Lutheran Church Extension Fund
The Joys and Pitfalls of Friendships with Church Members

The Joys and Pitfalls of Friendships with Church Members

Do you have close friends who are members of the congregation?

Consider that question carefully for a moment. Elbert Hubbard said, “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” I hope that you have plenty of friends in the church who know you and love you.

The trick is the “knows all about you” part; your faults, your fears, your failings, your frustrations. Sharing your innermost self with those who call you “Pastor” can be frightening and hazardous.

Forty years ago I was sternly cautioned against developing close friendships in Church. I get the warning, but think that was too simplistic.

I was also told a hilarious story by a seminary professor who years earlier had taken the youth group to Coney Island and caught the girls giggling on the beach because, as they eventually told him, “We’ve never seen a Pastor’s knees before.”

It’s okay if people see your knees.

There’s a delicate balance here between appropriate pastoral boundaries and our understanding of the Office of the Ministry, an Office entrusted to fully-human human beings. Before anyone ever called you their Shepherd, (and even after, don’t forget) you were one of Jesus’ little lambs.

Managing that delicate balance is the slippery part. This is more art than science. It’s nuanced, and learned only through experience. We’ll touch on that in just a minute.

But let me interject one iron-clad word of warning here. Everyone in church work absolutely must have at least an elementary understanding of “borderline personality disorder.” It’s a particular emotional health challenge presented by members of the congregation in almost every church.

These are people who have great difficulty maintaining appropriate relational boundaries. Ministers are vulnerable to their influence. They may inappropriately manipulate their way into your personal and family life, and then suddenly reject you. Do your research and be alert.

So, how do you manage close friendships in the church? I’ve made mistakes in both directions: being too cautious and also being too open at times. I’ve missed out on the benefits of friendships that I dearly needed. And I’ve also been betrayed.

But it was worth it.

God’s grace covers the trials and challenges of friends walking together in faith and love. And that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s the gospel!

We’re in this Christian walk together. The Church of Jesus is a fellowship of sinners, walking together, encouraging, blessing, confronting, challenging, loving and forgiving one another.

It’s dangerous for ministers to think that they themselves don’t need the kinds of Christian friends that we encourage every member of the congregation to seek.

One of my greatest joys in church life was being a member of a small group where I wasn’t the leader. It was a safe place for Carol and I to be ourselves. It made us better followers of Jesus, and me a better Pastor.

The other couples in the group knew all about us, and still loved us.

Friends in church or keep your distance? Tough question. I can’t tell you how it might work out best for you.

But please consider this post my encouragement for you to try and figure it out. With plenty of reliance on grace.

Thanks for reading.