How Pastors Discern Their True Friends

September 11, 2019

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.

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28 Comments

  • If Jesus commanded us to love one another as He has loved us, this will naturally result to deep friendships within the church and this includes the pastor.

    For me it’s a sad reality if a pastor can’t have this deep friendship after serving for many years in the same church.

  • K. F. Prufrock says on

    In John 15:15 Jesus says “No longer do I call you slaves, but friends.” I once heard an evangelist paraphrase this verse by saying, “What I want to do, I want to do with my friends.” This has stuck with me. For sure, those in your circle of friends may hurt you. In fact, you probably will get hurt. Judas betrayed Jesus. The possibility of being hurt should never cause us to settle for less or to hide out in isolation. Pastors must be willing to risk being hurt. It will make you a better Pastor. If we can’t develop friends within the church, how can we expect those we are leading to make friends in the church? One the biggest lies the enemy tells us is that we are justified to alienate ourselves either because we will be hurt or because we have been hurt. This is the same justification many use to “forsake the assembling together.” We should aspire to do better. If friendship is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!

  • People will be people…
    I just retired from a 17 year pastoralship…Our Congregation was 125 or so…We all grew together through all of life’s trials and blessings…My wife is my best friend…because we’re sown together as one and good or bad, she always tells it as it is…

    I believe it’s great to desire close relationships…and to think there is one out there that will meet your needs…but I’ve learned as a Pastor to enjoy each part of each one, and look to God for the rest.

    Blessings!

  • Tony Jones says on

    What if you have a congregation that is older than you? I have some decent friendships in my congregation, but none that I would consider deep, or want to be deep.

  • Pastor Jeff says on

    Rainer

    Psalm 55:12–14
    12 For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; Then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; Then I could hide from him.
    13 But it was you, a man my equal, My companion and my acquaintance.
    14 We took sweet counsel together, And walked to the house of God in the throng.

    What at timely article for ministers, thanks Dr Rainer.

    Indeed lead pastors can be some of the loneliest people in the church.

    I was raised in church; both my parents were PK’s. I overheard a lot of horror stories from my parents about things their parents and they themselves experienced at the hands of “church people”. The hurt and betrayal and the affects it had on my grandparents and my parents was unmistakable.

    I have been lead pastor for over 25 years, 23 years at my current pastorate. I am torn on having “close” friends from within the church. Our first pastorate of a little home missions church we opened up our hearts wide and became friends with many in the congregation. Flat out betrayal not by one but by several. Later we found that that these people did the same thing in other church, befriended the pastor and then betrayed them. How awful!

    When my wife and first came to our current pastorate we developed closer friends than ever with several couples our age in the church. We socialized together, took trips together and for the first time in ministry had “close” friends in the church. Then contempt happened, not with all of them but some. The others within the group didn’t want to take “sides” and so drifted away.

    I’ve developed “close” friendships with deacons and their families and had two of them betray me. I stayed and they left. Another deacon of whom I was his best man in his wedding, he left too.

    I am very, very guarded. I am friendly with all and am “friends” with some but I am not “close” friends with anyone in the congregation. A close friend is someone I can share anything about my life and know I’m safe with them.

    Yes, ministers need close friends but after being betrayed a few times by “church” people and even other ministers you just seem to close the door to close friends and that hurts.

    My best friend is my wife. She too used to have “close” friends with some of the deacon’s wives and other ladies only to be betrayed by some and others drifted away even though she tried to keep the relationship closer.

    In many churches the loneliest woman in the church is the Pastor’s wife. If she’s not involved in some ministry on Sunday morning she’s usually sitting on the front row, alone or with her young kids.

    Concerning staff, I’ve been close friend with some in the past and some of them betrayed me. Once you’ve been betrayed several times you just close up your heart to close friends. Not saying that right, just what it is. That closed heart in itself causes or compounds the loneliness minister’s face.

    Oh, and let’s not forget the PK’s. I’ve watched, with pain, my own kids develop friendships within the church only to have some of those friendships sour. I asked my kids what happened and they replied, “it’s because I’m the pastor’s kid.” My kids are adults now and thank God they are still serving God. Yet they too do not have “close” friends.

    I’m not saying as a minister should not have a “close” friend in the church I’m saying from my personal experience, it’s hard to open your heart up to that once you’ve been betrayed a few times. Sure, my wife and I would like to have “close” friends but it is a mine field and one we keep working on navigating through.

    I wish my story was different. I wish my story was my BFF’s were people in the church. I wish that my story was I’ve never been betrayed by close friends in the church. David’s story in Psalm 55:12-14 was it was a close friend that had betrayed him.

    Ministers need good close friends and I pray that God will guide us all to have Jonathans in our lives. People who are indeed a “presence” in our life, will “protect” us and be our armorbearer, will speak “truth” in love and will be “trustworthy” and faithful in our lives.

  • In my 22 years of pastoring, I’ve found that genuine “ride or die” friends are very rare. I have a couple, and one has gone to be with the Lord. My mistake was expecting all the others around me to have the same feelings toward me. I found out that when you’re in leadership, contempt and envy are emotions that’s close at hand with some folks.

    Pastoring can be a lonely, hurtful place; it’s also a very rewarding thing too.

  • Pastor Franklin King says on

    I have seen, in my years of experience, that members of your congregation, though they may like you and be friendly towards you, they dont want to fellowship with you on a friendship level.

    The biggest thing I have seen is because you are the Senior Pastor, you may see their dirt. They dont want you to see what they are like outside Sunday Morning Service. You dont get invited to the get togethers, unless its a church get together. 🙂

    My wife went to be with the Lord last year, and after that day, this lacking has been magnified exponentially.

    My church is very small, anyway, but I am pressing outward, and trying to connect. Please keep me in your prayers in this new journey in my life and ministry.

  • The point here is that pastors need relationships, whether or not they are in the church is a separate issue in my mind. Sadly, the people we minister to do not want to see or discover too much of our humanity, they are happy to keep us on a pedestal and believe that we are the full embodiment of everything that we preach. So I have decided that my close relationships would be outside the church with people who view me realistically and can treat me like a normal person. I think it’s much healthier and safer for everyone concerned.

    • I am friendly to everyone in the church. Like most pastors I am closer to some than others. As I approach perhaps retirement just God knows when. I am purposely making friends outside the church most of who are not yet Christians.

    • An issue with not having a trusted friend in your church is the church is the place where you should have the most impact on a day-in and day-out basis. Without a trusted friend you may never find out the issues or the faults committed until it’s too late.

    • I tend to agree with John. I do believe a pastor needs close friendships with other godly men for reasons of encouragement, transparency and accountability. And I have chosen to pursue friendships mostly outside the church for the reasons John has cited. I want friends where I can be myself, and that is very hard to find within the church.

  • The late Bum Phillips, NFL coach of the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints, once said: “You can tell how many real friends you have if they have your funeral on a weekday!”

  • In my view the sterling qualities of a True Friend of a Pastor:
    (i) Availability
    (ii) Defend your family, career and ministry
    (iii) Tell the truth always
    (iv) Trustworthy everytime
    (v) Reliable and dependable
    (vi) Supportive in prayer
    (vii) Source of encouragement. Anything less is a Fairweather friend of a Pastor.

  • Thanks for this. My first ministry position was as a youth pastor. Some of my friends joined the church to help support what I was doing. The senior pastor pulled me aside and told me to end those friendships because it was inappropriate to have friends in the church, even they were your friends previously. I never listened to his advice.

  • A friend of mine who has ministered in over 1,200 different Churches in the US and internationally states unequivocally, “When you as the Leader and Pastor in your Church develop a close and intimate “best friend” within your own congregation that familiarity will (not might) end in contempt, cause either that person, or you, to leave that Church. He is emphatic on this point…in his experience, zero exceptions as far as he has witnessed over the past 25 years.

    • Joe Pastor says on

      I’m a pastor of 33 years (17 in my current location). I disagree with the premise that friendships in the church WILL lead to contempt. On the one hand, yes, it’s possible. I’ve experienced it. On the other hand, no, it’s not inevitable. In previous churches I’ve served, I still have good friends whose friendships have stood the test of time. . .even though I departed. In my present church, I have several of the deepest friendships I’ve ever had for 17 years and counting. So. . .one should be cautious. One should only trust others a little bit at a time over a long period of time. And in time, you WILL get burned. But at the same time, deep friendships are necessary and Biblical. It’s worth the risk.

    • While I agree not all close friendships between a Pastor and church member will end in contempt. I also believe a Pastor needs to proceed with caution in such friendships. Since as a Pastor and DOM I have seen many such friendships end badly. For example the church member and/or church leader had ulterior motives for the friendship and when that motive either became known to the Pastor or did not yield the results the member was anticipating not only did it negatively impact their relationship but had a negative impact on the Pastor’s role at the church as well as the ministry of the church as a whole.

    • I can provide him exceptions. Two of my best friends in the world were members in churches where I served. Neither left the church. Nor has their been contempt. Indeed, 25 and 10 years later (respectively), we are still great friends.

    • I have seen good godly men be put to death by churches that had serious problems before the minister was hired. Once the minister stated working the members placed on him the problem of fixing the problem.

      At the same time I have known ministers damage churches by doing and saying things behind the lederships eyes and ears. The minister did not tell the whole truth when hired into a church and or was doing something wrong while being a key leader in the Church.

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