In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the previous posts and a series introduction here:
Part 1: Not everybody will like you, and that’s okay.
Part 2: Pray for people and let them know that you’re praying for them.
Part 3: Discipleship is easy, yet hard.
Part 4: Encourage your wife to serve where she feels led
Part 5: Make your vision, purpose, and mission to lead people to love God and love others
Part 6: Keep yourself saturated in the word of God
In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #7, the final one in this series: Be intentional about building deep friendships within and outside the congregation.
Isolation is a killer. That’s why in the midst of declaring all things good, God said one thing was “not good” on earth, even before the fall into sin: That the man would be alone. God exists within himself as a perfect community—three persons of one God. By his own nature, God is a social being. So, when he created mankind in his image, he created us as social beings.
Throughout the Bible we see this truth on display. We find it in marriage, the solution to the Genesis 2 not good problem; but not only in marriage. David needed Jonathon. Solomon wrote of the disadvantages of one over the advantages of two or three (a cord of three strands). Solomon also spoke throughout Proverbs of companionship, including in the most famous of the verses as iron sharpens iron. Then in the New Testament, ministry was often done at the very least in pairs. And the time in 2 Timothy when Paul spoke about being abandoned and left alone, he did praise God for never leaving him, yet he also craved a visit from Timothy and Mark.
You get the picture, right? We pastors must be intentional about cultivating deep friendships.
This idea, in general, has been blogged about by various people here in the past. The question has been raised about whether or not a pastor should have close friends among the congregation. There are stories of getting burnt and of losing trust. I will never open myself up like that again.
That is part of the risk in any relationship between two or more sinners.
But the benefits far outweigh the risks.
The loneliest that I have ever felt was at a church I pastored for a mere eight months. The honeymoon period lasted about two weeks and the criticisms were harsh. At the time, I was still single and had a hard time developing deep friendships in the area. We had a great associational pastor’s fellowship, but being the new kid on the block, I felt the pressure on myself to not open up about too much with people I didn’t yet know well. The isolation was hard and the spiritual attack heavy. The result was the worst despair and depression I ever felt.
It was then that I decided not to let isolation take hold again.
Now, I keep a band of brothers, a few fellow pastors of other churches, and there are no secrets between us. We sometimes joke about the blackmail material we have and respond back, “I know as much about you.” You see, what I’ve learned is that the only way iron will truly sharpen iron is if we lay our hearts and souls bare for others. I once asked a friend how he was doing, and he replied, “Sanctification is a [word that is probably best left out]; but God is good.” Deep friendships help us walk through those two realities.
Sometimes it seems, though, these outside-our-congregation relationships can be easier than the inside-the-congregation ones. This is often where the “I’ve been burnt” before excuse comes in. Well, I’ve been burnt; but I still need them. No pastor is going to be able to be the deepest friends with everyone in the church. We should know our flocks and love our flocks, but we’ll naturally know some better. The thing we must remember is: Even though we’re undershepherds to Christ, we’re fellow sheep with our congregation. Our wool gets dirty and filled with grime, too. These friendships are important, because outside your family, they’ll be the ones with whom you spend the most time. That time plus depth means they have the potential to help sharpen you the best.
And here is the reality about these relationships: They don’t just happen. They take work. We have to be intentional about it, just like we do in cultivating every other relationship we have. Maybe it happens that we get burnt. If it happens, God’s still sovereign and his grace is still wider and deeper than we can imagine—he’ll see us through.