Recently I have been reflecting on friendships--not just specific friendships but the concept of friendship. My reflection started while watching the Netflix show Stranger Things. The show depicts the friendship of four middle school kids and their search for a missing friend.
The show is set in the 1980s. It resonated with me personally, because it took me back to a time when friendship was a higher priority in my life. In one scene, a boy named Mike attempts to explain the concept of friendship to Eleven, an unusual girl who hadn't experienced friendship or even been around other kids her own age. While attempting to convey what a friend is and does he tells her, “friends don’t lie." Honesty certainly is an important aspect of friendship, but does it sum up the whole. That scene led me to ask, "How do I view friendships in my own life?"
While serving as a pastor, I've had the opportunity to mentor young seminary students studying for pastoral ministry. One interesting topic that regularly comes up is having friends at the church where you serve. You might be surprised that there's not a consensus about whether having friendship in a church you serve is a good thing. The primary concern is that some people will only befriend you because they want influence. Others have suggested that friendship and ministry aren't compatible, because you are setting yourself up for betrayal. Some pastors believe they will only have friends again once their ministry is finished. The truth is that serving in ministry can be a sad, lonely, and scary place, but this will only be exaggerated if you believe friendships should not be afforded or allowed.
No matter your occupation, having friends can lead to frustration, tears, betrayal, and disappointment. Any good friendship involves risk. Every relationship has cost. But having friends is an important part of both ministry and life. Can pastors have friends? The short answer is yes.
God created us for friendships. Who will help you as you traverse the complexities of life? In his book Survive or Thrive, Jimmy Dodd talks about six relationships every pastor needs. One of those relationships is friendship. Jimmy says, “One of the most important gifts to us by God to confront isolation is friendship. Friends are a vital part of an emotionally healthy life. Friendships nourish our souls as nothing else can. The Godhead is steeped in relationship. Friends are an earthly, visible reflection of the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We desperately need friends.” Who are you living life with?
God has mercifully and lovingly provided me with gospel friendships along life’s way. There are important friendships with men in my local church as well as friends who spur me on who are not a part of my local church (I think that's really important for pastors, too). Included in this list are the two amazing guys who also write here at Gospel Centered Family. My relationship with Patrick and Jared began with an email to Jared about family ministry. What grew out of that email was a pair of long term friendships. Many times in ministry you spend your time networking and have a lot of relationships that are surface level, only used to aid one another in ministry rather than delve into the depths of a person’s life. I'm thankful that this is not the way it is with these guys. They won’t allow it. They enter into struggles and shed light into dark places. They do not meet failure with harshness, but with grace, encouragement and prayer. They know when to challenge and when to listen. Our friendship is not based on my performance, and it is a beautiful reminder of how God relates to us.
If you are struggling to find meaningful, life-giving friendship or you're wondering why it even matters if you have friendships, consider reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero or A Loving Life by Paul Miller. If you are a struggling pastor please be encouraged to check out the book Survive or Thrive by Jimmy Dodd, and also his ministry Pastor Serve, which provides pastors to shepherd other pastors. If you are not a pastor, encourage your pastor by asking how they are doing and how you can pray for them. Let them know about Pastor Serve. You can find out more about Pastor Serve at www.pastorserve.net.
God, thank you for friendships. Give us the kind of friendships that point us toward You. You are our Friend, closer than a brother. You are always faithful, caring, and trustworthy. Help me to be a good friend. Amen.