When you see your pastor on social media, you'll sometimes notice him posting pictures with a group of church people or grabbing a meal with another guy. But don't let that image fool you. More often than not, your pastor isn't really close with them. He may be mentoring, counseling, or connecting with them. But they're most likely not just hanging out as friends.
You see friends are people with whom you can let your guard down and openly share life with. They are people who know you and yet they still accept you and enjoy your company. In other words, friends are people who let you be you. However for most pastors, it's rare to find this at church.
And as a result, this leads to a very sad but common situation: pastors have a lot of relationships at church but very few friendships.
The Lonely Pastor
I'm not saying pastors have absolutely no friends in their life (unless they're weird). However their friends usually consist of old college buddies from the past or pastors from other churches who are also lonely. The problem though with these friendships is that they're not constant - pastors usually interact with these guys only 2-3x a year.
The people whom pastors actually "share life" with are members of his congregation. He lives near them and sees them every week. However despite having a lot of good relationships within the church, pastors tend to not be friends with any of them. I mean think about it. You'll call your pastor up if you're experiencing marital issues or a crisis of faith. But if you want to play NBA 2k or watch a movie with somebody, you probably wouldn't call your pastor up.
And as a result, a lot of pastors are lonely. Freaking lonely. They'll never tell their congregation this because, well, they're the pastor. They're supposed to "have it together." But they're human and they desire intimacy too. Therefore they'll overly-rely on their spouses or become workaholics or meet with a counselor in order to deal with their loneliness.
But in reality a lot of them just need something very simple: friends.
Why Pastors Struggle Making Friends
So why are pastors often friendless at church? Some articles I read blame the congregation while others blame the pastor. Personally I think there are factors on both sides that make it difficult for pastors and church members to form real friendships. What are those factors?
It's often difficult being friends with someone who has more "power" than us. Think about your parents or your boss. It's hard to be ourselves around them. Why so? Well, they have power. They can say things to us that we can't ever say to them. But the essence of friendship is peership. You need to be on an even playing field to play catch. But if someone is standing on a higher plain than us, throwing a ball becomes less fun.
While pastors aren't our bosses or parents, they do hold a position of "power" because they serve as a spiritual authority in our lives. And some pastors may even wield this power explicitly. As a result, we can't really be ourselves around them. The playing field is uneven. So we'll often ask pastors to teach us how to throw a ball - but then we'll leave and play catch with somebody else.
Vulnerability creates intimacy in relationships because when we're vulnerable, we're revealing things about ourselves that put us in danger. We're letting people see our flaws at the risk of rejection. In other words, we're letting people see the real us while trusting they will still accept us. Understandably, pastors have a difficult time doing this with members of his church.
It's already difficult for anybody to be vulnerable with another person. However for a pastor it's very difficult because he's supposed to be the one listening to your problems - not the other way around. Plus the risk is much greater when a pastor shares. Ex: If your pastor reveals he's having marital issues, will you take him seriously when he preaches on marriage? Maybe. Or maybe not because now you're wondering if you respect your pastor's opinion anymore - and he's wondering the same thing.
From my observation, I notice a lot of pastors don't know how to carry a normal conversation. Usually the pastor will do a lot of talking or will do a lot of listening; he will give his thoughts or he will listen to their thoughts. But a normal conversation transpires when you're building on each other's thoughts and connecting through that process of engaging ideas. I feel like a lot of pastors don't know how to do this.
Instead it's often a counselor-counselee convo that ends up being an informal Q&A. And pastors are used to doing this because they're always preaching. But this trains a pastor to become socially retarded where he's now accustomed to lecturing you for 10 mins straight after you make a comment - which may be great to have in a coach/mentor, but not so great in a friend/peer.
Can Pastors Be Friends With Church Members?
Some pastors I talk to believe that pastors just can't be friends with people in their church. That's why they need to network with other pastors. But I really disagree with this. I feel like pastors who only have friends outside their churches are basically friends with people who don't really know them. Again, how often do pastors see these other guys? They may share about their lives to each other, but they're not really sharing life. They're reporting life.
Pastors need more than this. They need friends who see them on a Sunday morning and can tell something is off with them. They need friends who see their hard work and can encourage them. They need friends who notice their ego growing and call them out on it. In other words, they need friends that will stick closer than a brother (Prov 18:24). I know this is challenging and I think it takes both the church and the pastor to make such a friendship a possible.
On the church's part, I don't think everybody should feel obligated to become their pastor's friend. But I do believe there are a select few who have an opportunity to do so. In my opinion, the best gift a member can give his pastor is to let him feel free to be himself. To let his pastor know that he can share whatever is on his mind and you won't lose respect for him. That's something a pastor craves and if you're willing to do that for him, you will likely become a friend.
For a pastor, I think he needs to be willing to be himself in front of his church. He needs to let go of always being "the counselor" but occasionally seek counsel from others. He needs to treat some members of his church like peers so that they can feel free to act like peers around him. It's a risk for pastors to reveal themselves like this, but I think it's a risk that's worth taking.
The reason I strongly believe pastors can be friends with members of their church is because I've experienced this myself. As a pastor, I found some very rich and deep friendships not just with other pastors but with the very members whom I shepherd.
It's not like I'm socially savvy and made friends easily. It took time. But as the years went by, I was fortunate enough to meet individuals who let me be me while at the same time letting me pastor them. It's an amazing gift these members offered me that I don't take for granted. But this also took me taking a risk & being vulnerable.
Friendship is a gift that not many pastors get to experience in their own churches. I hope though that this can change.