The Gift of Friendship
On a recent Sunday morning, I walked into our church lobby following the Sunday service and saw a man I didn’t recognize. I introduced myself and asked how long he had been attending our church. He answered, “We join you a couple of times a year when we come into town to visit our friends.” The man and his wife had to be somewhere in their sixties. I responded, “Oh man, that must be a special relationship you share. Friendship is a gift.” The man perked up and said, “Absolutely. We’ve done all kinds of trips together. We don’t know where we would be without them.” These comments had me walking away thinking how thankful I am for the friendships I have in ministry.
Friendship is a gift that many pastors aren’t taking advantage of. According to a recent Barna Research study:
Pastors’ sense of feeling supported by those around them is wavering. Pastors are no strangers to feelings of loneliness and isolation. In fact, Barna’s historical data show that these feelings have increased significantly since 2015 when 42% of pastors shared they either frequently (14%) or sometimes (28%) felt this way. Now, 65% of pastors report feelings of loneliness and isolation, with 18% admitting these feelings occur frequently.
Pastors Need Friends
Studies show that burnout and failure rates are lower when pastors take up the call to biblical friendship. Why are pastors often afraid of friendship? While we are called to draw near to people as shepherds, we are often the ones who push away those trying to draw near to us. Why is that?
1. Friendship requires risk.
Many pastors have been hurt in ministry and therefore do not trust others easily. We have seen the dark side of ministry. We have had meals with people who said they’d be in our lives no matter what, only to leave the church months later because of preferences or in favor of the new church in town. Getting close to others is risky.
2. Friendship requires vulnerability.
When it comes to true friendship, we wonder, Can I truly be myself with you? Will you reject me if I let you in? Crossing the line to true friendship takes vulnerability. Some think trust builds vulnerability, but it’s the other way around. Brené Brown has famously said, “Vulnerability builds trust.” And being vulnerable requires humility.
3. Friendship requires honesty.
At the heart of our deepest struggles with sin is the fear of having to be honest about ourselves, our fears, our weakness, and our sinfulness. Often, it’s one of the reasons pastors are hesitant to make friends.
I have had many pastors encourage me against building deep friendships in the church. I have both heard of and personally experienced the heartache that is brought about by church “friends.” I certainly understand the hesitation that many pastors have in this area. However, no one gets a pass on biblical friendship—especially not those called by God to lead His church.
Find Your Friends
While some may find their friends inside the local church, many pastors find their closest friends are leading in other churches. We live in such an incredible time of technology that affords us the ability to cultivate some of our deepest friendships with those who may not even be within our own churches. For instance, my closest friends and I talk face-to-face on an almost daily basis. Yet, these six friends pastor churches across America. We know each other’s wives, children, staff, hobbies, and daily rhythms, though we only see each other in person once or twice a year. How? Through a video messenger app called Marco Polo.
Is an app ideal for developing the deepest of friendships? It can be, depending on how you use it. But don’t get lost in the method! Focus on the point: friendship is central to a pastor’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Therefore, any means by which one can develop it is worth the risk.
Here are four ways I have personally benefitted from deep friendships:
1. Friends make you better.
The amount of information I have learned from these brothers over the last four years has made me a better pastor. They encourage me to grow as a husband, father, and leader.
2. Friends make you healthy.
There is a bond of mutual encouragement towards being healthy together. When I talk about being healthy, I mean physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The overall drive of good pastoral friendship should be towards Christian faithfulness, specifically in the four areas of marriage, maturity, ministry, and mission.
3. Friends make you normal.
In a time when it seems like a new celebrity pastor is popping up daily on Instagram, good friends help keep you normal. They tell you the truth about yourself. They remind you of where your identity lies. Even if it means they get a little punchy with you, it’s for your benefit!
4. Friends make you holy.
Friendship is one of the many graces used by God to sanctify me. My friends help me grow in the Lord through accountability and ongoing encouragement. We have walked through trials, heartache, loss, and sickness together. In every moment, God has used them to keep my chin up and my eyes focused on Him.
Embrace the Call of Friendship
The weight of pastoral ministry in the local church is heavy. Pastors spend much of their time giving, encouraging, comforting, rejoicing, praying, preaching, visiting, and so many of the other things we do for God’s people. Yet, we also need encouragement, comfort, and prayer. We pastors want to be known and loved. We need friends.
Left to ourselves, we end up falling into unhealthy patterns in unhealthy places. Friendships enrich our lives. And I believe that for more pastors to engage in deeper friendships would also benefit our churches. We need friends to encourage us, confront us, be honest with us, rejoice with us, mourn with us, advise us, listen to us, and laugh with us. I am a better husband, father, leader, and pastor because of the brothers I am privileged to call my friends.
Friendship is a gift God calls us to embrace. Are you embracing God’s gift of friendship? Who are your friends? Thank God for them and let them know how much they mean to you.
Published December 13, 2023