Preaching Articles

Imagine a day in your future. You are now seventy or seventy-five, and the pace of life has slowed. You get up early in the morning and sit in your favorite chair with a cup of coffee. The house is still and silent. No one is there but you and God and your thoughts.

On this morning, instead of thinking about the day’s activities, you begin to reflect upon the past. It’s like you’ve popped in a DVD of your life. You see family vacations, times with your spouse, holidays spent with relatives. You have memories of ministry, both rewarding and painful. It hasn’t always been easy, and not everything turned out like you hoped, but it’s been a good life.

Today one thought especially encourages you and brings a smile to your face. You are grateful to God that you took time to develop a handful of deep friendships. You realize that on life’s balance sheet, possessing cars, houses, and toys doesn’t add up to much. But a real friendship is of high value. It’s the stuff life is made of.

The truth is those of us in ministry often don’t do the friendship thing very well. One survey among pastors found that 70 percent do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Most Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships.”[1] What an indictment.

I grew up around church and Christians, so I’ve always had a lot of acquaintances. My relational circle was wide but not very deep. Looking back, there were at least three factors that made deep friendship illusive.

First, I grew up in a generation of church where we didn’t talk much about the value of community and relationship. We talked a lot about salvation and knowing the Bible and pure living. It never felt like anybody inside the church had a messy life. As a result, there was a subtle pressure to project an image that you had it all together. Because of that subtle pressure you wouldn’t let people get too close, which meant your friendships were usually shallow.

The second factor had to do with my personality and wiring. By nature, I am calculated and cautious when it comes to relationships. I don’t let my guard down easily. Opening up and being completely transparent does not come easy for me.

The third factor that’s made deep friendship hard has been “ministry.” Somewhere along the way in my training, I got it in my head that as a pastor you can’t (and shouldn’t) have close friends in your church. You don’t want to be accused of partiality by hanging out with some members more than others. And, besides, you don’t want to let people peer too closely into your life and family. They might discover you don’t have it all together.

So, for the first fifteen years of ministry I learned how to pastor and live the Christian life by keeping everyone at a safe emotional distance. I lived in denial of any deep relational needs I had. I was quite content to skim relationally and focus on building the church. Then I hit my mid-thirties.

Longings I had suppressed began to come to the surface. There was something missing, and I began to feel it. I began to have thoughts like, God made me a man before he made me a pastor. And, as a man he made me to live in community. I knew I had to go deeper in a few relationships, no matter how it was perceived.

Joseph Myers’ The Search to Belong has been very helpful in my thinking.  He talks about 4 categories of relationships: Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate.[2] It’s important to have people in each category, and the number in each category declines from Public to Intimate. As a pastor, I’d become quite skilled at Public and Social relationships. And I was able to manage at the Personal level. But there was no friend that would have fit the Intimate category. There was no one who fully knew me, the naked truth about me.

During this season God brought into my life a pastor friend with whom I connected easily. As trust began to develop, we both decided to pursue the friendship. I learned in this process that you never drift into deep friendship.

One of the most famous friendships in Scripture is that of David and Jonathan. At one point, Jonathan does something that feels awkward and uncomfortable for most men: “Jonathan made a special vow to be David’s friend, and he sealed the pact by giving him his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt.” He made a “special vow.” He declared his commitment to pursue the friendship. We just don’t do that today. For most people I know in ministry and certainly for most men, this seems way too touchy-feely.

But I need an intimate friend or two who fully know me, friends who aren’t impressed with me and who aren’t afraid to tell me the truth. I need a handful of people who know the junk about me, who know where I struggle, who know the skeletons in my closet, and who love and accept me anyway.

This kind of friendship doesn’t happen by accident. If you’ve got someone in your life you want to go deeper with, do what Jonathan did. Declare it! Life is too short and there is too much at stake for you to avoid this level of friendship.

Start now. Build a rich life by developing a few deep friendships.

[1] Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, 60.

[2] Joseph R. Myers, The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2003).

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

Talk about it...

Doug Knox

commented on Sep 5, 2016

Incredible. I could not do this job without good friends by my side--friend in the ministry and in the pew.

Doug Knox

commented on Sep 5, 2016

Incredible. I could not do this job without good friends by my side--friend in the ministry and in the pew.

William Mudavanhu

commented on Sep 6, 2016

Oh, this is great truth, sure i need a friend who knows the "junk around me". I have a question though. Can I spouse fill that capacity.

Chris Herman

commented on Sep 7, 2016

Thank you. That could have been written for me. I have just started to work on a close friendship with another pastor, and it is a lifesaver.

Timothy Burt

commented on May 28, 2018

I have always found this difficult. Now a minister in my mid 70's I still have a great relationship and friendship with my wife, but no other close friends. I do have a ministerial advisor and am such for others. At present, I am very happy because I share things with my wife and she does not have close friends, like me she is 'happy in her own skin' and sharing life with me. Our first love and friend is Christ. However, my advice to younger ministers would be to find close friends.

Bob Weger

commented on May 29, 2018

Being a pastor and having close friendships is one of the greatest challenges we face as pastors. The reason is because we assume that others especially those who are men of the cloth as we are understand us the best and that they will value the relationship as much as we do. One does not have to be in the ministry long to realize that this is not true not every preacher holds the same values and integrity is not something every preacher is on the same level. I also realize that as pastors we sometimes might seek a friend outside the ministry, this too can be a blessing but, it is going to be with some challenges, because if the one with whom you seek to build relationship with, is not in the ministry he will not understand where you are coming from or the pressures you are under and deal with. As a pastor having a friend who also is a pastor is a priceless thing, I am thankful for the pastor friends I have.

Karen Selby

commented on May 29, 2018

You mentioned not drifting into an intimate friendship. Can you talk more about that. I am writing articles on the old nature and new nature Christ provides, writing on topics from criminal and addictive thinking and what does God's Word have to say about them. My current topic is re-building trust after it has been broken or beginning to build trust when you have not had it in the past. Fragmentation is one part of criminal and addictive thinking. Work addiction and many moves have left me with the wide but not deep. Through God's direction, counseling and prayer partners, I have gotten close to some. These friends have gone to heaven or are now aging. Prayer and the Holy Spirit I trust, but do you have any comments on how to find or decide who to invest in.

Jim Whitlock

commented on Sep 12, 2018

I am one of the "Overwhelming Majority." I have been in ministry 40 years and I have NO friends, close or otherwise.

Karen Selby

commented on Sep 12, 2018

Not a pastor but am second in command to a jail ministry. I was at this place and when in early to mid 40's started counseling that helped me open up and create a relationship where I could be honest and vulnerable, not just a person who tried to meet the needs of others. This relationship with a male counselor helped me to be more honest and open with men. A sponsor and 2 separate prayer partners and support group helped me do so with women. These led to friendship skills which also made my efforts to meet needs more effective. Leaning to trust is a huge part of faith and being able to enjoy the first and second commandments. At this point I am so gland His precepts are commandments are not just suggestions! The newsletter April, May and June has some articles on trust. The current series helps in recognizing thoughts that keep us from maturing and how God's word addresses those areas helps us grow closer.

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