Your Friendly (But Friendless) Neighbourhood Pastor

Pastoral ministry often assumes a pastor needs to be friendly. But the irony is pastors do not have many friends. Why is this so true of so many pastors?

Pastoral ministry often assumes a pastor needs to be friendly. But the irony is they do not have many friends. Why is this so true of so many pastors?

When a member is lonely, they can call the pastor. But when a pastor is lonely, whom does he call? A pastor comforts the hurting. But who comforts the hurting pastor?

Ask a pastor what keeps him up at night and the list will be endless—conflict, fear, anxiety, shame, fear of rejection, last week’s sermon, next week’s sermon.

Most pastors serve in places where they do not have the support of extended family. The pastoral burden is real and it takes a heavy toll on their soul.

Pastors may rarely take breaks because Sunday is always around the corner. Even on a holiday, a pastor can be preoccupied with the duties and responsibilities of the church. Pastors feel they need to be accessible day or night.

These are some of the reasons pastors are marching towards emotional and physical exhaustion.

Relational Ambiguity

Personally, I have many friends. Our church is quite friendly too. But I find my experience is an exception to the norm.

Inspite of this, there are times I wonder, “Who are my real friends? Are people friendly because I am their pastor? Am I really their friend?

Have I been invited to social gatherings out of respect or obligation? Am I being invited because there is a genuine desire for my company?”

Consider some common misconceptions people make about pastors: “He is always busy. They must have plans. I don’t think they’ll be interested in doing something fun. He has enough friends.”

So the invitation is never extended and friendship is never reciprocated. The pastor is either “too old, too boring, or too spiritual.”

A pastor is always gathering, inviting, initiating, and organising events and experiences for members. But how often will members invite pastors to something social? And if invited, he might have to do something “spiritual,” like pray for the food.

Can you imagine a conversation, “Let’s invite the pastor? It will be fun.” The most common, unspoken sentiment is probably the opposite.

Dual Identity

A pastor never ceases to be pastoral. He rarely gets to “hang out” with people. Even what seems casual takes on a pastoral function. In whatever relational context, he needs to encourage, advice, counsel, and support people.

When I play cricket with friends, I see it as an opportunity for men to connect. If I organise a “game night,” it is for people to grow as friends with each other. Most times, I am an outsider, watching friendships between others begin to blossom.

Pastoral roles, responsibilities, and duties never seem to end. Is this a curse or a blessing? Call it an occupational hazard.

Even when I find myself letting loose on occasion, I am thinking about the person who needs encouragement. Then I remember the family that is struggling. What about that one person who has not been to church recently? Who needs to be connected to a small group?

Such preoccupation is unhealthy. It can be idolatrous and yet, it is a recurring reality. So, whom does a pastor turn to for friendship where he does not need to be a pastor?

I sometimes hesitate to meet new people outside the church. It means I have to reveal my “true identity.”

“What do you do for work?”

“I’m a pastor.”

Usually, that is how my interactions end with people outside the church. I have tried to be vague and mysterious about my work, but with little success.

Plain Old Insecurity

Can pastors be friends with other pastors? Well, that is not as simple as it sounds.

Friendship with other pastors is difficult for many reasons—unhealthy comparisons over preaching skills, the size of churches, denominational values, and theological differences.

The pastor’s personal insecurities are part of the problem too—the need for approval, the fear of rejection, and feelings of inadequacy in leadership.

The heartache of lost or broken friendships can weaken the desire for new friends. The risk of exposure to gossip and slander can minimise the desire to be vulnerable. Some believe that a pastor cannot be friends with his church members because it can lead to favouritism or forming a clique.

Many people assume that real friendships are not based on what someone can do for you. If a pastor is meant to serve you, he cannot be your friend. If you are serving someone, they cannot be your friends. So they say.

A pastor has to shepherd the church. This is a basic expectation in pastoral ministry. But how can a pastor truly make friends when he is expected to shepherd and equip people for works of ministry?

How can he possibly let his guard down?

Gospel Beauty

Dear pastor, remind yourself of the gospel. Jesus’s closest friends were his disciples. They did not turn out to be model friends. In fact, they doubted, abandoned, and betrayed him.

In Gethsemane, when he wanted them most and longed for their help, they were blissfully sleeping. Yet Jesus gave his life for them, and for us, so we can become his friends. Jesus will always remain your true friend (John 15:15).

As you give yourself for others, remember Jesus poured himself out for you. In your exhaustion, you have access to the inexhaustible affection of Christ himself.

When self-pity draws you inward, look to Christ who pulls us up from sinking in the waters. The gospel alone gives us the power to face loneliness in pastoral ministry, bear its burdens, and to move toward people with genuine affection and friendship.

You need friends, and by God’s grace, you can find true friends in your church.

Gospel Empathy

Dear member, be kind and understanding to your pastor. He does not need your pity but he needs your empathy.

Every member need not be the pastor’s friend. But every member can show genuine affection toward their pastor.

Pray for your pastor. Respect your church elders. Resist the urge to use the pastor as a formality-fulfiller.

This does not mean that pastors are not held accountable for their character and calling. We do not have to excuse ungodly and unhealthy behaviour or endorse everything pastors do, even if it is sinful.

God has called the pastor to proclaim and defend the gospel with accuracy, lead and love the church in humility, and equip and serve the members for maturity.

Any pastor who is faithful to God’s call will also feel the burden of this responsibility. Without friends, this burden can feel impossible to bear.

When was the last time you invited your pastor for coffee? Have you heard him speak from his heart about his life? Do not be disappointed if your pastor finds this invitation strange or if the effort ends up a disaster.

Be patient, humble, gentle, and loving (Eph. 4:1-3). Persevere with your pastor as he perseveres in Christ for his church.