In preparing for a meeting among pastors, a friend of mine asked me to reflect on the meaning of friendship for a church leader. Friendship matters. I work alone might be OK in a movie, but it’s a terrible idea in the ministry. I sketched out an answer, probably more than he was looking for. I pondered questions like, What is your experience at the intersection of “leadership” and “friendship?” Does leadership have to be lonely? What did friendship mean to me during my years as a pastor?
I’d like to provide three types of answers to this question of whether I work alone is healthy: what was going on inside of me during those years, how my friends helped my work as a pastor, and a brief mention of the different kinds of friends I had.
I Work Alone Is a Bad Idea For Pastors
1. What was going on inside of me during my pastoral years:
I was guarded and private, and it wasn’t healthy. The way I’m wired I tend to process things internally, without conversation, except the conversation in my head—and sometimes that’s Crazy Town. I believed that by keeping my thoughts to myself I was protecting my image, my reputation, and my employment. What I was really doing was cutting myself off from one of the ways the Spirit wanted to speak to me. Here is a trustworthy saying: God speaks through other people. Give other people room to speak.
I had a distrust of people new to the church, which I think is wise: I never gave ministry responsibilities to someone until a person had been with the church for six months or more. But I also had a fear of more established people in the church, and that’s unwise. I wanted them to “do ministry,” but rarely shared with them what was going on inside of me. We are not meant to say, I work alone.
2. How My Friends Helped my Work as a Pastor:
I never knew the greatest help I had—people who prayed for me, forgave me, and were patient with me. These are hidden things that only become known years later, but they are very real things: how else could my friends help a guy who was a closed off as me? My more charismatic friends would not only pray for me, they would listen to the Lord’s voice and humbly deliver to me what they heard. They didn’t try to enforce what they heard (you know, “God told me to tell you . . . “) but always offered what they had, much like a UPS delivery driver (“Here’s the package, I hope it helps: see ya’.”). In retrospect, I wished I would have actively asked for their opinions more. Of course, there were other more visible helps as well. Encouragement—especially encouragement that is specific—is a great help.
3. The different kinds of friends I had:
I had “old friends,” people who had known me for years, and had taken the effort to stay in contact, even though we were distributed all of the country. These guys were people with no interest in the direction of the church, or no desire to be given position: they only cared about me. That’s valuable!
Other friends are those would’ve been my friends whether I was a pastor or not. Some were in the church; some were not. You can’t “talk shop” all the time: Even with friends inside the church is was great to have people to talk with about music, movies, sports, or books. Good friends allow you to have a life outside of the church—and provide the opportunity to do so.
4. My Biggest Single Regret
Finally, my biggest single regret is not befriending my spouse more. In a misguided attempt to “protect” my spouse from church crap, I closed off that portion of my thoughts to her. She sensed it, and it was painful to her. I work alone is a bad idea in any marriage. It was a bad move because no human was more on my side, and I chose to keep a big part of my life (my thoughts and feelings) separate from her.