Pastors may be the most well-known, loneliest men on the face of the earth. Friendship is a vital part of New Testament ministry and leadership. Without quality, biblical friendships, we are modeling a flawed Christian lifestyle for our church members. Yet, for many, the difficulties of pastoral friendships outweigh the benefits.
Most pastors find themselves in an unhealthy relationship where their wife is their only friend and counselor. If a pastor continues to project his problems onto his wife, she will grow disillusioned and desperate to leave the ministry. I believe a pastor’s wife should be his best friend, but she should not be his only friend.
In my 30 years of ministry, I have learned that every pastor needs at least four types of friends.
Your best friend will always be the person who brings out the very best in you. According to Billy Graham, he wouldn’t have made it as an evangelist if he had to minister alone. Over 53 years ago, Billy Graham met his staff and best friends: Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shea and Grady Wilson. These three men protected him, strengthened him, counseled with their wisdom and corrected him when he needed it. He is convinced that without these friends he would have burned out within a few years after his first groundbreaking crusade in 1949 (Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham, pp. 125-129).
Developer friends will bring the gift of encouragement to a pastor’s life and bring out the very best in him.
We tend to think of a mentor as a personal, hands-on coach. The Latin and Greek define them more as “advisors” or “wise men.” Jesus was a master mentor. He ministered to thousands, trained hundreds, equipped twelve and had an intimate friendship with three men.
The designer mentors us in our marriage, ministry, child-rearing, civic involvement, business acumen or any area where we need a model. Designer mentors may live near or far, be acquaintances or strangers, or may even be dead. They “design” our lives through Scripture, books, tapes, articles or seminars.
We need friends who will shake up our status quo. Disturbers ask us difficult questions, forcing us to take a closer look at motivations and ambitions. Disturbers know when we have retreated into our comfort zones, and they call us out to greater effectiveness. God uses disturbers in our lives to become the object of greater force that breaks inertia and propels us to greater achievement.
A biblical picture of a disturber is in Deuteronomy 32:11. In this passage, the mother eagle tears up the soft nest to reveal sharp thorns that bring discomfort to the eaglets. Because of discomfort, the eaglets leave the nest and learn to fly. The mother develops her young by repeatedly pushing them out of the nest and catching them until they become skilled flyers. Eagles were never meant to stay in the nest, and neither were we. The disturber pushes us to learn to fly.
In a lifetime of relationships, perhaps only a handful of people are willing to play this vital role because it requires mutual vulnerability. More popularly known as accountability partners, discerners bring the gift of spiritual insight into our lives. They know how to speak the truth in love. They know how to exhort and rebuke, seeking to keep their friend on the right track. They are also vulnerable—the true friends who will walk into the room of your life while everyone else is walking out.
Proverbs 27:6 reads, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive.” Always be slow in choosing your discerners and even slower in leaving them.
If you are a typical pastor without close friendships, I urge you to seek them out. They may keep you in ministry for the long haul, and your wife will thank you.