Friday, December 31, 2021

Pastors Should Have Friends in Church. Do They?

I was told by a leader at the seminary I went to during a chapel that pastors should not have friends in the church they pastor. It did not sit well with me at the time and never has. It has been challenging at times as all relationships can be. Here is a good article from TGC. . . 

Before podcasts and blogs there was radio, and Paul Harvey was one of its iconic voices. Harvey brought an idyllic voice and a distinct delivery to his listeners for nearly 60 years. Each episode featured a mixture of news, commentary, and human-interest stories that not only informed but entertained.

Of particular interest to me were his five-minute broadcasts called “The Rest of the Story.” These small historical vignettes often offered a surprise ending, and he would close with his trademark “And now you know—the rest of the story.”

These words came to mind as my wife and I reflected on my article, “Yes, Pastors Should Have Friends in the Church.” I believe and stand by what I wrote, but now — for the rest of the story.

Pastoral Ministry Can Be Lonely

Yes, pastors and their wives should have close friends within the church, but this doesn’t mean they will. Such a sentence is hard to write; it is an even harder reality to face. Friendships within the church are so often difficult for pastors and their families. The loneliness is even enough to drive some to despair.

Friendships within the church are so often difficult for pastors and their families.

It is difficult to separate the person from the position. While specific reasons may vary, the root of loneliness often results from the inability (often unintentionally) of pastors and congregants to separate the person from the position. This reality manifests in the life of the pastor’s wife as well.

Every random encounter, lunch appointment, coffee meeting, and extracurricular event falls under the umbrella of the pastor-member relationship. Most of these encounters inevitably lead to conversations circling back to the church—its business, its programs, its politics. Such conversations then become brick and mortar for Jericho-like walls, hindering the development of genuine friendship.

Let’s not confuse church talk, however, with discussing the chosen, adopted, forgiven, and gathered people who have been lavished with God’s grace and united together in Christ. There is a difference between discussing the business of the church and discussing Jesus and his bride. Solely discussing the institution, while necessary at times, can be spiritually draining and can alienate us from the possibility of genuine friendship by establishing a person-position dichotomy.

For members of a congregation, the pastor may be seen as a professional expected to fill a position, not a person to be truly seen (much less befriended). Conversations about Jesus and his work in people, on the other hand, provide life-giving energy, foster spiritual intimacy, and deepen the unity we share in Christ. Conversations centered on these truths provide the foundation for friendship established on the person of Christ, not the profession of the pastor.

Close Friendships Aren’t Certain

Friendships come with various levels of intimacy. Some will only scratch the surface, while others will flourish as a result of common interests, shared desires, and mutual trust. While every level of friendship is important, few will provide the depth so many of us seek.

The church a pastor is called to serve may not meet his or his family’s longing for deep friendship, but this doesn’t mean his congregation doesn’t care. Nor does this mean friendships cannot exist within the church. Your church family may simply be unable to meet your personal longings for friendship. Should this occur, we as pastors must be careful not to project our frustrations as their failures.

Your church family may simply be unable to meet your personal longings for friendship.

Rather, may we give God thanks for the friendships he has provided. May we ask the Lord to provide the desires of our heart, but recognize he may not answer in the way we expect.

Perhaps he desires for us to acknowledge the relationships he’s graciously provided so that they may be intentionally nurtured, fostered, and developed. Perhaps our desire for close friendships will not be met through one or two persons, but rather through the collective membership of the body.

Jesus Sticks Closer

As the author of Proverbs writes, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Jesus is this friend. He is the one who knows and is able to meet our deepest longings. Plain and simple, Jesus is enough.

God will always provide exactly what we need, when we need it. Let’s fight against our tendency to build relational walls that stand in the way of receiving his blessing. Let’s not expect the church to provide the intimacy and validation only Jesus can provide. After all, it is our vertical relationship with him that enables friendships with others to flourish.

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