A good friend is truly a blessing from the Lord.
And I have been blessed beyond measure. Beginning with the first day of Kindergarten and continuing throughout the various seasons of my life, God has always provided me with deep friendships every step of the way.
Solomon explains the value of a friend in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.”
The second half of verse 10 describes the one without a friend to lift him up when he falls. Solomon teaches that person is to be pitied.
Sadly, this is an accurate description for many pastors. The old saying, “It’s lonely at the top” is true in business organizations, but it’s often true in the church as well. In fact, research shows that more than half of pastors report experiencing loneliness in their pastoral role at times.
If you’re a pastor, that may describe you. If you’re a church member, it may describe your pastor.
However, pastors are not meant to serve in isolation. God has designed us as relational beings, and we all need friends to be there to lift us up. With that thought in mind, here are seven friendships that every pastor needs (in addition to his wife).
- Another pastor friend. Most churches do not have more than one pastor on staff. As a result, the pastor doesn’t have anyone in the church who truly understands the joys and challenges of pastoral ministry. That’s why it’s important that he find another pastor friend with whom he can discuss these matters. Perhaps it’s another pastor in the community. Perhaps it’s his pastor from his home church. Perhaps it’s his local associational or denominational leader. Regardless of where this friend is located, every pastor needs a friend who also understands what it’s like to be a pastor.
- A church member. I have heard it said that pastors should not develop deep friendships with church members for a variety of reasons. For example, the pastor could be accused of playing favorites or the friend might betray his trust. While I understand the rationale behind this advice, I believe that a true shepherd cannot help but develop deep friendships with members of the flock. Therefore, I think it’s healthy for a pastor to develop some close friendships with other men in the church. Is it risky? Absolutely. But I believe it’s definitely worth the risk.
- A praying friend. While every church member can and should pray for their pastor, he also needs friends with whom he can share his deepest prayer needs. When he needs wisdom about a difficult situation in his church, he can call on his praying friend. When he is considering a potential move to a new ministry setting, he can call on his praying friend. When he has any other needs for which he does not feel comfortable sharing with his congregation, he can call on his praying friend. Every pastor needs a friend who will fervently and consistently pray for him.
- An encouraging friend. Every pastor experiences moments on the mountaintop as well as moments in the valley. During those times in the valley, he may be prone to discouragement. Perhaps he’s under heavy criticism in his church or he’s facing a difficult situation in his personal life. When those times come, he needs a friend who will encourage him to keep moving forward. A Barnabas to remind him of all the ways God has blessed him, and to exhort him to remain faithful to his ministry calling and assignment from the Lord.
- A truthful friend. Pastors are tempted to surround themselves only with “yes men.” Those who will simply agree with whatever ideas they come up with, no matter how bad the idea might be! That’s why every pastor needs a friend who will not simply tell him what he wants to hear, but what he needs to hear. A friend who loves him enough to tell him the truth. A friend who will hold him accountable. While some church members may enthusiastically volunteer to fulfill this role, a pastor needs a trusted friend to do so. Someone whom he knows has his best interest at heart. Proverbs 27:6 teaches, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” Every pastor needs a friend like that.
- A listening friend. Confidentiality is a necessary component of pastoral ministry. Pastors spend a great deal of time listening to the problems, frustrations, and struggles of others. However, sometimes pastors themselves need to vent. Sometimes they need to just talk out an idea. That’s why they need a friend who will simply listen. A friend who doesn’t feel compelled to offer advice or a critique. A friend who can be trusted to listen to their ramblings and can be trusted not to share the conversation with others. A pastor who has a listening friend is a blessed pastor indeed.
- A friend who doesn’t talk about ministry. Pastoral ministry often consumes the thoughts of a pastor at all hours of the day (and sometimes the night as well). Each of the six previous friendships mentioned will likely include many conversations about ministry. That’s why I believe it’s imperative that pastors have at least one friend in which they don’t talk about the ministry. Maybe it’s an old friend from high school. Maybe it’s a friend with a mutual admiration for a sports team. Maybe it’s a friend that shares an interest in a particular hobby. Whoever it is, a pastor needs a friend who doesn’t see him primarily as a pastor, but simply as a friend who happens to be a pastor.
If you’re a pastor, do you have friends that match each of these descriptions? (Please note that that some friends will likely fit more than one category.) If you find that you have some gaps on your friends list, pray and ask the Lord to provide a friend to meet that need.
If you have pastor friends, what is the nature of the friendship? Could it be described in one of the ways listed above? If not, consider infusing one or more of these characteristics into the relationship. It could deepen your friendship in significant ways, and it could be a tremendous blessing to your pastor friend.