20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #17: Friendships are Vital, Inside and Outside the Church

Can a pastor have friends in the church they lead?

It’s an honest question pastors ask. And depending on their experiences, you’ll get different responses.

I say “yes.”  Just as I’m convinced we need to truly love the people we are with, eschewing the separation between clergy and laity best we can, I believe that meaningful friendships within the church are crucial to long-term ministry. Pastors who guard themselves from friendships in the community end up isolated from the community, bearing the load alone, a load that was meant to be shared.

Now, I’m not naive. I know we can all get hurt in community, and being in leadership can amplify the risk. I understand the need for safe relationships, people who you can process struggles with and confide in. And while there may be times when that kind of friendship is available within your church, there may be other times when we need to reach beyond our local community.

Here’s my point: while I think meaningful friendships with people in the church are vital and important, I don’t think they are the only friendships you should have. I think, as a pastor and as a leader, I need people who call me their pastor and friend; I also need significant friendships with people who don’t see me as their pastor, ever.

As I grow in relationship with people, I come to know who is trustworthy, honest, and loving, just like anyone else does. And some, we find out, aren’t. And (again, like all of our friendships) different people become unique friends, with varying levels of transparency or connection. That’s not a bad thing; that’s natural. And needful. That’s why, for me, I don’t filter friendships through the grid of “church/non-church,” keeping the “church” friends at arms length. Rather, I let each friendship stand on its own, and let it grow (or not) in the most natural way.

Jon and Tom in AZ - Copy
There are friends who are with us through the seasons. Jon is one of those friends for me, and I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for friends I have developed over the years, both in and out of my local church. They have sustained me in life and in ministry, and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

  • Friends who love me, truly, and not as a way of getting anything from me.
  • Friends who tell me the truth, kindly, and for my good.
  • Friends who question my motives, while at the same time, believing in me with all their hearts.
  • Friends I can just “be” with–not performing, not having to measure up or guard their perception of me.
  • Friends who will be there, even if I’m no longer the pastor.

I need these friends if I’m to stay whole and healthy, not only as person but as a pastor. I’m glad I have them.

The words of this Need to Breathe song really sums it up. I’m thankful for friends who embody this heart for me.

Brother, let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother, let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

So far, I’ve posted 16 of the 20 Lessons projected for May. You can catch up below.



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