When I began the pastorate, there were a number of practical questions that I had for more seasoned pastors. The answers to them varied. One of those questions was how close my wife and I should become with members and leaders in our church. Some told me that it was healthy and necessary for us to be friends with both groups. They said the closer you can be to them and the more you become family, the better. Others shared horrific stories of members and leaders that they got close to and how they were betrayed and hurt. Still others concluded that getting close to your members would result in them taking you for granted and eventually turning on you. As I search the scriptures, I am struck by the example that both Paul and Jesus have set.
First, let’s look at the ultimate example – Jesus. While Jesus didn’t pastor a local church, He is the chief shepherd of all believers. He had a group of people following Him for spiritual guidance. As Jesus went about doing His work, He had close friends, and they were a part of His ministry. For example, Jesus seemed to walk closer with Peter, James, and John than the other disciples, allowing them to witness and experience signs like His transfiguration that others didn’t. With that said, we also must admit that with this closeness came opportunities to be betrayed, but this is true for everyone, not just pastors. Please know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be betrayed. In fact, He knew He would be betrayed by Judas and His friend Peter, but He didn’t let that stop Him from pursuing relationships with others.
Second, let’s take the example of Paul. Paul seemed to have close relationships with many people throughout his ministry; just read the last chapter of his letters, and you’ll discover this to be true. Some may argue that while he was in close relationships, they weren’t friendships as much as mentoring relationships. However, anyone who has ever been mentored well knows that a great mentor is, or often becomes, a friend. A friend is a person that can take your cares and craziness and still love you. They’re also people who aren’t afraid to show you their scars because they’re secure in the gospel. Paul had men in his life that refreshed him (1Corinthians 16:17-18) and that were dear to him (Philippians 2:20). In Philippians 2:25 after the Apostle praised Timothy, he honored Epaphroditus, and he referred to him as his brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier, and one who ministered to his personal needs. As an elder, Paul allowed the other elders that he worked with to know and share life with him.
Pastors, as we pursue and maintain friendships with members of our churches, we must remember that relationships shouldn’t revolve around us. As friends, I believe that it is the pastor’s responsibility to pursue the goal of being the chief servant in the friendship. Our members and friends need to know and feel that they are equally valued in the sight of God and that we know we’re not “special” but rather broken sinners being made whole.
I’m thankful for the many friendships that I have with members and leaders in my church. Having deep relationships with members makes pastoring all the more enjoyable. Serving with my fellow pastors as some of my closest friends has worked out well for me. We’re able to get along well because we honor the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:27-29) and just seek to live in light of the Gospel by which we’ve been called.