The Pastor and Friendships
Something true of many pastors is that, within their own church congregations, they have few if any close friends. There is an unspoken idea among church leaders that it is dangerous, even divisive, to build close personal friendships within the congregation. Most pastors, seeing this practice of professional distance modeled by other church leaders, follow suit and keep nearly everyone in their congregation at arm’s length. This idea is both unbiblical and dangerous.
We should not look to Jesus’ relationship to His disciples as the example here, because that was a unique bond. Jesus is God, and so naturally there is going to be a distance shown in His relationships because of His very nature. Instead look to the disciples’ relationships with one another, and what Jesus said of them. In John 17 Christ called them to be one as He and the Father were one. Often the disciples were referred to as brothers. The early church in Acts 2 held their possessions in common and met together daily. The picture here is not of professional distance with respect to church leaders. In fact, just the opposite is true.
You need close friends because you are a member of the body. A pastor must have close friends on which he can call for support and fellowship. To lack a basic sense of friendship among those with whom one ministers creates an oppressive, almost depressing atmosphere. A pastor is not a “spiritual doctor” bound by some God-ordained Hippocratic oath. He is a shepherd. And a shepherd knows his sheep. Friends are vital for a pastor’s own personal and spiritual health. A pastor needs friends to laugh with, to go through crises with, and bond with in the spirit of Christian brotherhood. Remember: All ministry is relationships—nothing else matters.
You need close friends for accountability. A pastor too must be accountable to someone besides his spouse. Friends provide a good check-and-balance. This is different than critics and detractors that every church has. Friends are those close to the pastor who he can trust with their honest opinions. Friends are those who will possess a relationship with the pastor that enables them to help him see to his own spiritual and personal health. A pastor who has no one asking him, “What is God teaching you this week?” or “How can I encourage you today?” is literally withering on the vine. Friendships help a pastor maintain growth in his own walk with Christ.
You need friends nearby. Finally, a pastor’s friends must be within reach. Often a pastor forms relationships at seminary, or with other pastors in neighboring cities, and relies on telephone and email relationships to share their deepest thought and needs. This is horribly impractical. Despite what communications gurus may dream about, friendships cannot really blossom outside of face-to-face time. A pastor must have people he can hop in the car and go see regularly, and vice-versa. Much of the most meaningful parts of friendship cannot be communicated via phone or web. Friendships, too, grow in mutual enjoyment of another’s company. Friendships may be a fishing or golf buddy, a fellow church leader, a high-school classmate—anyone who shares a mutual interest and a strong Christ-centered faith.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.