One of the most difficult parts of being a pastor, or working in church ministry, isn’t talked about much—and that is the difficulty of making close friends.
One of the unique things about being in full-time church ministry is that your work life, your social life and your spiritual life overlap almost completely. In some ways, this can be an asset to you. In other ways, it can be difficult. Should the boundaries in your relationships look more like friendships or more like working relationships? Should you share things that are personal? Who is a spiritual guide for you?
Who can you confide in when you’re struggling with sin?
What I’m not saying is that you aren’t friends with people at your church, or that you can’t be in a position of leadership and still be authentic.
What I am saying is that, as a leader in your church, it isn’t always easy to know what kind of boundaries to have in each different relationship. Here are some basic guidelines I would give to pastors asking this question.
Hopefully, your church is full of them, but if not, you might have to look outside of your church. Healthy, safe people listen to you. They won’t manipulate you, pressure you or shame you. Healthy, safe people are brimming with the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control.
Become friends with these people. As they move toward Jesus, you’ll move toward Jesus as well.
Especially if you’re a young pastor, or a new pastor, or you’ve moved to a new team—don’t expect trust to grow overnight. Give it time. As you spend time with those around you, and they spend time with you, you’ll each begin to get a picture of how trustworthy everyone is.
Here is a hint: Chances are, if someone is talking to you about another staff member or pastor, they’ll be talking to another staff member or pastor about you as well. You can love this person but be very cautious about sharing anything sensitive with them.
Some relationships are peer-to-peer. This is usually someone who is in the same life stage as you, who is in a similar position of leadership, and who shares some of your interests and needs. The purpose of these relationships, scripture says, is for iron to sharpen iron (Proverbs 27:17). In these relationships you share mutually, teach mutually and advise mutually.
Other relationships are mentor/mentee relationships. These are teaching relationships, where one person (the mentor) is in a position the other (the mentee) desires to be in someday. The purpose of this relationship is for teaching and learning. One listens, asks questions, pays attention, and solicits wisdom. The other teaches, admonishes, advises (but rarely, if ever, confesses or asks for wisdom in return).
The difference here is important because our hearts are our richest possession, and we must be very careful to whom we entrust it.
Sometimes I think we get stuck within the four walls of our church so-to-speak, and we forget we can be friends with other people. But it is possible (and even beneficial) to have friends who are in other professions entirely, or who are pastoring or leading in another community. I have great friends within my church community, and wonderful friends who I’ve met elsewhere.
Don’t limit yourself. Seek safe, healthy people wherever you are (see #1) and walk with them together toward Jesus.
For certain situations—like a difficult season of life, or a recurring sin—seeking counseling can be a more healthy solution than burdening your friends or team with a problem they may or may not know how to solve. I’m not suggesting you keep these struggles from your friends completely, or that your staff stays in the dark.
But counseling (with the right counselor) can be an extremely effective and helpful resource that will actually strengthen your friendships. Don’t be afraid to embrace the benefits of it.
By Justin Lathrop