I spent last week with five friends up in the mountains, hiking, fishing, and eating lots of grilled mammal flesh. I have known four of these men for at least five years and I would consider each of them a true friend that I trust completely. I consider myself to be rich in close friends, something I do not take for granted.
Most of my senior pastor friends find it difficult to live in that type of authentic community, especially senior pastors who lead large churches. Sometimes, the loneliest guy in the church is the guy on the stage. While it is not realistic to believe the senior pastor can have more than a few close friends, the fact is, the senior pastor still needs friends. I have found there are three primary groups of people who try to be friends with the senior pastor. Which group do you belong?
1. Super Fans
This group believes the pastor is a combination of Superman and Chuck Norris. They believe he is a holy giant who has a private phone line to heaven and would have a book in the bible if he had been born when it was being written. It is true that all pastors need compliments and affirmation, but we do not need flattery. Many times, an insecure or needy leader will make this group his inner circle and over time, the leader actually begins to believe he is super human. Why not, all of his friends tell him so constantly.
2. Chronic Critics
This group feels they have a mandate from heaven to correct and criticize the pastor no matter what he does. This group approaches the pastor with a smile that seems genuine, but behind that smile are the teeth of a piranha. An invitation to their house for dinner turns into a kidnapping. You are trapped at their house while they filet you with their “suggestions.” I do not mind input, but this group wants friendship to be wrapped around their agenda. They give input but usually get offended when you push back or disagree. This group is the reason that pastors disengage from the tribe and isolate themselves in the green room on Sundays.
3. Real Friends
This group respects what you do, but loves who you are. They will give you input, but most of the time, the pastor has to ask. They are relaxed around the pastor which allows the pastor to take off his church mask. They know how to talk about “normal” things and not just “church” things. This is the group I spent last week with in the mountains. This is the same group I traveled with to Africa each June and the same group that met at least once a month in one of our backyards for hours of talking, listening and eating.
I realize the problem is not always in the pew. Pastors also have to be willing to engage in authentic community and they have to invite people into their lives. I have found that ministry without close friends at your side is the most miserable occupation on the planet. Isolation and loneliness drive pastors away from ministry all the time. I felt really alone in the first few months at New Life, but that has been replaced now by new friends and the occasional company of old friends. I believe it is better to live in tribe with real friends than to be alone on the stage of a big church.