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LEADERSHIP & FRIENDSHIP: ARE THE TWO INCOMPATIBLE?

“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 made me mad. Anxious. Confused.

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.

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, it probably would be 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 most of us, our closest friends might not be inside the church we lead . . . but we still need a few close friends if we want to be healthy.

By the way, fear isn’t the only thing getting in the way of friendship. Busyness also presents a barrier. I’ve never seen leaders busier than I do now. Our discretionary time seems at an all-time low. The thought of carving out time to nurture friendships throws some of us into an anxiety attack. And yet healthy friendship is often the exact antidote for our anxiety.

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 reciprocal 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 very 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. 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 in your life. 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 definitely 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!

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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