. And so I think it's one of the reasons that friendship is so incredibly powerful in our lives. And so show me your friends and I'll show you your future.

Connor: Yeah. So we've talked a little bit about the importance of friendship and what that can do for our lives. But when it comes to Gen Z, John, what does friendship look like for them? And really, is it different?

John: I've thought about this a lot, and this is going to be a lot of information, and I'm sorry, I'll just apologize on the front here. And the short answer is, friendship looks different. And Gen Z even defines friendship differently. A lot of times in previous generations, because there's so many ways to communicate. I mean, some of the factors redefining friendship for Gen Z are... We all know screens, right. Gen Z'ers spend, some studies say, up to nine hours or more a day on screens. That could be school. That could be phone. That could be gaming. Low-end, six hours. Either way, that's a lot shaping them. So some have said screens are now Gen Z's source of truth. So I mean, they can be on their phone while looking you in the eye. They can ghost you or you can be ghosted.

So screens play a major role in how they operate, yet, they still desire that face-to-face friendship and may use a screen to get them there. And then obviously YouTube. So many Gen Z'ers and even our own kids, it's like, what do you want to be when you grow up? YouTuber.

Connor: Right. Right. That looks like a great life.

John: Yeah. I mean, they want to be YouTubers. They also feel like they have these YouTube personalities they follow and they feel like real friends to them, even though it's only a one-way communication. But the YouTuber is communicating to them, maybe connecting with them on different levels, influencing them. And it feels like they have this connection, even though it's a one-way friendship or relationship. Then there's social media. I know these are kind of obvious, but these are big deals.

Connor: Big changes.

John: Big changes than previous generations. So you've got followers and there's this pressure to be an influencer and that's how you find your identity and that's in. And so you have these people that they may be your friends or you may never know them at all. And then there's this pressure to have multiple identities in different platforms and you can't keep up and you got to curate all of this.

And it's just such a different pressure to curate those identities, to have these friends quote unquote or followers that just redefines and shapes, what does it mean? And then you got friends online. You got gaming. I mean, holy cow. I remember playing with one of my good friends in college, we play Madden Football, side by side. Now you can play with them on the other side of the world. So your friends may not even be in the same zip code as you.

Connor: Or country.

John: Or country. Yeah, exactly. And so that's reshaping and defining. And then another kind of newer phenomena is FOMO, it's fear of missing out. And so before, you might not get invited to the party, the birthday party or a sleepover or a hangout or whatever, a vacation. And now you're seeing those pictures posted with other people going, "Hey, that kind of stings."

Connor: So you're at home watching your friends have a good time in real-time.

John: And it could be totally innocent or could be, I thought we were friends. Are we not friends? And that creates this whole dissonance. How do you handle that? And then of course there is most recently the pandemic.

Connor: Live and deal.

John: Yeah. And that has obviously increased screen time and Zooming and online friend time, which in some ways has been kind of a breakthrough to be able to connect with people who maybe previously couldn't use those things or didn't want to know how to use those tools. But that's obviously decreased the face time with friends. And so there's this deep longing still in their inner being, in their soul, that I want to have friendship face-to-face, yet there's all these other factors that are redefining and shaping and influencing, what does it mean to be a friend?

Connor: Okay.

John: Sorry. That was a lot.

Connor: No, I asked you. I asked the question. It's a lot to take in, but I asked the question.

John: You brought this on yourself.

Connor: I really did. I really did. I threw you a softball and you hit it out of the park. Okay.

John: First time for everything.

Connor: So my first reaction, and I'm guessing those listening, is the script on friendship. It has flipped, or maybe it's even been crumpled up, thrown out the window, and there's an entirely new one. And as a dad myself, as somebody walking with Gen Z'ers, it reminds me that I’ve got to be conscious of this new paradigm of friendship and who Gen Z really considers to be a close friend of theirs. Because when I think about it, when I was a kid, when you were a kid, my parents knew who most of my friends were, for the most part. But today that could be totally different. Your parents may not have or you as a parent, you may not have any idea who some of your kids' friends are because of online gaming or social media. And that's a really big change. I mean, as we think about all this, you just kind of gave us the firehose answer there. In light of all of that, John, what's a good biblical example of friendship?

John: Yeah. I mean, you could go a lot of places, but I think one is, this is a good place to insert, there's a difference between information and wisdom. And so they're getting a lot of information about... You can Google anything, right? Or YouTube it and get information, but there's difference between information and wisdom. The Bible offers us wisdom to guide our life. And so the answer seems obvious and probably Sunday-school, but it's absolutely vital that the primary friendship for every single person, including Gen Z, is with Jesus. And that sounds trite, but it's not. The centrality of that and the significance of that can't be... Yeah, it's paramount. And so I love how Dallas Willard... He says it this way, "We can become like Jesus in character and in power and thus realize our highest ideals of wellbeing and well-doing. And that is at the heart of the New Testament message, that we will learn to be like Jesus and live as He lived.”

And I think what he's saying there is, life with Jesus is the transforming relationship, the transforming friendship that is supposed to impact every area of our life, the whole person. And I love how we see that described in Philippians 2. I mean, think about it. You've probably read that passage quite a few times in your life. And if you haven't, listener, go back and check it out. It's amazing. But think about the kind of friend Jesus has been to you as you read Philippians 2. Has anyone ever loved you enough to initiate friendship with you, more than Jesus? I mean, He loved you and me first. Has anyone sacrificed more than Jesus for you? He died for us. I mean, Connor, has anyone ever had your back more than Jesus?

Has stuck up for you? Has been there for you, than Jesus? I mean, He gives you and me grace. He gives all of us grace. And has anyone ever been more of a friend, a true friend through thick and thin, always there, than Jesus? So He invites us to walk with him. And this sounds so basic, but these fundamental foundational truths are not always being transferred to the next generation. And it reminds me so much of, one of my favorite hymns growing up, we would sing us all the time. The line says this, "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer."

Connor: I don't know about our listeners, but for me, it's an odd concept or maybe something I just don't think about enough, but the fact that Jesus is my friend, and then that shapes all my other friendships. And it's really important to remember that primary friendship we have, as interesting or maybe something you don't think about, that's the one we're looking for. And that's the one that shapes the other friendships. And that's going to be the focus of our prayer today. And we're really excited. We have one of our really good friends, James Ballard, who works down at the Asbury Student Center at Asbury University. John and James have been friends since, I think, the Stone Ages, if I'm not mistaken. And James and I have been friends for a while. But James is walking with Gen Z, being their friend and helping them find Jesus as their friend as well. So James is going to lead us in this time of prayer, as we seek to develop Christ-centered friendships.

James: I'd love for you guys just to take a moment to close your eyes. And if you're driving, please don't close your eyes. But to breathe, maybe even open up your palms in the receiving manner, as we hear from the words from the gospel of John. John 15:13 through 15 says, "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father I have made known to you." Jesus, you are Emmanuel. You are God with us. More than that, you are a friend, a friend that wants to know us and also to be known to us. You desire to be so intimate with us, that you call us sons and daughters and friends. And Jesus, I pray that in our own lives, that we'll open ourselves up to you.

That we'll realize that our worth is not in what we do, but who you call us and how you desire to be with us. It's not what we accomplish. It's not what we do. It's not following the set rules. It's because you love us. And Jesus, I just pray that in our daily lives, that as we walk out our relationship with you, help us to be open-handed. Not only to you, but to others around us. Because friendship is not about what we get out of something, friendship is about what we give and how we receive, an openness of vulnerability. And so Lord, I pray an openness in our lives to others, to help us to love, to help us to live how you lived, to live sacrificially, to lay down ourselves, to be open to the truth that you love us and that you love our friends. And God, I just pray, as we walk every day, that we'll walk in this grace and truth, not in achievement, not in accomplishment, but in the identity that we are sons and daughters of the Most High.

That we are your friends. I love the verse that says, "While we were yet sinners, you died for us." You loved us beyond all and above all. And Lord, I just pray every day, that we'll create space to be with you because you desire to be with us. But not only that, that we become more like you and to do what you did and that's loving others and that's loving the Father. So Lord, we give this time to you. We give this space to you. We give our hearts to you. We give our friends to you. We give everything that we place our identity on that's not you, we give it to you. Help us to live like you live, to love like you loved and to be with the Father like you are. So Jesus, we give you praise and we love you. And help us to love like you and to give like you and to be friends like you. In your name, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Connor: Thank you, James, for leading us in this prayer over Gen Z, as we seek to model and build godly friendships. And thanks to all of you for joining us today, as we pray for and walk with the next generation, as they seek to use their gifts, talents, and experiences to journey with Jesus and participate in the Great Commission. Thanks for sharing The Approach with others and rating and reviewing it, as this helps others find us and go on this journey with us. For some of our resources, you can see our show notes on our website at

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