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Pastors Can Be Friends with Church Members (and 4 Other Radical Ideas)

Victor Hugo wrote,

“One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.”

If that were true in the 1870s, how much more accurate is it now! We are an influenced people. Television, radio, newspaper, the Internet and so much more is constantly bombarding us with new ideas.

In many ways, this is unfortunate because our culture has increasingly given up critical thinking. Thus, whatever is seen or heard is assumed to be “gospel truth,” even though much of what we see or hear is simply one person’s opinion.

That’s why I often find myself thinking, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Ideas are powerful things, as Hugo eloquently stated. And while many of the ideas I hear and see aren’t always that helpful, there have been some extremely influential ideas that have shaped my thinking, which has flowed into my praxis.

I thought I’d share with you five ideas that literally changed the way I thought.

1. It’s OK to love the people you serve for real and to be friends with them. 

When I was going through pastoral training, it was regularly communicated to me that it was unwise for pastors to be friends with people in the church.

There were numerous reasons given: “People won’t respect you if they see your weaknesses,” “You’ll end up getting hurt” and “You need to maintain a ‘professional’ relationship because that’s the nature of the vocation” were some of the most common reasons given. My professors and mentors had some keen insights here, and there’s no doubt that being friends with people in the church you serve will bring about some emotional pain and ministry trials.

But is it wise to put up walls around your heart toward the people you are called to serve, love and lead?

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What set me free from this thinking was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I found Paul’s heartfelt love for that church so captivating that I couldn’t brush it aside. The apostle Paul clearly had a strong love for the Philippians because he writes he “yearned” for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. How could Paul pray that the love of the Philippians would grow like crazy if he himself didn’t have such strong love for them (Phil. 1:9)? How could Paul, who so longed to be with Christ through death (Phil. 1:21, 23), be willing to stay in order to help serve the Philippians (Phil. 1:24-25) if he didn’t love them and consider them friends?

There’s no need for pastors to “fake” their love for the people in their church.

What I mean is there’s no need for pastors to try and convince people they really love them but carry out their ministry from a distance.

On one hand, everyone in the church can see the distance. You aren’t fooling anyone. And on the other hand, the apostle Paul shows us it’s OK to love the people we serve for real and it’s OK to have friends in the church.

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Luke Geraty has been lead pastor of Trinity Christian Fellowship for the past six years and is a member of the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Interested in missional theology within the rural context, Luke loves all things espresso, hockey, hip hop, and fly fishing (what a weird combo!). He and his wife have four children. He blogs regularly at ThinkTheology.org.