By Zac Harrel
A few years into my pastorate I remember sitting down with my morning cup of coffee and feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I pastored a small, rural church twenty miles from any other town in Central Texas. In our church community there weren’t many men my age, and in our surrounding community it seemed there weren’t any who wanted to be friends with the pastor. I felt alone. My life was missing deep, full friendships with people outside of my home.
I’m not alone in this feeling. Many pastors struggle to build strong friendships, and this last year as we have tried to lead churches through a pandemic we have seen the depths of our loneliness in new ways. Pastors are lonely, and many feel they don’t have a friend they can open up to about their personal struggles. There is nowhere for them to turn, nowhere they can be their true selves.
That morning I realized my deep need for friendship. We were all created for community. But with the isolating and lonely nature of ministry, pastors especially need friends they can turn to.
The Friendship Struggle of a Pastor Towards His People
One of the first pieces of advice I received when I started in ministry was, the pastor should not be friends with their congregants. This kind of friendship could lead to conflicts of interests, promote favoritism, or cause division within the body. You are the pastor; they are the members of the church. While there may be some wisdom in this advice, and I know pastors who have been burned by those they considered friends, this is a myopic view of what it means to be human and what it means to be the church.
While I don’t think this advice is healthy for either the pastor or the church, there is almost always a divide between the pastor and the people. True friendship is hard to cultivate because you will always be seen as the pastor first.
Don’t get me wrong. It is an honor and an awesome responsibility to be a pastor. It is a gift of God’s grace to have a front-row seat to his work in the life of your church. But being seen as only your job title can start to feel incredibly lonely.
There is a flip side to this as well. The people in your church are more than members on a roll or people in a pew. But as pastors we can sometimes have a hard time seeing them as more than a volunteer or someone to be taught or led. We struggle to build friendships with them as much as they do with us.
Only when we see one another as more than who we are on a Sunday morning, as humans made in the image of God in need of deep community, can we begin to bridge the divide set up by our roles and church cultures.
The Friendship Struggle of a Pastor Toward Other Pastors
For the last year I have served as director of a local Baptist association. One major aspect of my job is to build fellowship among the pastors of our association. And what I have seen in my eleven years as a pastor is that pastors often struggle to be friends with other pastors.
While there is a level of freedom in being among others who understand the unique stresses and blessings of your calling, there is a palpable caution when pastors gather together. There is almost always a sense of not wanting to be too vulnerable.
Personally, my struggle to connect with other pastors often stems from a sense of inadequacy. I’m not as smart. I’m not as spiritual. I don’t have the leadership skills. I don’t understand how to cast vision or even what it means to have vision. There are even seasons where I feel far from God. Most of the time I am just trying to be faithful on this day, in this moment.
But, when I am around another pastor I don’t feel like I can say these things. I want them to respect me. I want them to think I’m a good pastor. Now, maybe you don’t have these thoughts or struggles. Maybe it’s easy for you to make friends with another pastor. Bless you. But, I believe there are many of us who struggle to be ourselves around other leaders for fear of being found out as a spiritual sham.
This is why so much of the conversation between pastors is about our numbers and our structures and our services. And while there is a need to work through logistics, there is a deeper need to be seen, known, heard, and loved. When friendship is based on what we do instead of who we are, it’s not really friendship.
Friendship Begins with the Gospel
One of the beautiful aspects of the good news of the Gospel is when Jesus tells us in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus calls us friends. His life, death, resurrection, and his all-around loving kindness toward us have made a way for us to be friends with him. We are never alone. He is a friend who is always with us. This amazing declaration helps us see ourselves as loved, safe, seen, known, heard, and valued. When we know this truth deep down in our bones we can make ourselves vulnerable to build earthly friendships that reflect our eternal friendship with God.
True, abiding friendships begin with the gospel.
Pastor, you can build genuine friendships out of knowing your friendship with Jesus. You don’t have to establish your worth. It is found in Jesus. You don’t have to have it all together. You are loved by Jesus.
When we are satisfied in Christ we can be a friend to others and allow them to be friends with us. Out of the overflow of the good news of Jesus’s friendship toward you, you can build genuine friendships with others.
That feeling of loneliness still occurs. I have often not been a good friend, and the struggle to build true friendships still often comes out of my own insecurity and fear. But, I am confessing this daily and reminding myself that Jesus calls me friend every day. Out of this good news I am trying to build deep friendships, not simply because it’s my job to do so among local pastors in our region, but because I know I need deep friendships. I was made for deep friendships.
Do you struggle to make and keep genuine, profound friendships? Hear Jesus in John 15:15. He calls you friend, and out of this eternal friendship, you can build the lasting, meaningful friendships your soul desperately needs.
Click here to read the original blog on gcdiscipleship.com