Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pastors and Friendship

A person responding to my blog said the following (note to this sender—we don’t publish anonymous blogs. All you have to do is sign your name and we will publish):

Tom, at some point, please say more about this: “There are often real and supposed friendships built up between a senior pastor and staff.” I think it would be helpful to me and many others who work or volunteer within their church.

It is very hard to establish and maintain healthy friendships within a staff. This is because a friendship will have to deal with the line between pastor (boss) and staff (employee). The pastor certainly will have to critique the performance of the employee, which could get confused in friendship.

On the other hand, the staff member is in no position to call the boss to account, if necessary. In a friendship, the employee might even be recruited into an us-vs-them relationship, which can divide the rest of the staff and even the congregation.

Friendships between staff can be seen as favoritism. I have seen this happen—even independent of friendship—when the boss has to spend more time with a couple of staff people over the others for supervision or project reasons.

Staffs that confuse respect and collegiality with friendship can breed the kind of thinking that sees the staff primarily as support for each other, rather than the church. Certainly, staff must support each other, but our basic call is to serve the church.

Since Wayne and I have become co-pastors we have initiated more of a collegial style of planning, developing, and ministering amongst the whole staff. We work together in preparing worship, sermon series, small groups, publications, and so much more. I truly believe that all voices are heard and respected. This works because we have a staff where there is mutual respect and the desire to put Jesus’ ministry through the Kirk before anything else.

Supposed friendships occur when one or the other party has an agenda in the friendship. The friendship is a means to an end and isn’t real. This is what I experienced with my boss who was caught in multiple affairs. The circumstances of discovery dictated that I be the one to confront him. Almost immediately he imposed upon our “friendship” to cut him breaks in the process or to alter the story. It was incredibly hard for me to hold fast to what was right. At one point my boss told Kirk members that I was the one involved in affairs. There are probably people who left the church then who still think that's the truth. The feelings I had had for him were true, but not his for me. I’m sure that this is the reason I had such trouble getting over the anger and grief that his betrayal produced.

Yet there are real friendships among pastors and staff. Wayne Hardy and I have worked together for 17 years. For almost all of those years it seemed more of a partnership than boss/employee. But it really couldn’t be that until we became co-pastors. With equal authority, there is the potential for a real friendship. There are, of course, conflicts within a church, or difficult decisions where we might be at odds. The purpose in friendship, though, is to be true to each other even in difficult situations.

I also sincerely love my staff like they were my family. There have been staff members in the past where, for various reasons, this feeling never developed. In all such cases I remember, the staff member in question just wasn't a good fit for the Kirk. There are also newer members of staff, or people I rarely work with side-by-side, where the desire to feel “family” is there, and will come with time.

Everything I’ve written above—and more—is true of friendships between pastors and church members. That relationship can be a minefield for pastors and friends alike. My experience is that most pastors do not develop close friendships with members for these reasons. Having said that, I have been at the Kirk for almost 25 years. That length of time has imprinted a deeper love of people in the Kirk on my heart.

Wayne and I have both said that the hardest thing for us to do in the Kirk is bury friends. As the congregation ages, this becomes more frequent. And in a large congregation there are even fairly frequent deaths of younger people we deeply love.

I am privileged to serve the Kirk. I have never been in a more supportive congregation. I know that some reading past blogs believe that I have somehow hoodwinked the congregation to think like me. The truth is that this is an exceptionally unified congregation. That doesn’t mean that we have no differences; members are quick and confident to speak out. But we try to put Jesus first, and that’s the healthiest thing any congregation can do.

On a totally different subject, there is an excellent article by Ben Witherington on the developing Ted Haggard story. I’m not sure that I agree with the section on male menopause as a cause of scandals but I find that whatever Witherington writes is worth reading. You’ll find it here.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

1 comment:

Bayou Christian said...


Thanks for writing this up. Tough stuff for sure. I am very clear with my church family - I am not their friend. Friends are a dime a dozen. Pastors are something different, deeper, and vital - saying I am not their friend does not diminish our relationships it clarifies it.