Thursday, October 18, 2012

But you gotta have friends...

One of the things that I love about blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media is the opportunity to interact over ideas (not personalities, which is often an unfortunate substitute).  Having serious, thoughtful, issue-based, scripturally-grounded conversations (discussions, debates, even heated debates carried out lovingly) is helpful to me.  Often writing and talking through those things helps me process what I really think, and how I should approach a topic or scripture.  That's why I am writing today.  I need to discuss; I need your help.

I had a conversation Tuesday with two other men over lunch.  During the conversation, I noted how sometimes it is hard for people to treat me as anything other than a pastor.  Normal would-be friendships are sometimes hindered by the fact that I am the spiritual leader of a local congregation. I worry that people think that my chief concern is how often they are in church meetings.  So we discussed the nature of relationships specifically between pastors and individuals in their congregations.

I want others to know that I am concerned about them as friends, as people, more so than about their absence at a church meeting.  And if I ask about why they were not at a meeting, it is because I am concerned about them as friends.  It is not an interrogation, I promise.  If they had responsibilities that they committed to, such as committee input, parts in the worship service, etc, my hope is that they would fulfill their ministries faithfully.  If there was a health problem, or family emergency, I want to know because I love them.  I am not looking for a doctor's excuse as to why they missed a meeting. And I am thrilled to know that people want to gather with the body, want to hear from God, want to cultivate relationships with each other, and want to care for the body.  And I know that there is personal guilt sometimes about not coming to worship, and sometimes talking to me about it makes some folks feel better, and I am fine with that.  So I am not trying to be unkind or uncaring in writing this piece, quite to the contrary; I just want to be a friend as well as a pastor...but is that possible, practical, necessary, helpful?  Maybe sometimes I just want friends...

These two brothers with whom I had lunch gave a perspective and some advice coming from many more years of vocational ministry than me that forces me to consider my own reaction and little-thought-out position.  My interpretation (which is hopefully fair and accurate) was like this: pastoral authority and intimate friendship fight against each other.  Let me further explain, because I don't necessarily want you to have the same initial reaction that I had (obviously I have tipped my hand).  I want you to really think, and really say what you think in love :-)  So please be gracious with discussion.  And please don't pick apart every sentence I wrote, aim for the main point.

They stated that they felt like there were limits to the closeness of friendship between a pastor and one of his congregants because without them, the necessities of spiritual reproof and correction could not be carried out effectively.  It is probably worth noting that no one talked about what the "limits" might be, or where the lines should be drawn.  They stated that if a pastor brought himself down to the level of "just friends" he would lose the respect as the man of God who speaks with delegated spiritual authority from Christ.  His words would become as just those of any other person.  His rebuke and spiritual instruction would suffer a lack of weightiness.  The respect he deserves by virtue of his office is compromised, and the ability to effectively speak into a congregants life is short-circuited.  They felt like the deepest friendships for pastors would be outside their congregations.  And pastors should use caution with church members about deep friendships.

They assured me that this was more than just a practical or pragmatic concern.  With regard to scripture, they said it was consistent with the accounts of leaders in the New Testament.  They cited Jesus maintaining the distinction as "teacher" or "rabbi" rather than addressing him by first name ("Yo, Jesus, could you come here for a minute?").  He wasn't their "homeboy."  They also cited Paul who has numerous defenses of his apostolic authority, and seems to have closer relationships with his ministry team and apostolic delegates (or pastors if you like) like Timothy and Titus.  Biblical teaching on this subject is important, but it is open for some interpretation.  I won't send you the texts that I have been mulling over, so that you can give me yours.

I am still processing, especially related to scripture, but also related to my experience as a pastor the last 10 years or so.  We currently have and have had such wonderful friendships with those that we shepherded and are shepherding.  In fact, I am having a conversation (on Facebook) with one of the deepest friends that we have ever had while I write this piece.

I am still so green (and I know it) that I am always looking for blind spots in my ministry due to various reasons that could be hindering my work as a pastor, the spiritual growth of my congregation, or my personal walk with God.  I want to be biblical.  I want to avoid pitfalls and landmines that may hurt me and others.  Although, we must remember that we are not promised not to be hurt in our friendships.

Most of what I have said here today comes not from long, deep reflection, but more out of initial reaction, so bear with me.  Several good comments on my FB status regarding this.  And help me process...what do you think?

Make sure and read the follow up post that I wrote a few days later here.


  1. Your friends are correct only if "pastor" and "spiritual leader" are equated to "vocational ministry." I don't think they are associated in Scripture, but then that's the way it's usually done today.

    On the other hand, if you are truly "pastoring" (caring for) people and you are truly leading spiritually (providing an example of one who is following Christ that others can follow), then friendship (close relationship) is necessary.

    Remember that the instructions to correct, warn, admonish, etc. were not given just to leaders (pastors, elders, whatever term you want to use). These instructions and these functions were given to all followers of Jesus. By the logic above, then, there should be no friendships among the church.

    By the way, people did call Jesus "Rabbi"... but do you remember what he said about having others call us by titles?


  2. As an addition... I think it helps if you and everyone else recognizes that as you are shepherding others, you are also being shepherded by them. In Scripture, only Jesus offers a one-sided shepherding relationship with us. For all others, shepherding (as with all other relationships) is mutual. But, when shepherding is seen as one-sided, then relationships become difficult and strained.


  3. I guess I come at it from the other angle from the two you lunched with on Tuesday. Let me reference a couple of quotes from your blog and comment on them.

    Quote #1 - "They stated that they felt like there were limits to the closeness of friendship between a pastor and one of his congregants because without them, the necessities of spiritual reproof and correction could not be carried out effectively."

    The Biblical description of a friend is one who is willing to address the difficult issues with another person. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” – Proverbs 27:6. I care more about my friends than anyone else in the world other than family, and I am willing to do whatever is necessary – even be brutally honest – to protect them. I do not think that being someone’s friend jeopardizes my objectivity, but rather emboldens my objectivity. I feel more freedom to rebuke a correct a friend because I know that they know I have their best interest at heart.

    Quote #2 – “…if a pastor brought himself down to the level of "just friends" he would lose the respect as the man of God who speaks with delegated spiritual authority from Christ.”

    I take exception to this sentence on two points. First, I do not consider myself superior to my church members, so if I become “just friends” I am not bringing myself down. If this sentiment comes from a heart of pride, we will lose the ability to effective pastor because we will become more concerned with our image than the welfare of the Body.

    Second, I like to think that my friends respect me more than anyone else does, because they know me better than anyone else does. They know my heart, my character, yes, and even my flaws, and they see the way I allow God to work in me. When they SEE that I have SUBMITTED to the authority of Christ in my life, then they are more willing to follow my spiritual authority because they know it is from Christ and not from me.

    Jesus is the Son of God, and He is the only one who is worthy of a superior / inferior ministry relationship. He taught His disciples that to be great one had to be humble. He challenged them to not lord their leadership over others. At the end if His ministry, Jesus referred to His disciples as friends. “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.” – John 15:15

    I also wrote my last blog about my relationships with former churches. (

    I have to admit, I have not always felt affinity with my church. Sometimes I have been hurt deeply and wish I didn’t care so much. But the more I grow in ministry, the more I love and befriend my people. If I am wrong, I just can’t help it.

    1. "Jesus is the Son of God, and He is the only one who is worthy of a superior / inferior ministry relationship."

      How true, but interesting that even He chose not to exercise that, choosing rather to serve than to be served.

  4. I found your post by "round about" means, and hope you don't mind a stranger weighing in.

    I believe the issue begs the question, what is a pastor? I believe strongly that it isn't to function as CEO with a title. Pastoring is literally shepherding. The ways of God's kingdom are the opposite of the world's systems where the bosses cannot defend their position if they live as friends with their employees or clients.

    I believe Jesus lived with and loved His disciples as both leader and friend--something that can only be accomplished by an unearthly, divine love.

    Some scriptures that come to mind are the following:
    1. John 15 where Jesus shows us that we are part of Him, especially verse 15: "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you."

    2. Matthew 20:20-28, especially this portion, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you…”

    3. Matthew 23:1-12, especially this portion, “be not called Rabbi…and call no man your father upon earth…neither be called masters: for one is your Master even Christ…”

    I hope you have heard me out on my opinion, but mostly that I am coming across in respectful disagreement.

    If you're interested, this is a link where I blogged a little about the topic:

  5. I agree with the above statements. I can speak from my own life, where I have known the gentleman that I consider my spiritual elder and mentor is a close friend of mine. I have known him for over 15 years, and he is in all means my father in the faith. This gentleman could say anything to me, no matter how painful, and I would receive it, BECAUSE OF my pre-existing friendship and relationship with him. As shared above, however, that relationship goes both ways, as he is very active in receiving from me, understanding that we are all interdependent on one another.