On Pastoring And Friendship: Part 1

No Man Is an Island, but You May Be a Peninsula

A pastor is a human being redeemed by God’s grace and called to serve the Lord as an ordained minister. As a human, he will need friends. It is a highly unrealistic expectation to think that pastors are above needing friends. Trying to be immune from normal human dynamics is a formula to strangle pastoral ministry.

We all need friends who will laugh with (and sometimes at) us; we need friends with common life experiences; and we need friends to lean on and to support when they lean on us. A pastor will not last long without camaraderie. Because of this, we should accept the kindness of friendship and seek out friends. Your friends may not be in your same demographic, who you would choose, or even who you would expect. But not only God is sovereign in salvation; he is also sovereign in providing friends and fellowship.

The church may not be the primary place to spawn friendships. It can even be a perversion of the church’s mission to convert sanctuaries into friendship klatches. Even though that is not our primary goal, it does seem that if the church is truly Christ-like, true Christian friendship will be one of the results. If we are brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be real friends to one another.

The pastoral life, however, can be lonely at times—as can any leadership and public service. Such may be part of the costs of discipleship that must be counted. Pastors should love all in their flock, but we will only be close friends with a few. While we are called to serve all, we will not have the same level of trust or fellowship with all. Thinking so is a one-size-fits-all formula that will not survive.

I advise pastors to look for at least one friend who is a decade older, unflinchingly confidential, and who will love you enough both to celebrate with you and to give honest advice. We also benefit from friends—if you are married, preferably couples that your wife enjoys as well—whom we admire and who value our regular association. Then it is helpful to look for a younger friend to keep you fresh and less boring. Off-site friends are good and necessary as well—they can listen to us, sympathize with us, and not be part of the church.

Realize also that friendships may come and go. With some we are very close for a while, but life moves our interests in different directions. That is normal. Others may come late in your ministry, and those can be some of your most enduring friends.

Sadly, but truer than not, I warn pastoral candidates that the first to host them or state that he would take a spear for them will often be the first out the door when things do not go well. Start your own list and count the number of chairmen of search committees who are still a pastor’s friend after five years.

But the pastor can make friends with all types of persons and should not restrict his fellowship only to those who are fellow leaders.

Start at Home with Your Wife and Kids

Under this heading, let me state the obvious (because it sometimes is forgotten): let your wife be your best companion. Sure, her beauty, wit, intellect, and spirituality attracted your affections, but also make sure that your wife is your friend. Spend time with her and do common things together. Share both the good things of ministry as well as the trials with her. Let her be the first who hears the news that thrills you.

Moreover, spend time with your children in ways that cultivate a friendship. It may not be so at first, but our goal is to raise kids who share our faith, our loves, our history, and our aspirations. Through that growth, they may become fine friends.

Proverbs on Friendship

Friendship is a common need. As such, the Bible says much about the subject. To illustrate true friendship, I have applied many proverbs to my friendships, some of which I have set out here in a short chart. There are others not included that inferentially speak of friendship, but here are the verses that directly inform us about the subject. I have also categorized them around major traits of friendship (left column).

Good Influence “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov 13:20). Wise company benefits us; foolish companionship inevitably brings harm. Birds of a feather, flock together. Reminiscent of James 4:4, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Hence, friendship with fellow Christians should help one grow in Christ.
Confidentiality and Vulnerability “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends” (Prov 16:28). This verse stresses the fragile nature of relationships. They should be handled with care. The gossiping person destroys friendships. If we do not have many friendships this may be one of the causes. Surrendering confidentiality, gossiping, or betraying others will nip friendships in the bud.

 

“He who covers an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Prov 17:9). A friend overlooks offenses, but non-friend tries to use the offense as a wedge between friends.

 

An Arabian Proverb says: “A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

Positive Regard and Constancy

 

 

 

Unselfish

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov 17:17). A friend is fundamentally for us; a friend loves us even when we are unlovely. “A friend in need” is a true friend who sticks by you in adversity.

 

“An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment” (Prov 18:1). A non-friend is selfish and undiscerning. A friend is the opposite—unselfish with sound judgment.

Dependable “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov 18:24). Closer than a brother! That is true of Christ but also of human friends.

 

“Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man’s friend deserts him” (Prov 19:4, 6, 7). The proper basis for friendship is not wealth. This proverb is sad but true. We should avoid this.

Patient

 

 

 

 

Faithful in Reproving

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered” (Prov 22:24). Our friends should be calm and mature, not hot heads.

 

“The kisses of an enemy may be profuse, but faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov 27:6). I would paraphrase: There may be much outward affection and politeness from an enemy, but a friend does not just flatter. They keep you from faults.

This is one of the most important verses on friendship in all of Scripture. Flatterers may give effusive praise, but only a real friend talks to us about our weaknesses and really seeks to help us. Sure, their exhortation may wound us, but those are faithful wounds.

Earnest

Advice

 

Permanence

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel” (Prov 27:9).

 

“Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father” (Prov 27:10a). Family friends and long-time friends are not to be forgotten.

In sum, remember the characteristics of a true friend from Proverbs are: good influence, confidentiality, vulnerability, positive regard, constancy, unselfish, dependable, patient, faithful, gives earnest advice, and permanence.

You may not have realized how much the Bible had to say about the subject of friendship, but it is quite full. These characteristics form a mosaic of the type of friendship we should have. File these away and look for friendships with these traits.

For a further illustration of what such a friend is like, consider reviewing the friendship between Jonathan and David found in 1 Samuel 20. In the next part of this series, we will look at the importance of friendships in John Calvin’s life as examples for us today.

©David Hall. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series here. 


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    Post authored by:

  • David Hall
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    Reverend David W. Hall is married to Ann, and they are parents of three grown children and grandparents of eight grandchildren. He has served as the Senior Pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) since 2003. Previously, he served as Pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (1984–2003) and as Associate Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Rome, Georgia (1980–1984). He was ordained to pastoral ministry in 1980. He was educated at Covenant Theological Seminary and is the editor and author of several volumes.

    More by David Hall ›

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