How Pastors Discern Their True Friends


By Sam Rainer

Life is better with people. Life is more fun with people. Ministry requires people. We don’t minister to squirrels.

By God’s design, we cannot make it in this life without friends and family. We are created in God’s image, and He is social. We need relationships. It’s natural for us to crave social interaction. Some are more introverted than others, but everyone needs someone. Pastors are no exception. In fact, pastors should lead their churches with friendship in the same way they lead with theology, vision, and spiritual disciplines.

But being a pastor can be lonely. This loneliness is especially true for lead pastors. A lead pastor has no peers in the church. Staff report to the lead pastor, and the people of their churches are under their care. Other lead pastors in the community are peers, but their churches are often viewed as competition, an unfortunate but real problem.

For friendship, most lead pastors rely on other lead pastors in different communities. However, the distance between them creates a situation where they are not regularly interacting and do not understand the unique dynamics of ministry in each other’s communities. It’s tough to relate when you don’t live in the same place.

Pastors should have at least one friend in the church. It’s hard, I know. Most pastors stay on guard. They’ve been burned or hurt. As a result, they are in a defensive posture. Potential friends want to relate, but it can be difficult. Since friendship can be challenging for many pastors, how can they discern their true friends?

  1. Presence. Think about the hundreds of interactions you have with various people throughout the week. Most people are in your life because you find them useful. You are in others’ lives because for most you are useful to them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Societies function based upon people being helpful and useful to each other. I’m glad the barista is friendly. He gives me coffee. I give him a tip. But usefulness is certainly not friendship. A true friend is found in the valley. They walk with you in the low points. A true friend is there when you are at your most useless.
  2. Protection. A true friend protects your time, your reputation, and your family. The person who frees you to be with your family, the person who quickly stamps out gossip, the person who makes sure you have time to prepare your sermons, that’s a true friend.
  3. Truthfulness. Pastors should cultivate a friendship with the person who tells the truth. Truth must be worked out; it doesn’t just come to the surface on its own. If someone always tells you what you want to hear, and never digs into the tough stuff in your life, that person is using you for something (and you’re likely using them for a false sense of self-assurance). Pastors need truth tellers for friends.
  4. Trustworthiness. You can be truthful but not trustworthy. There are plenty of people out there who tell the truth, but I wouldn’t necessarily trust them. The best and wisest friend is both truthful and trustworthy. A pastor needs someone in the church with whom to be vulnerable. The truth teller who is also trustworthy is a precious friend.

Pastors must work to maintain friends in the church. The stakes are too high. The result of isolation is depression, burnout, or moral failure. You can’t be wise on your own. You need God’s Truth and good friends.

Find the friend in your church who is present, a protector, a truth teller, and trustworthy. Then cultivate that friendship with vigor.

Posted on September 11, 2019

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • This has been a very helpful article to me. And very timely. To long to try to explain though. The point that a true friend protects your time was especially helpful as I strive to be a true friend to a pastor and his wife.

  • Great tip, thanks for sharing
    I tried it and it worked

  • Rockson Chodang says on

    I like your article pastor discern ….friend.

  • Your article states that pastors have been burnt by friendships with members of their congregation. Can I suggest that the reverse is also true? There are a number of possible reasons, I’ll mention two.

    Firstly very few pastors actually have the time to develop deep friendships as most are extremely busy so from the congregants view the friendship comes across as superficial and lightweight.

    Secondly it’s very easy for such friendships to appear to be about what the pastor can get from the relationship. Particularly requests for professional (and expensive) skills for free or greater giving. I don’t wish to tar all pastors with the same brush but it only takes a congregants having one or two such experiences before all pastors are kept at arms length.

  • Hurt church member says on

    Pastors should have friends within their churches. If they meet someone there that they connect with and enjoy, it’s natural for a friendship to develop. But it only works if he is still shepherding the rest of the flock. My pastor lavishes attention on several families that he’s friends with, and keeps others at arms’ length and is superficial. He can have friends, but he should touch bases with other members of his church to see how they’re doing. At a recent heated business meeting, his friends defended him, not understanding what some of us have experienced. Shortly after, he invited his friends to his house and puts it on social media, fueling the division between us. Is it friendship or political maneuvering? Is it James 2:1?

    • William Alan Secrest says on

      I heard the same comments from people within my church that the former pastor had favorites. What I have come to understand after 11 years in the church is that this “clique” wants to get down to business. They come faithfully to prayer meetings and they engage the word. They constantly pray for my family and encourage us when we need it. That is not to say that we have not been hurt. In both of my pastorates, we grew close to people only to watch them leave or bad-mouth us behind the scenes. When I was first beginning in pastoral ministry I had a seasoned pastor tell me to create close friendships outside of the church. That is exactly what I have done. Being able to cut loose and unwind is usually not done well among those that a pastor is serving.

  • frank gambrah says on

    I’m at a loss as to what betrayals are being spoken about here. Can someone please give without necessarily going into details what is being referred to as betrayal.

  • Enjoyable article, thanks for sharing

  • Anthony Burrell says on

    Very timely article. My best relationships have been formed with people outside of the church where I am serving/pastoring. I have two associate ministers and I have seen it work both ways. One is refreshing and the other is mercurial. God created us as social beings. Like anything else in life, it is a risk to extend yourself in forming new relationships. But risk we must because there can be great reward. I am grateful for the friends that God has allowed to come into my life. Cultivating those relationships can and will be a source of great joy. TGBTG!

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