Pastors and Friendships
Every January at St. James Church we invite our congregation to submit questions that I then answer impromptu. This is always fun and interesting because it reveals what congregation members are interested in and forces me to reveal some of my personal beliefs and subjective opinions. Sometimes this pleases people. Other times it doesn’t.
The questions are randomly selected during the month of January to be answered publicly. You can find the videos of those services at www.saintjameschurch.com. The questions I didn’t get to in the services will be addressed here and in future blogs at www.tedhaggardblog.com. Today’s question:
What’s the difference between a pastor and friend and is it really possible to be both?
The answer to this question is different for every pastor and congregation member.
Proverbs18:24 says, There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. This type of friend is sometimes more faithful than our own siblings. This type of friend is connected through shared life and purpose. This is why I believe we will find our greatest friendships among those with whom we share life experiences; and often these people are within our own churches. They can become our most faithful friends.
This view, though, is not typical, especially for churches that hire pastors and have a pattern of switching pastors every few years. The congregation is well aware that the pastor is there for only a designated period of time and that he can be fired for subjective reasons. They also know the pastor might move on to another calling at any time, which can limit the formation of genuine friendships. This system often promotes cordial relationships that lack personal commitment.
Gayle and I are committed to serving our city for the long haul. We served 22 years at New Life Church and now 8 years at St. James Church. Both churches are in the same city. As a result, everywhere we go, we see people we have known for decades. We’ve enjoyed sharing seasons of life, watching their children grow, and now celebrating as their grandchildren come along. I often say, the only way to have a 10-year relationship with someone is to know them for 10 years. There are no shortcuts. Many of the members of St. James Church are long-term friends; and probably half of those who make office appointments with me are people I have known for years who live in the community but don’t attend St. James Church.
The Pastoral Role is Fraught with Unspoken Expectations
Nonetheless, I do understand the pastoral role is fraught with unspoken expectations by others about what a pastor should be like. Several years ago one of my staff pastors at New Life went on vacation with another couple in the church he and his wife considered close friends. After the vacation, the other couple left the church and stopped communicating with that pastor and his family. I don’t know what happened, but my guess is that the other couple had an ideal image in their minds as to how a pastor should act, and when they saw him water skiing or watched a television program with him, their expectations were unmet, and they chose to move on.
This is why many pastors do not socialize with people in their churches and choose to be more private in their personal lives. It’s why Gayle and I have learned not to stay for wedding rehearsal dinners or wedding receptions. Typically, the family hosting the event invites us to stay because we know one another, but they don’t realize the awkward situations that can quickly develop with their other friends and family members involved with the wedding, who have a distinct expectation of the pastor, or a distant or hostile relationship with God or the church as an institution.
We’ve also chosen to respect the choices people make about themselves and their relationships with us. Sometimes people involve their pastor in private and difficult events in their families. Afterwards, they are embarrassed and want a new beginning, or perhaps the sight of the pastor reminds them of the difficult stage in their lives. So, though the pastor feels connected and committed to the relationship, those individuals don’t want to be around that pastor any longer. We respect that they have that freedom.
Gayle and I are in our sixties now, so we’ve settled on this issue. There have been many times when we thought others were good friends who would last a lifetime, only to have them disappear without explanation. Other times we thought people were moderately involved, yet now, 30 years down the road, their faithful friendships are profound and notable. It takes time to identify those who are true and trustworthy. Yet what we have found is that relationships that share a common purpose happen naturally and are the easiest to maintain. Even so, we enjoy people and are willing to partner with them for the cause of Christ to whatever degree they are willing.
Paul dealt with this subject in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. I believe he is being candid when he writes:
Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us . . . Open your heart to us.