The Privilege and Challenge of Being a Pastor and Friend
This post is one in a series reflecting on my time with our last church that ultimately closed. You can read more context here.
Every job or role in life has unique privileges and challenges. But until my time as a pastor ended I didn’t take seriously the unique challenges of being one.
Being a person’s pastor and their friend is a beautiful and messy proposition. Perhaps this is more true in small churches, that’s the only kind I’ve ever really pastored. I do know that other pastors I’ve talked to have experienced some tension in the interplay of being pastor and friend. It is an area I didn’t give sufficient weight during my time as a pastor. I took the perspective that I was no different than anyone else and therefore my relationships didn’t need to be any different. (I don’t mean here that a pastor is different in essence, but the role they take on creates different dynamics.)
I’m still struggling to put words to the complexity of what I experienced with this dynamic of pastor and friend. My friendships with people in our church were authentic and honest. My desire and efforts to be their pastor were authentic and honest as well. I loved them. I say that with no hesitation. But the intersection of these two things made relationships more complex than I realized. I subconsciously felt the need to be guarded in ways I wouldn’t have been with a friend. At times I hesitated to speak deeply into people’s lives as a pastor needs to for fear of my friendships. It wasn’t all bad, it was just…tricky.
I had an experience a few months after our church ended that helped me see my struggle with this dynamic more clearly. We had started attending a great local church, and on the second Sunday we were there we saw a number of people from our old church. I felt so deeply troubled by it (even though I loved these people). As I worked to understand what I had felt, something unexpected came to the surface. I didn’t know how to go from being their pastor and friend to just friend. Total transparency–I felt some jealousy that someone else was now their pastor. I had taken on the role of care and shepherding so deeply and I didn’t realize it would be like ripping out a part of me to give it up.
Unfortunately this has led to awkwardness with people I love and care about. I just haven’t known how to make this transition. My awareness of the dynamic is helping me to unravel that a bit, but I’m still not always sure what it looks like.
To some extent I don’t think you can understand this unless you’ve experienced it. That is true of many things in life, it’s not unique to pastors. I just know there is a weight to the dance of being someone’s friend and pastor. It is a privilege, but not a light one.
So I take with me a new appreciation for the dance a pastor must navigate as both shepherd and friend. It gives me more grace and respect for those I see doing it so well. It reminds me to pray for them so they will have the wisdom to continue navigating it well.
Other Posts in This Series