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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.