“You can never have any close friends in the church you lead!”
Such was the declaration I heard as a young pastor from many seasoned pastors. I was a greenhorn and didn’t have enough confidence to push back on their strong position. Coming out of college, where friendships were many and rich, the thought of having no close friends in the church I was serving upset me. Confused me. Caused anxiety.
Today, I’m pretty sure most of the cautions issued from hurtful experiences suffered by these older leaders. “You can’t have any close friends in the church you lead” isn’t a biblical thought. When you study the life of Paul, you notice (Check out Romans 16) he had friends in the churches he served. He used phrases like “… Epenetus, my dear friend…” and “… Stachys my dear friend…” Jesus even said to the twelve guys following him in John 15: “I call you friends.”
So, this idea of having no friends in the church you serve isn’t really rooted in Scripture.
This week alone I’ve had more than a dozen pastors tell me they have no close friends. Friendship can be fraught with peril for a leader . . . but without good and trustworthy friends, a leader sets himself or herself up for even more peril.
The question isn’t, “can pastors have close friends in the churches they serve?” I think the real question may be: “Is it advisable?” If we polled one hundred pastors and asked them “Is it advisable to have close friends in the church you serve?” we would probably get a 50/50 split. Each side would tell you either horror stories of getting burned or wonderful stories of rewarding friendships.
Is there risk with friendship? Yes. Every relationship carries some degree of risk. I would argue isolating ourselves carries risk as well—maybe even more risk.
God has wired you and me for deep friendship. Our purpose in life is intertwined with people. I don’t think we’ll get where God wants us to go if we choose to live in a relational desert. For some of us, our closest friends might not be inside the church we lead . . . but we still need a few deep friendships if we want to be healthy.
If you’re a guy, you need a guy friend who knows everything about you. And a guy friend who challenges you to grow. And . . . a guy friend who you don’t have to be “on” for . . . somebody who makes you laugh. The same goes for girls: You too need girlfriends who serve in the above capacities.
With these thoughts in mind, let me share seven friendship hacks that will help you get started on the friendship quest:
Hack 1: Go first
Rather than waiting for people to reach out to you, take the first step. You may need to try several times before you can determine the other person’s level of interest. Friendship-building starts with intentionality on our part.
Hack 2: Be reciprocal
Adult relationships that aren’t mutual are unhealthy. In a healthy friendship, sometimes you’re doing the encouraging, the listening . . . other times you’re receiving the encouragement and being listened to. One-sided friendships usually don’t last long.
Hack 3: Be kind
Kindness is relational currency. It puts change in your friendship pockets that you can draw out when needed. We live in an increasingly unkind world—kindness will set you apart.
Hack 4: Grow your listening skills
Listen to understand rather than to reload. Eye contact, welcoming body language, and reflective listening communicate interest. Put down your smartphone and lock your attention on the person in front of you. If you’re easily distracted, work hard to stay focused on what your friend is sharing with you.
Hack 5: Be trustworthy
The ability to maintain confidentiality, to be reliable and dependable are foundational to healthy relationships. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you want a potential friend to trust you—be trustworthy.
Hack 6: Be wisely transparent
The more trust grows, the more you can share about yourself. Often, we either open up too soon, or we never open up at all. Both extremes are unhealthy. Becoming wisely transparent deepens relationships.
Hack 7: Be available
Busy leaders be advised: Friendship rarely happens accidentally. It almost always is a result of purposeful planning and action. Get some margin. Create space on your calendar for friendship.
You and I will not reach full emotional maturity without investing heavily in friendship. Leadership doesn’t immunize us from our deep need for honest, meaningful, and replenishing relationships.
When you come to the end of your life, your life will be measured not by the size of your church or business, nor how high on the leadership ladder you’ve climbed. It will be measured in large part by the friendships you’ve nurtured. You won’t be remembered for your accomplishments as much as you’ll be remembered for the relational value you’ve deposited in people.
Leadership and friendship are compatible. So, let’s put away fear, make room in our calendars, and dive into the rewarding world of relationships.
I’m rooting and praying for you!