People talk. People gossip. People love to share what they hear.
That’s true about what they hear from a pastor too.
If the pastor talks about his personal life, shares a concern – heaven forbid shares a sin or weakness – people talk.
I’ve personally been burned several times by trusting the wrong people with information. It’s wonderful to think a pastor can be totally transparent with everyone, but honestly, especially in some churches, complete transparency will cause you to lose your ministry.
Every pastor knows this well. So, most pastors don’t talk. Sadly, in my experience, most pastors I know don’t have any really close friends. And, I have a lot of experience dealing with pastors.
Many pastors have very few true friends.
Frankly, it’s made many in the ministry among the most lonely of people I have ever known. I was in the business community for many years and I didn’t know business leaders as “closed” to people getting to know them as some pastors seem to be. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.
Of course, Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, but we would never tell our congregation they don’t need human friends. Most of our churches are built around a reality everyone needs community.
Hopefully our spouse is our best friend, and this should be our goal, but the truth is pastors need more.
We need other friends who can walk with us through life. I need men in my life that understand the unique struggles and temptations of being a man. Pastors need community of people who understand the pressures of being a pastor; just as we would encourage our church to live life together with others.
Throughout my 16 years as pastor I had some of those type friends in my life. I had some friends with whom I could share the hard stuff and they still loved me. I had friends with whom I could be myself. I’m thankful for friends who build into me as much as I built into them.
Every pastor needs them.
And, here’s the other side – so does the pastor’s spouse. They need friends just as much, but have the equal concerns and struggles to find them. Over the years, my wife has realized the hard way some people were only her friend because of her position as my wife. They wanted information and access – more than they wanted friendship.
And, some who are not in ministry will read this post and think I’m over-reacting. They’ll say everyone deals with this at some level. They may be right. (Not about the over-reacting, but about the fact everyone deals with it.) But, I know having been on both sides – in ministry and out of ministry – this issue was more prevalent as a pastor than it was in the business world.
So, the hope of this post is to encourage those pastors and spouses who don’t have any true friends and give you a few suggestions for finding some.
Here are 7 suggestions for a pastor and spouses to find true friends:
Be willing to look outside the church
The reality is there may not be someone you can truly trust, who is willing to keep confidences, and willing to always be in your corner, inside the church. I get that. Much of this may depend on the size or even the structure of your church.
I always had a few of these friends in the last two churches where I served as pastor, but both churches were larger churches. I found this harder when I was in a smaller church with a handful of strong families within the church. It created some unique dynamics if we tried to have really close friends. If we invited a couple to dinner others would wonder why we didn’t invite them – since they’re all family members or close friends.
Some of my truest and best friends, however, then and now, have attended other churches. This also meant if we were called to leave the church we still had a close group of friends. Some of my best friends have been friends through several church transitions.
Consider bonding with another pastor
I guarantee you not too far from you is a pastor just as lonely or in need of a friend as you are feeling. And, the pastor’s spouse feels the same way. (And, even if you’re not feeling it you need it.)
One of the great benefits of the online world, though it can equally be used for harm, is you can make connections with other pastors. I have found if I follow the Tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or check out the church website of another pastor, I can find out a lot about our similarities. I’m not talking about stalking. I’m talking about being intentional to build a relationship. Then I take a chance and reach out to another pastor. I actually have a few vital relationships, which began this way.
Regardless of how you meet, it has been valuable enough to Cheryl and me that we’ve been willing to invest in traveling to visit with friends who live in other cities. Chances are good, however, for most pastors they won’t have to travel far. I have had friends an hour away from me. That was a good half-day investment every couple months to stay in touch.
Build the relationship slowly
I’ve seen too many times where a person wants an intimate, accountable, life-giving relationship, which begins instantly. I’m sure this happens occasionally, but I don’t think it’s the normal way.
Take some time to invest in the friendship. My guess is you’re looking for a longer-term relationship, so be willing to build it over a long-term. And, I usually have multiple meetings with several different guys before I find one where we connect enough to move to a deeper friendship. Again, it’s worth the investment of time.
Find common ground
Do you enjoy fishing, dining, travel, golf, or Nascar? Who are some people, whether pastors or laypeople who have similar interests to you? Take an afternoon to play a round of golf with them. Ask them to lunch. Hang out with them. I have one of my closest friends I met this way. We simply started having lunch together. We’ve since traveled together as couples, but it started with a lunch invitation to a guy I saw who seemed to enjoy the subject of leadership as much as I did.
Look for someone healthy
This is critical. You won’t find someone perfect, but you need someone who is not looking for you to always be the minister. Those people do exist. There are people with healthy home lives and healthy personal lives who are striving to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually just like you are striving.
Most of the time as pastors our attention is focused more on the one who need our attention because of a crisis or immediate need in their life. And, this is what we do, but who are some people around you who don’t need much from you right now? You’ll need this healthy relationship to nourish you when you don’t feel as healthy.
You don’t often find a friend unless you go looking for one. First you have to recognize the value in true friends, make it a matter of prayer and a goal for your life, but then you must begin to look for one. I’ve found I’m more likely to hit a target I am specifically aiming to hit.
There is such a value in true friendship, even for pastors, that it is worth the investment.
Take a risk
You’ll eventually have to make yourself vulnerable and risk being hurt – perhaps again – to find true friends. I realize this is scary, especially if you’ve been hurt before, but finding true friendships is worth the risk. Be careful building these type friendships, but don’t allow fear to keep you from having them.
Pastor, you know what I’m advocating is true. So, take another risk.
Pastor, be honest, do you have someone in your life you could call when you’re at your lowest point in ministry? Do you have someone investing in you on a regular basis? Are you lonely? If you were drowning or facing burnout, have you allowed other people, besides your spouse, into your closest, most protected world so they can recognize where you are currently and speak into the dark places of your life?
More importantly, is it worth the risk and investment to have true friends?
For those who have these types of relationships, what tips do you have for other pastors?
Let me close with a personal note to the lonely pastor. I understand your pain. I’ve been there. I’m praying for you as I write this post. Don’t struggle alone too long without reaching out to someone.