A pastor's friends

I've heard it said in the past that a pastor should not have really close friendships with people in their own congregation. That if they do, then others may assume the pastor is showing favoritism. Is that a legitimate concern or is it an overblown worry?
I'm not a pastor myself, but I personally think that everybody in the church should make an effort to develop really close friendships with the other people in church, and that would include the pastor.
Yet I also know that close friends share their troubles with each other, and a pastor's troubles may involve their own church situations. A pastor would have to be really careful about the kinds of troubles they may share with close friends within their own congregation.

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Alex Guggenheim's picture

Remember, we are natural enemies in the church. That is, God did not institute and design the church to be based on social, intellectual or personal interests. Therefore the concept that we should attempt to develop "really close friendships with other people in the church" is incompatible with the design and expectations in Scripture.

Our fellowship with other believers is spiritual and that spiritual preoccupation is what allows us to come together and operate together. However, personal friendships and social compatibility is not based on a spiritual context or preoccupation. It may be true that in some cases we will find social compatibility with other believers in our congregation but not everyone has the same social interests or personalities that find maximum pleasure with any and all persons.

And it is also true that if persons share the same level of spiritual pursuit they may find themselves bonding with those in that context but even then, where people share a spiritual bond with another based on spiritual pursuit, they aren't guaranteed social compatibility.

It is a myth that spiritual compatibility does or should translate to social compatibility. It is true that our Christian honor code or code of conduct such as is delineated in Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians and so on, should temper certain aspects of our personalities and behavior so that there is a higher degree of social grace and tact but these still are for the benefit of the body of Christ and its operation and not our social pursuits.

Now some do imagine that the Christian should limit their social pursuits to all things Christian. And even in such a setting we are still left with the fact that (again even in such a limited context) not all Christians share the same social interests and are equally compatible. But of course the Bible requires no such social isolation.

And as to the Pastor's social life, so long as it does not bring reproach, it really is not the business of the members of the congregation to investigate and evaluate with whom he is socializing and with whom he is not. It is his life, his private life and not that of someone else. And that "someone else" is not licensed by God to interfere with another someone else, even the Pastor regarding the legitimate exercise of their private life. And to demand the Pastor develop close personal relationships with all church members or that he be available for such, is to do this very thing, never mind the gross invasion of his personal time which could not possibly involve entertaining all church members equally.

Lisa R's picture

I agree that everyone in church should be close to each other including the pastor. This is probably easier done in a smaller church. I know my husband has always tried to befriend everyone in our church: we try to open and transparent with our people, although there will always be things we can't share with others -- but then that's true of many professions, including lawyers, teachers, and doctors. Sometimes we do end up with certain people more often than others: I enjoy spending time with folks who have kids our kids' ages, for example, and he has a gym buddy.

A wise pastor will seek to be balanced and try to spread his time around with various people, but he will not always be able to be completely equitable. If someone is feeling left out, the Scriptural thing to do is to go to the pastor about it, although instead of complaining, that person should just invite the pastor over for a game night!

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill. "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion. "Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then." "There is no other stream," said the Lion.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Quote:
I personally think that everybody in the church should make an effort to develop really close friendships with the other people in church, and that would include the pastor.

I agree with Alex. Since there are different levels of friendship, I'd say that church folks should be friendly and willing to bear one another's burdens. But I don't believe that necessitates close friendships with everyone in the church, or even most people. I just don't have that kind of time. I don't understand the need to be close to the pastor, and neither does my husband. We know enough to enjoy fellowship, be able to follow leadership, carry on a conversation, and pray for the pastor and his family- but we don't have the desire to purposefully develop a hang-out buddy relationship unless it happens naturally. My first instinct with a pastor is not how he relates to me, but how he relates to his family and to the Lord. I think having those two things in order will allow him to be enough of a spiritual leader that he doesn't have to be 'close' to us in order to effectively minister.

Kevin Miller's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
Remember, we are natural enemies in the church. That is, God did not institute and design the church to be based on social, intellectual or personal interests.

How exactly are we "natural enemies" in the church. I can understand your point that a spiritual compatability is not necessarily going to translate into a social compatability, but I am not sure why you would use the word "enemies."

Mike Durning's picture

I believe lack of lasting friendships is one reason why so many pastors stay such a short time in their church. I encourage all pastors to make lasting friendships in their church. As for favoritism, I think it's important to note that some will draw themselves closer to the pastor than others. It is not wrong for the pastor to respond to this, any more than it was for Jesus to have an innermost circle of 3, a slightly larger circle of 12, a larger one of 70, and so on.

Furthermore, personal discipleship relationship frequently will have a friendship aspect, and such relationships are a pastoral responsibility.

jpeal's picture

I agree with Mike. I have been in more than one church in the last 15 years as my work has caused me to travel. The people I have watched, that have the best individual Spiritual growth, are in churches that promote open and honest fellowship (which often requires some kind of transparency). This kind of fellowship eventually causes people to become friends. In my case some I would consider better friends than others but I dread the thought of loosing any of them as friends. My "Spiritual preoccupations" often have more practical implications that may invite critical conversation - but I invite them for the sake of added personnel growth that would not have been obtained if I did not interact with my "friend(s)".
God did not create us as robots (If that were so His grace would not be optional) we are social beings, and he has made us to be relational. If we were more social and relational (the way he designed us to be) we would have more compassion for those hurting in our churches, and the lost who have not accepted Christ. The pastor is a person too and needs friends but they don't have to be in his church.

Jim Peal - Blessed Hope

Kevin Miller's picture

jpeal wrote:
The people I have watched, that have the best individual Spiritual growth, are in churches that promote open and honest fellowship (which often requires some kind of transparency). This kind of fellowship eventually causes people to become friends.

Hmmm. Perhaps this is a chicken and egg type question, but does open and honest fellowship cause friendship or does friendship cause open and honest fellowship? I can have a certain level of fellowship with anyone whom I know is a Christian, but I am not going to be completely transparent with someone about everything going on in my life unless I consider that person to also be a close friend.

jpeal's picture

Right - I am only promoting the idea of not allowing the care of ones reputation to take priority over learning / growth. Ya see, pride can and has gotten in the way of learning. I don't advocate bluberring or going into more detail about personal things than is needed to dray a conclusion - since that was the original purpose.

Jim Peal - Blessed Hope

Mike Durning's picture

The "transparency" thing always confuses me. If something is transparent, you can't see it. Shouldn't we be opaque? Wink

Kevin Miller's picture

Mike Durning wrote:
The "transparency" thing always confuses me. If something is transparent, you can't see it. Shouldn't we be opaque? Wink

lol. transparent is not the same as invisible. Wink

Pastork's picture

Mike Durning wrote:
I believe lack of lasting friendships is one reason why so many pastors stay such a short time in their church. I encourage all pastors to make lasting friendships in their church. As for favoritism, I think it's important to note that some will draw themselves closer to the pastor than others. It is not wrong for the pastor to respond to this, any more than it was for Jesus to have an innermost circle of 3, a slightly larger circle of 12, a larger one of 70, and so on.

Furthermore, personal discipleship relationship frequently will have a friendship aspect, and such relationships are a pastoral responsibility.

I would also remind everyone here that Jesus said to His disciples, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). In my view, a pastor who avoids close friendships with those in his congregation is a pastor who does not share Jesus' heart for them.

Now, I know that there are also some pastors who avoid being too close to others or too transparent with others because they are afraid of being betrayed. My response to this is to remind them that Jesus Himself was betrayed by those He called His friends. This is simply part of the deal. We must accept this reality as a part of the sufferings of Christ to which we are called. This does not mean that we should be un-wise in what we share with others, as has been pointed out above, it just means we need to have the courage to risk being hurt. This is an important part of what we must model for those under our care. And when we are hurt, then by God's grace we can model for them a patient and forgiving heart.

jpeal's picture

Mike - This may be for another thread, but I have always thought of the transparency thing as the "gaurd part". If I am transparent about some topic I let someone see the whole content of what I believe / feel about it. But you have an interesting point, If there is no window then there is just the "content".

Jim Peal - Blessed Hope

pastorwesh's picture

Hey Jim,

I pastor in Hammond (not at 1st, rather at Bethel Bible Church in Hammond, IN)...do you think they would come and do a talk on that to my Elder Board? At least that way I would have at least three friends...

Serving the Savior, Pastor Wes Helfenbein 2 Cor. 5:17