Friendships that inspire…

Posted by on Oct 27, 2015 in Blog | 2 comments

Perhaps you have come across Gordon MacDonald’s classic, Restoring your Spiritual Passion. It originally came out in 1986, and is memorable on many counts, but perhaps the one that first springs to mind is MacDonald’s description of 5 kinds of people that you come across in ministry (and indeed, not just in ministry, but in all walks of life) and the impact they have upon your spiritual passion and zeal.

The MacDonald taxonomy describes each of the five types with 3 letters and then pithily summarizes their likely impact on your spiritual passion with a single word…

  1. There are the VRP’s (very resourceful people) who ignite your spiritual passion. They are often mentors, coaches or people who inspire you either by their example or the interest they take in you. They make you want to be more, and you feel energised by time spent with them. They make a positive contribution to your world.
  2. Then there are the VIP’s (very important people) who share your spiritual passion. They are teammates, close friends, fellow staff members. Like you, they have strengths and weaknesses, but overall they are at about the same level as you. When with them, you feel comfortable and don’t have to spend large amounts of energy trying to figure out how to get along, or who will be in charge. VIP’s work with you, and together you get things done. Overall, you have a positive impact on each other.
  3. VTP’s (very trainable people) catch your spiritual passion. They want to grow and serve, have a teachable spirit and look to you to help them on their journey. To them, you are a VRP. It is very rewarding to work with VTP’s as you see the difference you make in their lives. While not without a certain toll on energy, overall the impact is positive as you can see the value of what you are doing.
  4. VNP’s (very nice people) enjoy your spiritual passion. They don’t want to share your ministry – they simply want to enjoy it. They will applaud you from the side lines, and may help build your ego, but in the end, theirs is a spectator sport. They will take what you offer, but you will see very little change result from it. Though it will only dawn on you slowly, they actually drain you – albeit ever so pleasantly. Working with VNP’s is a little like being a mouse on a running wheel in a cage. At the start it feels like fun, but after a while you realise that you are exhausting yourself on a wheel that really isn’t going to go anywhere.
  5. Finally there are some who are VDP’s (very draining people). They sap your spiritual passion. Initially you might confuse them for VTP’s – and think that you will make a difference in their life. But after a while you realise that the problem you thought you helped them solve has immediately been replaced with another, and that nothing you do will ever be enough. What is more, the more you try to help, the more dependant they become upon you. Their problem becomes yours. You can try and challenge them about this, but if you do, it will often backfire, and you will quickly morph from their adored hero into a horrible villain (or so they will say) – and they will often be very vocal to others about your change. While some will see through it, others won’t, and that will add to your load as you suddenly find yourself being asked, “why are you being so horrible to…?” And they will take your time… more and more and more of it. Unless of course you are pretty intentional in the way you work with them. But that is much easier said than done – hence it is very draining and there is a real risk that you will find your spiritual passion sapping away. When pastors’ walk away from their post saying, “I just don’t know why I do this any more,” you can be pretty sure there have been a few too many VDP’s in their orbit.

MacDonald is hopeful that his summary will prove more than interesting, and that people will actually be a little more intentional as a result of observing its validity. You might be in a setting (and incidentally, while MacDonald writes with the church in mind, there really is no need to limit the insights to a church setting) filled with VDP’s. That doesn’t have to break you – not if you actively seek out some VRP’s to re ignite you passion. You will also need to time limit how available you will be to VDP’s. No – don’t try to exclude them from your orbit. Every person matters and we must be careful of rejecting people at the very point of their need (if they weren’t like that, they probably wouldn’t need any help). But we must ensure we make enough time for VRP’s, VIP’s and VTP’s. It is about planting in a fertile field.

Note a sobering catch. If we aren’t intentional in our use of time, we are likely to use it in the ways that are least helpful. Because VDP’s want our time, the line of least resistance is to give them all of it. Very resourceful people, and very important people won’t force themselves on us. They are considerate and will quickly back away if they see we are busy. Likewise, very trainable people will quickly spot that we really don’t have the time. They will be sad – “a real pity, I feel I could have learnt so much from you” – but they too will back away if they sense we are otherwise occupied.

What about the very nice people who fill our churches? This is probably the most interesting category and undoubtedly the largest. Therein lies the pastoral challenge. How can we ignite the spiritual passion of very nice people so that they shift from being pleasant spectators to very trainable people – and eventually to wonderful fellow workers? My personal observation is that when you see that happen, your own spiritual life leaps forward. It is hugely rewarding to see essentially good people find direction, purpose and worthy tasks that they can contribute towards. Never lament the very nice people in the church – but do pray that God will work in such a way that the underlying pleasantness can be transformed into a force for good. And don’t forget a simple principle: Ensure your church challenges people with significant and worthy tasks, or trivia will quickly dominate the landscape.

God bless you as you strive to find enough friendships that inspire.

Nice chatting…


  1. Love this, Brian. Interesting side note on my experience with those who others consider VDPs. I’ve often found if I’m frank with them, yet open with my time with them, I’ve been able to help empower them to recognise their draining quality so they have a choice to convert that into passion for building the Kingdom through serving others who might be considered draining. The key test is “do I love them enough to spent enough time with them so I earn the right to say it as it is…?” I’ve found in these cases that that time invested, and my frankness, is both appreciated and invigorates their (and my) spiritual passion. The problem I find is that many VDPs know that others find them draining. And for many it’s the last perception they’ve wanted to leave people with.

    • Thanks Steve. It is important that we don’t just reject people out of hand because they are VDP. And as you say, sometimes vdp’s can and do change. And winning the right to have an honest conversation is important. But we do also need to check that we are not wiped out in the process.

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