Pastors' Forum



I’ve heard it said that a pastor and his wife should not have friends in the church. We are young in ministry, and are trying to navigate this issue properly. My wife and I are both very social people, and I can’t imagine us being distant and aloof from the people God has called us to serve. However, we do want to avoid any pitfalls in this area. What are the pros and cons in the area of “friends in the church,” and what can other pastors share with us from their experiences?


Pastor Jim Blanchard – Virginia Beach, VA
In my early twenties I got my first management job as circulation manager for the local newspaper. The first thing that Mr. King taught me was that he did not allow those he supervised to call him by his first name. Secondly, he said that he was their boss, not their friend. This approach seemed so harsh and counter intuitive to me who was a happy-go-lucky, sociable person. I didn’t take his advice and was called by my first name and people on the route wanted to be buddies; within six months it came to the point where I could no longer effectively supervise the carriers in my district. Later on, for years in management positions, the issue of respect came up over and over again.

I think the primary issue here is not that the pastor should be aloof and unfriendly; however, to serve as the chief elder or president of the corporation, mutual respect is required. Without it very little will be accomplished. Eventually the pastor will wonder why people don’t show up on time, are not committed to their respective tasks, ministries begin to function far less than excellently, the grass isn’t mowed, bathrooms aren’t cleaned, maintenance is not done and all of these areas suffer due to a lack of honor and respect for the pastor. It’s not that the person demands such a high degree of honor, however, those who truly honor the Lord will honor the office of the Pastor.

I advise finding other couples who lead churches or are in the ministry to socialize with as opposed to members of the congregation. All of God’s best!

Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
My wife and I have learned a few of these issues the hard way while pastoring for the last 10 years. Having been a missionary and in traveling ministry for 11 years before pastoring, we were not fully aware of the challenges of having friendships while leading a local church.

Here are a few thoughts that I hope can help you:

  1. You need friends. The pastorate can be a lonely place if you do not take intentional action. You must have people in your life, other than your spouse, with whom you can be yourself. People who truly know you—the good and the bad. You must have people where you can go to unpack your emotions, struggles and truly be known. I neglected this as a pastor for 6 or so years thinking I only needed Jesus and my wife. I was terribly wrong and learned a painful lesson.
  2. A shepherd’s role does not always lend itself to friendship. A parent who wants to be buddies with their kids typically does a poor job of raising their children to independent maturity. Part of our job is to correct, rebuke and lead people to paths they are not choosing themselves. If you need congregants to always be happy with you, you will fail to lead them well.
  3. A pastor can and should be friendly. Nowhere in the gospels do we see our Master Shepherd and our example aloof and above the people. He ate with them, went to parties, weddings, funerals and had people in his life. Unless you are really important or have dangerous enemies, there is no need for a pastor to be whisked away by a team of bodyguards and live in a secluded castle, “protecting the anointing.”

I recommend regardless of your personality to be touchable and personally engaged with the people of your church. I also feel that your best and most intimate friendships should be outside of the congregation.

Dr. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another.” (John. 13:34)

The importance of the Pastor being friendly is illustrated in the following incident, which happened at Evangelistic Temple in Tulsa, OK, where I was the Sr. Pastor for over 34 years. In the Primary Class of the Sunday School, the teacher notices that one of the boys was a bit unruly. She said to him, “If you don’t behave, I am going to send you to Pastor Beller’s office.” The small boy responded, “Oh good, Pastor Beller is my best friend.”

It is very important for the congregation to see the Pastor and Spouse as friendly and loving people. The health and security of the church is greatly enhanced when the Pastor shows compassion and love, not only in the Pulpit, but in all of his personal relationships. This healthy relationship between the Pastor and the people leads to what I have called “A safe church.” If the Pastor is judgmental or legalistic, there is the potential for more people being hurt and also developing an unhealthy attitude themselves. The Pastor must always show compassion even when dealing with unpleasant and negative situations.

The main issue here is whether the Pastor and Spouse should have “close friends” in the church. This is sometimes difficult because they have normal desires for close friends whom they can trust and who will support them as “true friends.” It is usually much wiser to have close friends among other clergy couples or acquaintances or relatives outside the immediate congregation. Some of the reasons are as follows:

  • Some may have the wrong motives in wanting to be your friend such as personal status or just being curious about your private life.
  • Some may become disillusioned when they see that you are not always as “Spiritual” as you appear to be in the pulpit on Sunday morning.
  • Some may even question your hobbies and may judge you in legitimate things in your personal life which they may think are wrong.
  • If you do not always conform to the expectation of some of these “close friends,” they may become disillusioned and betray you.
  • When some of the church members see that you are close friends with some, they may become jealous and turn against you and/or oppose your leadership.
  • If you consider someone to be close friends, you may share too much personal information with them which they could twist and use against you later. One definition of a true friend is: “A true friend is someone who knows all about you but loves you any way.” This could even apply to a Pastor.
  • Perhaps the best and safest policy is for the Pastor and spouse to be close friends. Also, they must take periodic breaks from their work and refrain from discussing “church business” all the time.

You have heard the statement, “It is sometimes lonely at the top.” However, having close friends in the congregation may be a “luxury” which the Pastor cannot afford.

Pastor Chris Pugh – Parkersburg, WV
This can be a tricky area of Pastoring. On one hand you want to be friendly and approachable, but at the same time you need to maintain proper “distance” from people so they can receive when you try to speak into their lives.

I, too, am a friendly and social person. I love to hang out with the people in our church. But one mistake I believe I made early on in my ministry was to allow people to “get too close” (the emphasis being on the “too” not “close”). The problem with allowing people to get too close is that most folks have a hard time separating the person from the Pastor. In other words, they have a hard time looking at the guy on the golf course as someone different than the guy in the church. From my experience, when people get “too close” it can become difficult for them to receive from you when you try to give them advice or direction (especially if they are in some form of leadership in the church).

As a young Christian, I spent a lot of time with my Pastor because we had many common interests (golfing, fishing, hunting, etc…) But I had the ability to make the transition that when we stepped on the church property, he wasn’t my buddy but my Pastor. Unfortunately, this is a rare quality in most Christians.

Here is how I handle this issue—my wife and I spend time with many people in our church. We go out to eat after church with many people; both individually and in groups as well. We do many activities, bowling, ladies shopping, sports, etc., but we are cautious about letting people get “too close.” We do things to build friendships and trust, but we are careful not to let the friendship aspect adversely affect the respect that people need to show to their Pastors. Actually, we have had to “pull back” from some people because we saw that we were in danger of losing that respect for no other reason than they were looking at us as “one of the gang.” We didn’t shut them out, just were careful about how much time we spent with them.

As a Pastor we must do our best to maintain respect so when someone needs our personal input into their lives they receive it from their Pastor and not their friend.

The Lord has sent us some folks with the unique ability to make the separation I spoke of earlier and these are the people we get close to. We have great times of fellowship and enjoy each other very much, but when it comes to the Church, they have the ability to maintain and respect the Pastor/Member perspective. Every Pastor needs these kinds of people in their church and it is a great blessing when they show up.

Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
My belief is that pastors should smell like sheep. There is no way to pastor a church without getting close to at least some of the people. However, my motto is that you cannot have favorites. Treat all the people the same. You are all the people’s pastor, so love and care for them equally.

I personally have a group of men that I play golf with regularly, but at the same time I am constantly aware of my position in relation to them and try to maintain that atmosphere. While I consider these guys friends, I never share too much personal information with them. As much as they love me, too much personal information they know about me can lead to some unjust judging on their part. While they need to see your humanity, they also need to respect your position.

I tell our people that if they want to be in the clique at our church, find something to do in the church because that’s the people I’m around the most. The people that are working in the church are the ones I usually get close to. And I believe that is just natural that you develop a closer relationship with the people you are around the most.

One thing my wife and I try to do is to take someone different every week to lunch after church on Sunday. We especially try to invite those we don’t know very well. Those who maybe come regularly but not involved. They get to know us and we get to know them.

Yes, I recommend that you spend time with your people but always keep your guard up to protect your position with them. Be touchable and assessable, love your congregation, and they will be the best friends you would ever want.

Pastor Virgil Stokes – Tuscon, AZ  
I am sure there are different ways to handle this depending on the setting, the size of the church, and the personality of the pastor. The first thing we had to do was clarify what we meant by “friends.” In my estimation, a friend is someone with whom I can be absolutely real. That would include times of frustration, anger, and discouragement. (Yes, after doing this for 33 years, I still experience all the above.) Though I try to be as transparent as possible with our congregation, there are simply some personal and ministerial issues that cannot be shared with them. No matter how close we feel to certain individuals, they can’t know some things until the situation has been resolved. (You can only be completely human in retrospect.) Still other matters may compromise the confidentiality of other congregants. This can happen inadvertently in social settings, but it still happens and does damage. We have found it wise and necessary to cultivate friendships with other ministers. This usually requires a little extra effort, because they are just as busy as we are and may live at a distance. There are just some things that only another pastor will “get.” Immediate and accurate empathy without judgment is a priceless commodity.

For some of our staff members who have tried to cultivate friendships with congregants, (I don’t forbid it, I just try to explain the pitfalls) we have seen difficulties in three areas. First, lay people will never grasp the call of God, though they always think they do. It makes communication difficult. Second, there is always the possibility that the congregant or someone in his family will require corrective action of some type, and this makes for uncomfortable situations. Finally, no matter how “mature” you think your friend is, he may well be deriving some secondary benefit from being “close” to the anointed one. It massages his ego to be “the Pastor’s friend.” Even if he doesn’t think that way, others in the congregation will perceive your relationship as “favored child” status. Prepare for problems.

I socialize with my congregation in large groups at church events, striving to provide social interaction. I try to minimize the “home visits” for dinner, etc., so as not to appear to have favorites. (It is humanly impossible to get to all of them one at a time.) Also, though folks always say, “Oh, you can just relax,” that is definitely not true. There is an expectation in every interaction with the sheep that you are the Shepherd. There is a demand on your gift, conscious or otherwise. Your people need a Pastor, not a buddy. It is ministry, not recreation. I do socialize on purpose with my staff. They need to be around me and grasp my heart. I currently have the luxury of an Associate Pastor who has been with me for 13 years. We are friends. That is not always, or even usually, the case. For most of our ministry in four different churches, we have cultivated close relationships outside the church, to good effect.

You can make your own mistakes and discoveries in the journey, but be aware of the dangers involved. The call of God is a blessing and a burden, a privilege and a problem. Take good care of it.

Pastor Terry Roberts – Warrenton, MO
I think Jesus set the precedent for friendship in church when he called his disciples friends. Of course there are things you can’t and shouldn’t say to everyone.  I have friends in ministry that I can be totally honest with, whereas someone in the congregation would have trouble knowing how human I am.

I think it was a tremendous error to teach my generation to be aloof from the people. Everything about that smacks of elitism and separation of “clergy” and “laypeople.” I think it has harmed many ministers and taught them to not be real with the people in their life. If you build a wall around your life you have to maintain it and stay very lonely. If you appear from the back room just before service so nobody steals your anointing you might need to “get over yourself.” Jesus didn’t do that.  Paul didn’t do that. They were both pretty anointed. Share your life. You are called as pastor to be an example to the flock. How can you be an example if you are untouchable?

Pastor Monte Knudsen – Mount Pleasant, IA
What a difficult question this can be. When a church is smaller (under 100) there will be people whom you will naturally gravitate towards. Similar interests, similar family dynamics, even similar financial status, unless your friends are always paying for you (which is not a healthy thing). Friendships are important and needed. You can share struggles, victories, hopes and disappointments together—BUT—you must never talk about other church members with them, no matter how much they seem to be on your side or want to know about someone else in the church. This is difficult to carry, but you must not do it. Don’t use the tired spiritual phrase, “I’m just telling you so you can pray about it with me.”

As a church grows in numbers, you are usually hiring staff to help carry the load of ministry. These staff members can be helpful in sharing people difficulties with and how to solve the situation or manage it properly. Gossip is a “no-no” for congregations and pastors. It always comes back to bite you.

There is always the possibility of “familiarity breeds contempt,” but that tends to be from very immature people who are only seeking what they can get from you. I am inclined to believe that the ones closest to us should respect us the most. For example: my wife and children are the most familiar with me, yet they don’t despise me or tell my “secrets” or think less of me because I get tired or have stinky feet. They have the greatest respect for me. So it should be with friends we grow close with. Your integrity, honesty, genuineness and sense of humor should draw you closer in friendship, not make it worse. The greatest rewards of ministry will be the relationships you develop and the greatest hurt you will experience in ministry will be the relationships that break apart. Our lives are enriched by relationship, and at times, they can be hurt deeply by relationship. But to avoid close friendships because of the possibility that you might get hurt, is a life lived with fear and doubt. You become suspicious of people, distant with others and you tend to be non-genuine with people. You put on pretense so as not to allow others to know you. Jesus was ‘betrayed by a friend’ but was also enriched by His friends. He was never fake or trying to impress others all the time. He never was afraid of being hurt; maybe because, “perfect love casts out fear.”

Not Close to Everyone

We should always be thoughtful about our friendships. We don’t become close to everyone. What is it that connects us? How do we supply each other? What do we both value? Are we both interested in life-long growth? When we seek friendship that is only benefiting us, it will always go bad at some point. Great friends feed each other emotionally, spiritually and strengthen each other by a continual belief in each other, even when they don’t agree.

Why Friendship in Ministry Can be Hard

Ministry is both serving people and leading people. Not everyone will like or agree with your decisions as a pastor. That can often feel like rejection and even betrayed friendship. But you cannot allow that to be a personal thing. Otherwise, you become a pastor who only has relationships with people you can control. You are never fully trusting of others.

You must first desire to obey the Lord and hope that your close friends will understand even when they disagree with you. Joshua’s and Caleb’s friends were not too happy with them when they wanted to go into Canaan. Forty years later, their obedience had earned everyone’s respect and they all followed them into the promised land. I am sure they felt the sting of that difficult moment when they couldn’t influence their friends and tribesmen to go into Canaan. That’s what makes it difficult to lead. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have friends with the people you pastor. Ask God to connect you with friends that encourage and strengthen you. He does meet all of our needs. Most of all, trust God in your friendships.

Pastor Mike Campbell – Algood, TN
My personal thought on this subject is to be very careful about who you talk to about personal issues in your life whether it be congregants or ministers. You are called to a people where hopefully there is love in your heart for them and you actually enjoy being with them. However, being with them and sharing the ultimate details of your life with the people you lead requires a very delicate balance.

I believe that we are to be friendly with all we come in contact with and lead. However, that does not mean that you can disclose everything that is going on in your life with these sheep. On the one hand you want to be inviting and share your life with the people you lead. In saying that, you must realize you cannot be with everyone. Jesus in his time on earth had a circle of friends called his twelve disciples. But even within the twelve, he has three that he was closer two and shared the intimate details of his life. He took them to the mount of transfiguration for a highlight and then to the garden of Gethsemane for the time of trial in his life. By the way, I am not sure either one of these was a total victory for their relationships. They failed in the garden and went religious on the mountain!

Lesson to learn is that not everyone we lead can handle things going on in our lives like we handle what is going on in their lives. Many people, when they realize that the pastor and family are not perfect, will not be able to handle your short comings and will either leave or leak. Both of these reactions hurt deeply and can be devastating. When people who are close to you leave it hurts your heart and you deal with the pain of rejection. However, when they leak or tell others about your venerable spots that to can be devastating to your ministry and personal life. Bottom line is you must choose wisely whom you can trust and whom you cannot trust. I am very guarded about who I select to be private with and what I work hard on is making sure I am private about anyone else’s issues when I learn of them.

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Are they the kind of people you enjoy being with and are you compatible? What interests do you have that are mutual? It must be more than just kids the same age.
  2. Are they trustworthy? Are they the kind of people who are always repeating what they hear about others? If they are discreet and not gossipers, then they have potential to move to the next level of friendship.
  3. Are they truly spiritually mature people? How do they handle stress, dilemmas in their own lives, and trials?
  4. Are they filled with faith, the Holy Spirit, and wisdom?
  5. Is their motive pure toward your friendship?

Remember that these friends do not come in abundance but are the few, so be very selective. Just to be honest, there are some ministers that I would not speak confidentially to, so be wise in choosing which ever direction you choose.

Pastor Doug Foutty – Parkersburg, WV
It can be difficult to juggle close friendships without ruffling the feathers of other church members. There are naturally people that you hit it off with. You have the same interests and hobbies and might find yourself gravitating to those people without realizing you are neglecting some of the other church members. You probably will have family members and friends from before you were a minister in your church. You have already got a relationship and a foundation of fun and friendship with those people. Just like every other thing in the Christian life—submit it to God and be led of the spirit. The less mature members of your church might be hurt or tend to make unfair statements about some of your friendships. You won’t always please everyone. Just walk in love and be fair about your time with the people that God called you to serve.

Pastor John B. Lowe – Warsaw, IN 
We are loving to our people; however, we let people proof themselves with years of staying with us through thick and thin.

You just have to understand people are people and not let it hurt you when you are disappointed or betrayed.

We hug and love our people. We attend events, but only a few have been counted as friends. We have been disappointed and hurt but we put our confidence in Jesus and we see people through the blood first. Then, we are not hurt long term because Jesus blood speaks for them as it does for us.

Protect your children. Teach all your people to give your family as much grace as they require you to give to them when they fail, sin or are hurt. Say it all the time.

Pastor Mark Brazee – Tulsa, OK
This is an issue that definitely must be navigated with great care, and it is difficult to say whether it is “right or wrong” for a pastor to have close friends in the congregation. A pastor as a leader must be friendly and available to the people, and we have discovered that one of the things people greatly appreciate is having a pastor who is “touchable” and approachable. Part of being available includes being social and being a part of events with the congregation including the occasional coffee or meal with those in the church. These are also important aspects for someone who is in a leadership role.

I’ve seen cases where it worked well for a pastor to have members of the congregation as his friends, especially in areas where there are fewer ministers to fellowship with. On the other hand, having your closest friendships with those in the congregation can cause major difficulties. There’s probably a lot of truth to the statement that shepherds and sheep were not meant to be best friends. When members of the congregation become close friends with the shepherd, there comes a familiarity which can limit the voice that shepherd has into the lives of those individuals. Most people cannot separate knowing someone after the flesh from knowing them after the spirit. Usually when we as leaders become too familiar with the congregation as friends, we lose some of, if not all of, the ability to be their pastors. They begin to see the pastor more as just a friend than a ministry gift that God has given to help them grow and be equipped to fulfill His plan. Giving advice to someone who is not a good friend can be difficult enough, but if it becomes necessary to bring some correction or reproof to someone close to you, it usually is unheeded at best, and can often cause offence.

The other potential problem with close or best friends in the congregation is that it places those individuals in a position that is too easily used by the enemy to bring hurt and pain to a pastor or their spouse. We have seen so many situations over the years where a best friend has left the church, and it is a wound that doesn’t often heal quickly.

We have found for us it is best for our closest friendships to be with other ministers who are not part of our congregation. We have been blessed with relationships with ministers who not only speak into our lives by the Holy Ghost, but are also individuals we can get together with and just have fun. However, we are also firm believers that your best friend should be your spouse. It is of the utmost importance that next to your relationship with God, you are continuing to cultivate your relationship with your spouse.

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Covina, CA
When I first started in ministry, Dr. Roy Hicks Sr. gave me a great word of advice. He told me, “Only allow people who love you to get close to you. That way they won’t judge you when they see your flaws.” For me, this was good advice because I have lots of flaws. Some people can handle them, some people can’t. Some people can’t seem to handle the fact that we are human.

Over the years we have been able to develop some friendships with people in the congregation. We have also had some very painful experiences. It’s going to happen. It happens to every Pastor. But just because we have had some painful experiences doesn’t mean we should keep our distance from everybody. If you keep your distance from people they can’t hurt you; but they also can’t help you. I don’t think a Pastor should allow the fear of a bad relationship to rob him of good relationships. That being said, our closest friendships have always been with fellow ministers. It seems to me that fellow ministers can relate to us in ways that people in the congregation are just not able to. All of us need friends. I need friends in my life with whom I can be totally relaxed. I need friends in my life with whom I can share my frustrations and problems. I also need friends who will truly rejoice with me in my victories instead of getting jealous. For us, we have found these kinds of friendships with others in ministry.

Pastor Tim Kutz – Bartlesville, OK
Having friends within the church is an added blessing for all pastors, but is problematic, and can very easily come back and affect a pastor and their church in a negative way. Yes it is possible, and no, it isn’t always wrong, but this is one of the things that most pastors have to learn the hard way. It goes against our thinking to believe that we can’t have friends within the church.

As pastors open up and display the vulnerability that friendships demand, one of several things can happen:

  1. The “friends” begin to question the pastors spiritually and fitness to pastor, and especially to pastor them, when they see the humanity of the pastors on display. All people have certain expectations in a pastor and those expectations are rarely realized in a friendship relationship. People very often become disenfranchised because they expect more spirituality from the pastor.
  2. The “friends” will begin to treat you as a friend and will lose their proper perspective for the pastoral gifting in and on you that is in and on you for them! This is not their fault. This is your fault for placing them in this situation. It is rare that a person can maintain proper perspective in this situation. Keep your distance for “their” own good!!!
  3. For many different reasons, people will begin to covet time with you. When you cannot give the time to the friendship that they deem proper, they begin to question whether you care, or they may think that you are pulling away from them. This in turn leads to a plethora of issues that are too numerous to mention here. Jealousy, lack of self-esteem, a questioning of their own spirituality as being sufficient in the eyes of the pastor to warrant the continuation of the friendship, etc. This just gives the devil place to bring any number of things into their thinking. It can be difficult for some people to fight the good fight of faith properly in this area.
  4. Other people in the church may notice you spending excessive time with your “friends” and wonder why you can’t be their friend also. Once again, the devil can gain an entrance into their mind because they are tempted to see you as playing favorites. This is not your intent, but you cannot control what they think; only they can do that. If you have a shepherd’s heart for people, this is something that you will realize, and guard yourself from!!!
  5. Friendships always have unknown quantities. One of the prime examples is the time investment expectations. The more time that you spend in natural relationships, the less time you will spend in supernatural relationships. Time with the Lord has to be closely guarded. It is easy to let this get out of balance when your “friendship” is so close and seems to be a given.

You’ve heard it said that a pastor shouldn’t have friends in the church for many very good reasons. Those reasons are as multiple as there are people in your church. The reason is because of those precious people. Know the sheep and give your life for them. Don’t let your “need for friendship” affect a person’s life wrongly. There will be many people that you will want to become friends with, but you won’t, because you love them. They don’t understand this, but you need to.

It is not impossible to have friends within the congregation, but let it develop over a very LLOONNGG time, and always consider how it will affect the possible friend. You cannot know this without allowing a great deal of time to pass as you learn that person. Also, consider how that potential friendship will appear to the various other people in the congregation. These considerations are real and will impact the influence that you want to maintain in the lives of all of the “sheep.”

Also, do not mistake friendship for hospitality. Hospitality is a divine requirement in pastors, but friendship is not the definition of hospitality. You said that you and your wife were very social people. Every pastor should be a social person. I would question your call to pastor if you are not. The very basic elements of pastoring require a social lifestyle; you spend time with the people that God has given into your care. The Bible says that Jesus was a friend to “publicans and sinners.” That friendship and the type of friendship you are in question of here are very different. Know that difference!

Lastly, have an inner circle that you invest your life into. Include multiple people in this just as Jesus did. It is also a natural fact and a spiritual fact that two or three will just develop a closer relationship with you. Let this happen, and let those divine relationships develop. They are faith affirming and part of your destiny! Enjoy them.

Pastor Bill Anzevino – Industry, PA
“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” —Proverbs 27:17

Friendship is a wonderful thing that can provide many benefits vitally important to pastors, as well as others. God created us to have relationships on the human level and He chose to use people to help people. Through friends, our minds can be sharpened and our hearts encouraged. Jesus had His circle of friends that He influenced and trained to minister to others.

When it comes to the pastor developing close friendships within the church he pastors, it’s important to glean light from those who have walked this path before us—from those who made their mistakes and are better equipped to advise others.

As a young minister, one may think it’s important to be transparent, vulnerable and “real” before the people. But as time goes on and his faults and flaws are exposed, he may soon lose his influence and the respect of the people he serves. Also, many pastors have been deeply wounded by people they thought to be their closest friends.

Another concern involves igniting jealousy that can divide the church. The pastor must ever be aware that he lives in a glass house and every move he makes is being scrutinized. He must be mindful to show no partiality among the people he serves.

Although a pastor and his family are naturally drawn to certain families because of common interests or similar experiences, they must maintain clear boundaries between friendship and ministry. Your daughters may belong to the same gymnastics team causing your families to spend time together. Be sure not to cross the line between ministry and friendship. Be discreet in how you conduct friendships of this nature.

My advice would be to be friendly with everyone, but selective with whom you bear your soul. Church leaders, staff members and board members are among the friendships that can be developed without creating jealousy if properly maintained. Every church atmosphere is different and it would behoove you to learn the mindset of the people you serve and be balanced in your approach. If the need for close friendships exists in your family, it may be in your best interest to have your closest friends outside the church and maintain a pastoral relationship with the people within.

Pastor Phil Edwards – Ennice, NC
You should cultivate relationships within your church. It builds unity as well as friendships. The only caution you should take is be a friend to them all. Do not play favorites or form cliques. I am a friend to all in my church; however, we are a small church so we have the ability to do so. Maybe the pastors in the larger churches can address what happens there.

Pastor Duane Hanson – Saint Paul, MN
The question this month asks us to sort out the “pros & cons” of developing friendships within the church, and challenges us to reconcile two contrasting positions.

First of all (the pros), the Bible teaches that Jesus was the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mt. 11:19) and made a point of calling His disciples “friends” during the last passover (John 15:15). While at the same time (the cons), Scripture gives us specific warnings about being betrayed by a close friend: “My best friend has betrayed his friends.” (Ps. 55:20 [gw]) Jesus also acknowledged the danger of being betrayed: “Sitting among us as a friend, is the man who will betray me.” (Lk. 22:21 [nlt])

Twice in the New Testament the Apostle Paul indicates that one of the requirements of those who will be leaders in the Church is that we should be “given to hospitality” (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:8). Obviously, based on the context and the requirements of these passages, both bishops and deacons have this responsibility, and should be tested to see if they are able to develop significant relationships within the church. That implies to me that we have an obligation to spend some quality time building personal relationships with those assigned to our care.

When we started out in the ministry over 30 years ago, we heard the same warnings about developing personal friendships with members of the congregation. Fortunately, we learned the balance and the boundaries that helped us navigate the potential dangers that created this attitude in some ministers.

As we grew in the pastoral ministry, we realized there were numerous “SHIPS” that we’d encounter within the Church, such as fellow-SHIP, steward-SHIP, partner-SHIP, relation-SHIP, and disciple-SHIP, just to name a few! Each one of these “SHIPS” is an important part of our ministry obligations, and developing a few personal friend-SHIP’s within the church should be part of that pursuit.

Friendships can be defined in a variety of ways, and have different levels of familiarity, confidentially, and intimacy. The closer we get to someone, the more transparent and vulnerable we become, and the more trust is required. Consequently, when it comes to developing a circle of personal friendships, it’s important to find those who are of “like precious faith.” The ideal is to have a number of close friends who are also in a similar position of ministry, and maturity, who can relate to what your life is like. While at the same time, it’s also healthy to develop some friendships with those who have nothing to do with the ministry, but share in some other common interests or hobbies.

Honestly, if we listened to all the warnings of those who have been hurt or discouraged by difficult friendships, we’d have to disregard some very specific Biblical instructions. How can we argue with the truth of the following scriptures?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (CEV)
You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble.

Romans 12:16 (CEV)
Be friendly with everyone. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people.

Did you catch that? Be friendly with everyone, and, make friends with ordinary people. We need to be genuine and real around people, so that they can know us other than just in the pulpit. Let’s face it. We’re not to think of ourselves “more highly” than we should, because without the gifts & calling of God, we’re just “ordinary people” that just happen to stand in a specific office.

The question above expresses the concern about “being distant and aloof” from the congregation. People need to see and know us outside the pulpit, in everyday situations. We don’t need to pretend that we’re “super-spiritual” all the time. I believe every minister can be “real” without being so carnal that we jeopardize our testimony.

The only way to really know a person, is to spend some quality time with them. As we get to know them, we can appreciate their personality, and recognize their unique character traits. On the flip side, they also get to know us. While we may interact with them in a positive way, we may not have complete influence over how they respond to our behavior as “ordinary people.”

When it comes to dealing with the health of the congregation, and our relationship with those in leadership, the last thing we need is to feel like we’re alone, and isolated from the rest of the Church. Ultimately, trust is earned, and a close friendship is built over time. Fortunately, a long term discipleship relationship can develop into a strong friendship through open and honest communication. However, familiarity in a relationship could potentially become a liability if it lacks the proper respect, and boundaries are crossed.

There is the risk of damaging friendships within the church if we allow our conversation to drift back into ministry issues, and specifically if it involves the needs or problems of other church members. Our “friends” from within the church may not know how to handle the confidential information that should only be discussed in a “discipleship” relationship, and not within the context of a personal friendship.

The book of Proverbs gives us wisdom for both the pros and the cons of developing and having friendships, but the majority of these passages encourage us to learn the difference. Here’s just a handful of examples…

  • Wise friends make you wise, but you hurt yourself by going around with fools.(Proverbs 13:20 [cev])
  • A truly good friend will openly correct you. You can trust a friend who corrects you, but kisses from an enemy are nothing but lies. (Proverbs 27:5-6[cev])
  • Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. (Proverbs 27:17[cev])
  • Try hard to do right, and you will win friends; go looking for trouble, and you will find it. (Proverbs 11:27[cev])
  • It’s a mistake to make evil plans, but you will have loyal friends if you want to do right. (Proverbs 14:22 [cev])
  • Some friends don’t help, but a true friend is closer than your own family. (Proverbs 18:24 [cev])
  • The sweet smell of incense can make you feel good, but true friendship is better still. (Proverbs 27:10 [cev])
  • Don’t desert an old friend of your family or visit your relatives when you are in trouble. A friend nearby is better than relatives far away. (Proverbs 27:10 [cev])
  • A man with many friends may be harmed, but there is a friend who stays closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24 [hcsb])

As we can see from these passages in Proverbs, true friendship is more personal and intense than just being an “acquaintance” with someone. I think that’s why Jesus made this comment to His disciples before going to the cross. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13 [hcsb]).

For us to live as an example before others, and to be in touch with the needs of those around us, we will need to be willing to lay down our lives for those we consider friends. Of course, if we avoid having any friends, there won’t be any need to ever “lay down our life” for anyone! Unfortunately, I don’t think that will hold up as an excuse when we stand before the Lord and give account for our stewardship of His Church! I’ll stick with Romans 12:16, and “make friends with ordinary people!”

Pastor Brad Allen – San Mateo, CA
Important Question!

Think of a soccer coach. His job is to develop his players and create a winning team. It’s not a popularity contest. He serves them by creating a winning team. Coaches are evaluated on their success in player development and creating winning teams.

With that in mind, coaches are best understood by other coaches—and not always by competing coaches in the same league.

Just as an employer may have difficulty in correcting an employee who eats meals at his or her home frequently, the pastor or coach who is close friends with his/her players or congregants will have more difficulty in enforcing rules and making needed changes.

A pastor needs to be close to the people in the church, but it’s just as important to keep enough separation that they can correct, coach, and direct people properly when needed. When people become too familiar with the pastor they resent correction.

Stay close to your people but not so close that you lose respect.

Look to other pastors and ministers for friendship and sometimes Christians outside of your church.

Local pastors are often competing for people in the same community, so I prefer to talk with fellow RMAI pastors in the wider region and have benefitted greatly from making the long drive to go to lunch with these men and women of God.

Pastor Bill Hybels has a racing sailboat where his crew is mostly non-Christian and he uses it as an evangelism tool and also a place for fellowship outside of the church. It’s his boat, so crude behavior is not allowed, but they’re also not his church members. Hobbies are a great way to meet nice people and fellowship outside of the church structure. Para-church and community groups like Lions, Rotary, and Kiwanis are another option. I serve with the county police and fire chaplaincy program and have met some great retired and active ministers that I count as friends.

I’m very friendly with our church members, but I’ve found that when I’m too close, I lose some of the ability to coach, correct, and help the very people I’m called to serve.

Pastor Gene Druktenis – Santa Fe, NM
You should have personal relationships with the people you Pastor, but they should never be where you share things that you only talk about with your wife or a very trusted peer. Please avoid the pitfalls because immature people will put their faith in you until they grow. Their eyes are on you and if you share personal things with them, this could cause them to stumble.

Pastor Jim Graff – Victoria, TX
Jesus said to his disciples ‘I call you friends,’ and I have many great and dear friends who are leaders in our church. But building relationships with wrong people in your church can be very damaging personally and harmful to the church too. The key is trust—it should be earned over time. Be careful not to trust people beyond their level of maturity. And many issues are better processed with other pastor friends as opposed to with church friends. When in doubt, ask a seasoned pastor who has proven he can discern the difference.

Pastor Terry Scheel – Fenton, MO
I don’t believe there are many hard & fast rules about developing friendships in the church. So much of that depends on the type of person the pastor and his wife are and what type of church you have. What we have observed to work best is to be sociable, but not have church members as your close friends. Too often, you consider a church member as a friend and they consider you as the pastor of their church. When they decide to leave the church, in their mind, they are just switching pastors, like a person changes grocery stores. In your heart, though, you have just lost a friend.

Most people, even if you consider them a friend, will not keep a confidence. It is good not to share any private personal information or struggles with church members, if you want those things kept private. Having close personal friendships with church members can also cause problems when correction needs to be made. You can be friends with some church members and they will respect you as pastor. Others will become too familiar with you and not respect you as pastor. It can take several years to find the right balance.

Pastor Bernie Samples – Barstow, CA
What we’ve learned over the years is we are like the dad and mom of the church (now like the grandparents)! We have always gone to the sporting events, birthday and graduation parties, out to eat after services, etc., but we keep our “pastor’s hat” on and don’t let our guard down and get loose and goofy. We realize sheep aren’t anointed to handle pastor problems (personal or ministry), so we never let them know what we’re going through while we’re still going through it. Later on, we can testify of the victories we gained by faith and patience! I tell our people sometimes while preaching about five-fold ministry, they can have the “brother’s anointing” from me if they want me as their buddy, or if they want to receive from the “pastor’s anointing” we need to guard our pastor—sheep relationship. Our church atmosphere is saturated with love and anointing and isn’t legalistic at all, and God’s people appreciate our time spent with them while keeping our relationship in a proper biblical prospective.