I’m not wanting to be rude or put anyone off by this statement. And this doesn’t come out of any recent personal issue or encounter. And this is certainly not some sort of passive-aggressive way to get a point across to someone I’m reluctant to talk to in person. That would just be bad behavior.
But this is a consistent point of confusion for many, and so I think it deserves a little blog article, and discussion if you wish.
Your pastor is not your friend.
It’s hard, because they feel like they are.
And this is not a hard and fast rule, by the way. Some pastors do make a friend in the congregation, someone they can absolutely be themselves with.
But that needs to be rare. It may not always be rare…and then things get fuzzy…but I believe it *needs* to be rare, for you and for them.
Because here’s the truth: you’re one day going to have to tell them something that you can’t tell a friend. Something about yourself, a deep truth, that maybe only your best friend might know, but they’re not going to give you what you need about the topic because they’re too enmeshed in your friendship.
In that case you need a pastor. You need some abstraction. You need someone close enough to you to care, someone with some sort of authority, but also someone far enough away from you that they’re not going to hold it as the primary thing they know about you.
Pastors are trained in the art of not hearing what we hear.
People sometimes worry that a pastor’s view of them will be tainted by something they learn or know, but I assure you, we learn and know so much about everyone that we’ve come to the conclusion that everyone is just as messed up as everyone else, ourselves included, so no one is any different. The CEO of the huge corporation with boats and houses is just as dissatisfied as the person living paycheck to paycheck, they’re just unhinged at a different point in their personhood…
By and large you need your pastor to be a pastor, not a friend, and your pastor is not your friend if they’re doing it well.
Plus, your pastor can never confide in you the way one confides in a friend.
I sit stone-faced in situations where people talk about one another. My opinion in that situation may not be neutral, but it has to appear to be, because I probably have to be that person’s pastor, no matter my opinion of them.
Your pastor is not your friend.
There are certain exceptions, of course: childhood friendships, close bonds, ways we can compartmentalize our relationships that work in very specific situations.
But it’s not the norm. It can’t be the norm. If it becomes the norm your pastor is no longer able to be your pastor.
Plus, if you and your pastor are friends, then your pastor can never leave. As if leaving a parish isn’t hard enough, the idea of leaving not only parishioners but also friends makes it impossible. Co-dependent. Bad for vocation and bad for any avocations you now share.
This doesn’t mean you don’t kid around with your pastor. It doesn’t mean that you don’t drop by to say hi, that you don’t do things for one another that friends do. It doesn’t mean that you don’t even sometimes take trips together, play sports, attend birthday parties, and have a beer or two…many of these things that friends do with one another.
And it certainly doesn’t meant that you don’t share many of the same qualities you would with friends. Pastors can open up, to a point. Pastors can kid around, to a point. But everything is “to a point” and that point is exactly where the collar hits what you need from them…
In every situation, they are “pastor”…which is just a very different way of being than just “friend.”
And finally, one thing we have to be really clear-eyed about: friendships end. They do. Friends fight and squabble, hurt each other’s feelings, get jealous, and get enmeshed. Pastors who become friends run the risk of ruining the pastoral relationship when the friendship dissolves.
This is just plain bad for the office. It’s a bad risk to take. It’s a risk, I think, not worth taking.
We’re not the only profession that suffers from this fuzziness.
One of my very best friends is a doctor. I casually ask him for medical advice sometimes, but if push came to shove he’d refer me to someone else for serious diagnosis…we’re too close for him to be my doctor. My best friend is a financial adviser. I ask him for financial advice sometimes, but he can’t manage my money. We’re too close for that.
It’s hard to explain I guess, and hard to accept in some instances, but I really haven’t found any other way to put it:
Your pastor is your pastor, not a friend.