Dale Johnson: I am thrilled today to have Dr. Kevin Carson here with us, a longtime and faithful brother in the movement of biblical counseling. He is a professor of biblical counseling at the Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. He’s also a pastor at Sunrise Church in Ozark, Missouri. Kevin, we’re so grateful that you’re here to spend a little bit of time with us today.
Kevin Carson: Thank you for the invitation. It’s a joy to be with you and to serve ACBC.
Dale Johnson: Can you explain for us what it means to have biblical friendships and true biblical accountability?
Kevin Carson: My thumbnail definition of a friend is someone who walks through life together in wisdom. It’s someone who is there when days are good and when days are bad. They’re someone who helps you. It’s an individual who loves you enough and cares for you enough to walk with you. There are key friendships I’ve had over the last 40 years that have served me well, and there are times friends haven’t served me well. There’s the good and the bad of friendships. As you and I both know as you watch the headlines, there’s a number of pastors, biblical counselors, and Christians in general who needed friends and when someone needed to speak to him no one was talking. It’s a concern I have that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we learn the value of friendships.
Dale Johnson: When we think about how important our friends are, the Scriptures talk so much about the things that we hear from other people in the way that we’re counseled and the attention that we give to certain people’s voices, whether that be for the sake of encouragement or keeping us away from difficulty. These are critical relationships. If you’re looking for a good friend or some sort of accountability partner to walk alongside of you, what would you describe as some of the critical and key characteristics of a biblical friend?
Kevin Carson: I’ve cherry picked a few because there’s so many biblical principles we could talk about. One of them I love is Psalm 119:63 where the Psalmist says, “I am a companion of all those who fear you and of those who keep your precepts.” That is a fantastic foundation for a friendship: the person who fears God above everything else and the person who obeys God, trusting and obeying. I think of Daniel with his three friends. When you read this story, you see four men who feared God over the king and feared God over consequences. They were committed to each other and to obeying His precepts. Among all the biblical stories, that’s one where you can see that key concept of one who fears God and respects God or obeys God as a key concept for friendship.
Psalm 1 is also helpful when it talks about the happiness of the person who walks not, stands not, and sits not with sinners or a world system and doesn’t listen to the value judgment of the world around us. That’s another one of those key ideas in my mind is that you are looking for people who love Christ, are walking with Christ, and have the wisdom of Christ in the process of doing life.
A third one that I love is in Psalm 15 when the Psalmist basically says, “Who can hang out with God on His holy hill?” and then gives an entire list of both attitudes and actions of someone who loves God and someone who’s paying attention to God. When you look at those things together, we’re looking for wise people who have a heart of service toward others, that have a high view of God, are connected with Jesus Christ, and live in a way that’s consistent with both of those things.
Dale Johnson: Those are so helpful categorically and the way that you’re tying them to Scripture really helps us to root these in God’s design for our relationships with other people. It’s easy for our primary goals in relationships, especially with our natural disposition tending towards sin, to be to have relationships with people who can do things for us, who we feel good about ourselves when we’re around them, and they’re happy and go-lucky. But there’s also an element in Scripture of having people around us who speak truth into our lives. Why is it important for us to make sure that we have friends who care enough about us to provide this type of accountability?
Kevin Carson: We need an extra pair of eyes. This last weekend, we had the kids out and we were walking through the woods in Missouri and the wilderness of Mark Twain National Forest. One of my kids said, “You know, I just feel like something’s on me.” I got to checking and he had seed ticks everywhere. They were up and down his back and he couldn’t see them. He knew something wasn’t right and something didn’t feel right, but he had no way of seeing them.
When we think about it biblically, that’s why we need a friend. We need someone who’s watching out for us, someone who’s questioning our motives, someone who is carefully looking at what we do and asking good follow-up questions. The benefits are big. All of us need encouragement, the benefits of community, and of being a friend to somebody so that we have an outlet to serve as well. Those are a couple of key reasons that we need friends and we need to be a friend to other people. We don’t want to minimize your potential role in the life of another person, because just as much as we need it personally, we need to be able to provide it for other people.
Dale Johnson: We’ve talked conceptually about what we would hope would happen in relationships. Let’s talk about getting really practical about how to pursue these types of friendships. What are a few suggestions going forward if we’re going to build these types of friendships?
Kevin Carson: One is to be the kind of person that you would desire as a friend. Take the principles we’ve talked about and apply them to your own life so that you’re walking in wisdom, walking in the Spirit, aware of the presence of Christ, and worshiping Christ. Develop the personal characteristics to become the kind of person that could help somebody else.
The second thing is to cultivate these kinds of friendships in daily living. There are several practical ways of doing that. One is to not keep records of how people respond to you all the time. Let things roll off quickly. Deal with conflict as it comes up. Sometimes people say, “Well, I’ve tried to be a friend, but they didn’t do anything back for me.” I’ve heard people tell me, “I baked them something and they never bake me anything. I invited him over to the house and they didn’t invite me over to their house,” and it’s tit-for-tat, back and forth. We have to not be a historian and recognize we can serve other people. Serve often and creatively, and as we serve, check our motivation. Why are we doing these things? Are we doing it to honor Christ and to help others so that we have this others-centeredness as a daily lifestyle?
The third thing is to be intentional. Seek accountability and seek friendship. If we think, “Well, we’ll get to it when we can,” I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. Life is busy and for most people it’s too busy to expect that maybe hopefully someday we’ll get together. Follow up with each other. Be the instigator. When someone asks you, “Hey, can you help me here? Will you pray for me, or will you hold me accountable for this?” A lot of times we’re happy to not hold them accountable because we want them to do well. Sometimes, at least in my mind, no news is good news, so if I don’t ask I won’t hear what’s going on. We don’t follow up and in the process, there are times when the other person’s hurt, but even worse, sometimes they get caught because we weren’t trying to help them along.
Dale Johnson: I wish these types of relationships were natural, but they’re so difficult. As you’ve been describing, this takes intentional effort for us to be able to pursue these types of relationships. Relationships in the church are often more formal relationships where we almost keep people at a distance. We walk in on Sunday morning and we say something like, “Hey, how are you doing?” Sometimes we become the biggest liars in those moments because we don’t stop and tell people honestly how we are feeling about life and how things are really going. What does a relationship like this look like in the local church, and how is it helpful in us truly caring for one another in the body?
Kevin Carson: It begins with understanding that our passion has to be for the one another ministries of the Scripture, where we recognize the necessity and we want to fulfill our role. I just passed somebody on the sidewalk on our way to this conversation who I taught several years ago. She greeted me and I asked, “How are you doing?” We’ve talked about this in class before, so 15 minutes later, I had her story and it was a significant story. Her family has gone through some significant hardship, and it was a joy of mine to be able to stop for a few moments, talk to her, help her think through it, say a word of prayer, and to be intentional in that moment and not to allow it to go by.
The second thing is that we need to move our model of care down to life groups and small groups so that the church has very close relationships. Those relationships are fundamentally both for encouragement and for learning and applying the Word so that we know each other’s names, we know family members, we know major events that are going on. That’s one way to help with intentional goals. For biblical counseling, we can train and use advocates. We’re using those friends so that we get a 360-degree assessment of how they’re doing during the week. We as counselors have the opportunity to extend what we’re doing with them because there’s a friend here who’s willing to walk the road with them.