Why is it that many pastors—the people we respect and ad mire most lead lonely lives? And why do many lay leaders feel frustrated in their attempts to build a relationship with their pastors?
On one hand, there is the tendency to canonize the pastor in a way that Catholics wisely reserve for those long dead. However, in many congregations the pastor is also the target of criticism. If the sermon is too long or the hymns too new, if the denomination is too liberal or there is not enough parking, the pastor takes the heat.
We all recognize that our pastors need people who will accept them and enjoy them as they are, without either awe or arrogance—in short, friends. And most of us would like to be friends with our pastors. But what exactly does it take to be their friend?
During the past seven years I have enjoyed becoming good friends with my pastor. Our relationship has developed solely through the church; as a result, I find myself relating differently with him than I might with other people. Over this time I have developed, unconsciously, some "rules" for being a friend to my pastor.
Rule 1: Preserve confidentiality
I make it a practice not to share with others things the pastor has shared with me personally. Why? A friend is first of all someone with whom you can speak freely. If our pastors cannot be assured that we will keep confidences, they will not feel safe talking with us.
If you have enjoyed a private conversation with your pastor on a given subject, you may know more than should be publicly known. That information simply cannot be used in conversations with others.
Rule 2: Avoid public confrontation
As far as I am able, I never criticize my pastor in front of other people. The pastor' s ability to function depends largely upon the respect he commands in the congregation. Anything I do to lessen that respect diminishes his effectiveness. Consequently, I try to avoid arguing with him publicly.
This is something I have not always done well. At an officers' retreat several years ago, our pastor was leading a discussion of the church's master plan. I thought the plan was incomprehensible and of little utility, and I said so, in essence, through a couple rather pointed questions.
By publicly criticizing my friend and pastor or at least the work he was doing I broke my own rule: my remarks were public and not private. Had I said nothing, the discussion would have ended sooner and we could have spent time on a more useful topic.
That blunder renewed my commitment to present concerns privately, particularly if I think my pastor is headed down a wrong path. In private he has a greater opportunity to change his mind without appearing to buckle under pressure.
Rule 3: Never just complain
Rather than simply complain and be come a burden to the pastor, I attempt to propose a solution. I think of the time he and I were on a nominating committee seeking an associate pastor for our church. It was along, tiring process. One evening, in a private conversation after the meeting, he suggested to me, "I think we've done enough. Let's just call Joe"—our leading candidate at the time.
I disagreed and suggested a name on a newly submitted resume. My pastor knew the man, but did not realize he had applied for the job. He quickly agreed "Oh! We have to talk with him." As all good stories end, that man is now the associate pastor at our church.
The point here is that rather than simply complaining, I proposed another solution. And I did it privately on an issue of spiritual significance.
Rule 4: Don't try to be "best friends"
This leads me to the hardest rule of all: realizing that I simply cannot be my pastor's best friend. To require that would burden him with another commitment among his many responsibilities to the church family. To be real friends with our pastors, we have to be more concerned about loving and serving them than the benefits our relationship with them might offer us. In so doing, both their lives and ours will be richer.
This article is reprinted from Lay Leadership III, 1989, and is used by permission of the author.