I have been asked numerous times lately how a pastor or pastor’s spouse can find true friends. I understand the question. It’s difficult. Those outside ministry cannot understand how difficult it is for a pastor to find someone to trust.
Here’s the reality. People talk. If the pastor talks…shares a concern…heaven forbid a sin or weakness…people talk. People share with others the juicy news they received from the pastor and/or the pastor’s family. I’ve been burned numerous times by trusting the wrong people with information. It’s wonderful to think that a pastor can be totally transparent with everyone, but honestly, especially in some churches, complete transparency will cause you to lose your ministry. Frankly, it’s made many in the ministry among the most lonely of people. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. (This can be equally true of all kinds of leaders; not just pastors.)
Of course, Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother and hopefully our spouse is our best friend, but the truth is pastors need more. We need other same sex friends who can walk with us through life. I need someone who understands the unique struggles and temptations of being a man. We need community too, just as we would encourage our church to live life together with others.
That being said, I’m happy to report that I have some of those friends in my life. I have some friends with whom I can share the hard stuff and they still love me. I have some friends with whom I can be myself. I’m thankful for some friends that build into me as much as I build into them.
With that in mind…
Here are 7 suggestions for a pastor or pastor’s spouse to find true friends:
Be willing to go outside the church – The simple fact is that 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. Much of this will depend on the size of your church. I have a few of these friends in our church, but it is fairly large. I also have some true friends outside the church.
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. I’ve found that if I follow the Tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or check out the church website of another pastor that I can find out a lot about our similarities. Then I take a chance and reach out to him. You can begin a relationship online and turn it into a vital relationship. This is valuable enough to Cheryl and me that we’ve been willing to invest in traveling to visit with friends who live in other cities, but chances are good for most pastors they won’t have to travel that far.
Build the relationship slowly – I’ve seen too many times where a person wants an intimate, accountable, life-giving relationship that begins instantly. I’m sure that 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.
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 meet with a friend now regularly that 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. They do exist. Most of the time as pastors our attention is focussed more on the ones desperate for our attention. Who are the 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.
Be intentional – You don’t often find a friend unless you go looking for one. Recognize the value in true friends, make it a matter of prayer and a goal for your life, then begin to look for one. I’ve found I’m more likely to hit a target I am specifically aiming to hit.
Take a risk – You’ll eventually have to make yourself vulnerable and risk being hurt to find true friends. I realize that 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, be honest with me, 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?
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.