Cultivating Soul Friendships

soul friendship

Guest Post by Peter Heltzel

“How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!”
Psalm 133:1

Jesus Christ, the revelation of the Triune Creator as a human person, is the basis of our life together. In order to live in unity, we need to get to know each other, including our deepest differences. We need to know others as we are known by God. We need to “walk in love, as Christ loved us” (Ephesians 1:1-2). Getting to know others more intimately, so we can love them more fully is the heart of the Gospel.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer articulated the call to Christian community in his classic book Life Together. This book was birthed in the context of his teaching at an underground seminary in Finkenwalde, Germany. At that time most Christians were complicit with the Nazi regime through their inaction. Bonhoeffer had the courage to act decisively and founded an innovative and prophetic seminary dedicated to “a kind of new monasticism.”

Leaving the security of the state church, the young men who were gathered at that Seminary would wake up in the morning and pray together, read Scripture, and study theology. The spirit of this underground seminary continues in the New Urban Monastic movement today through a growing group of leaders including Shane and Katie Jo Claibrone, Jonathan and Leah Wilson-Hargrove, Chris and Cassie Haw, Sean and Rebecca Gladding, and Chris & Phileena Heueretz and many others. These new urban monastics live in intentional community and regularly practice the spiritual disciplines together. I appreciate their commitment to life together in and for the city.

While I don’t live in intentional community, but with my wife Sarah and two cats in a small New York City apartment, I try to practice the spiritual disciplines each day, waking up for prayer, Bible reading and the Lord’s Supper. We are part of a monthly small group at Park Avenue Christian Church called a “Soul Food” fellowship, where we gather for biblical reflection and prayer on the walk of discipleship.

Deep community is critical and must be cultivated. 

Central to our spiritual growth is our openness to “soul friendship”— “Friendships mediated by Jesus,” is how Bonhoeffer describes them. A soul friend is one you can talk to about your relationship with God. Make a commitment to meeting with a soul friend this month. Schedule a coffee or lunch and share your souls with each other and pray for each other. This can be a great source of spiritual refreshment for you and your friend.

In our online world, we often spend too much time at a superficial level of existence. As Sean Gladding writes in his new book Ten: Words of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided and Worn-Out Culture: “We’re all public figures on Facebook and Twitter. Which has created some distance between us and even our closest friends” (pg. 61). While surfing the net and mobilizing the new social media, there are often soul friends across the street or crosstown that we can be talking to in person. Let’s get up and get together! May our hearts direct us to who we should talk to, and I pray that we go out and deepen our soul friendships, together deepening our friendship with the Living God.




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