Via the Slant33.com blog Brian Berry, Michelle Lang and I all were asked to answer this question: How do you find safe friendships at church when you live in a fishbowl?
This question is something that totally hit home for me because I had to work really hard to find friends outside of my church while serving as youth pastor in a church. I found that the friendships that last are the ones that you intentionally cultivate outside of the church. So make sure to read Brian’s and Michelle’s response here and you can see my answer below:
Healthy and vulnerable friendships for youth pastors are so essential. I spend a lot of my days talking and connecting with youth pastors around the country, and there is one common theme youth workers struggle with: They are extremely lonely. We don’t have a lot of friends. All youth workers dream about having a small group of trusted friends who love and care for them for who they are and not what they do for the church.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle makes it clear that the number of people with whom one can sustain the kind of relationship he calls a perfect friendship is quite small. The role of youth pastor is relationally driven, which means the capacity to maintain a large group of friends is not sustainable. There is no need to have a large pool of surface-level friendships but rather having two to three really great friends outside the church. So the question remains: Should youth pastors find friends inside or outside the church?
I strongly argue that the best solution to finding safe friendships is simply outsourcing your friendships outside the church. First, youth workers need more community outside their church communities. Getting sucked into the church fishbowl is dangerous because your life, perspective, and experience are only rooted in your church community. You won’t be able to see life outside your church community lens. It is important to have non-church friends to help you objectively think and process about your life, marriage, and ministry.
Second, youth workers need outlets that force them to get out of the fishbowl. You need legitimate reasons to jump out. If church life is the only thing you have going, it will literally suck the life out of you. Find ways to enjoy life outside your church life.
Third, friends at church can only see you as a church employee. You need friends who see you as you. Ministry is your job, so don’t feel obligated to have best friends at your church. You cannot get on a vulnerable level with friends inside the church without changing their perspective of who you are as a leader in the church.
Fourth, having friends at church is too risky. You need safe and trusted relationships were you can freely vent without having to filter your thoughts and words. It is problematic when you are worrying if your venting sessions will backfire. Church people love to gossip about other church people, especially if it is about the church leadership.
Youth pastors have to figure out how to build relationships where you can be honest. My only solution is to jump out of the fishbowl and start intentionally carving time to cultivate friendships outside the church. Here are two ways to cultivate safe, fun, and trusted friendships outside the church:
Be committed to developing long-term friendship. In order to build great relationships, you have to value friendships. The best friends for youth pastors are other youth pastors. Youth pastors share interests and passions with other youth pastors. Join a local youth pastor network so you can befriend other like-minded youth pastors with whom you can talk life, marriage, and ministry.
Find hobbies outside the church. In other words, get a life. I was just recently at the National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego, and I stopped the youth ministry guru/veteran Les Christie to ask: “What has kept you sane in your youth ministry tenure?” Without any hesitation, he passionately said, “I found hobbies outside the church. I found other things to do than just youth ministry.” I smiled and gave him a hug and said, “I completely agree.” The hobbies I have pursued outside of church have kept me sane and given me other friends.
So how can one guarantee safe and life-giving friendships? Shatter the fishbowl, be committed to cultivating friends outside the church, and find hobbies that pull you away from church work.
Questions for youth workers:
– Do you feel like you don’t have a lot of safe friends?
– Do you agree or disagree you cannot have safe friends inside the church? Why or why not.
– How do you find friends?