Voices: Why pastors—and you—need to be social

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“I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

Steve BeznerSteve BeznerI recently wrote a post in which I explained why many pastors often appear to be antisocial. Lest you think that I am defending antisocial pastors, I wrote that post to explain the relational dynamics at play in the hearts of most pastors.

At the same time, pastors need healthy friendships. Here’s why:

Jesus modeled friendship.

Jesus told his disciples in John 15:15, “I have called you friends.” Jesus spent most of three years with twelve men. They walked the country teaching about the kingdom of God. They ate together, fished together and challenged the status quo together.

Out of those 12, Jesus appeared to be very close to three of them: Peter, James and John. He drew them aside to the Mount of Transfiguration. He pulled them aside for specific exhortations. John, the author of the Gospel of John, describes himself as “the disciple Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Clearly, each of these men thought of Jesus as a dear friend.

If Christians consider Jesus to be an example for every area of life, friendship must be included. If Jesus thought friends were worthy, so should pastors.

All friendships require risks.

As I mentioned in my other post, many pastors fear friendships within their churches because they fear those friendships being weaponized in some future intra-church conflict. While that certainly is possible, I find that most of my deepest pastoral worry never comes to pass. And, of course, Jesus told us not to worry.

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Every friendship, and not just those for pastors, requires risk. Friends often betray one another, not just pastors. Yet friends are a gift.

Proverbs 18:24 seems to acknowledge the risk while extolling the virtue of finding that lifelong friend: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Will many companions turn their backs on you? Yes, the writer says, many will. But there is one who will be like a family member—one who will hold you in the toughest of times. That friendship is worth the risk.

Not all friendships are required to be within your church.

One of the greatest gifts I have found in my city are other pastors. I meet with them regularly for lunch. We encourage one another, pray for one another and bear one another’s burdens. They understand my occupational hazards, and they are able to give me wise counsel. There is little risk of our friendship affecting either of our churches. It has been a gift.

My wife and I also have  become good friends with another couple active in another church. Our sons played seven-on-seven football together, and we have hosted them in our home and vice versa. It’s a great relationship grounded in shared faith yet without any of my irrational fears coming into play.

Friendship is essential to biblical community.

The New Testament is replete with commands for us to take care of one another. We are told to love one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, pray for one another, etc. You cannot do those things apart from one key component: other people.

You can’t understand the intercessory actions of Jesus on your behalf if you are not modeling intercessory behavior that is commanded in the Scriptures. And you can’t model those behaviors if you are isolated.

I have been part of a group of people in our church that regularly meets in a home to study Scripture, pray together, share a meal and grow in Christ. I wouldn’t trade those people for anything. They teach me how to live out the call to be the church. They are my friends, and they are teaching me about biblical community in a powerful way.

Your church has incredible people.

I suppose your church may be the exception. Maybe it is absolutely terrible. But I doubt it.

Speaking from experience, every church where I have served has been filled with great people. We have been blessed by their generosity and kindness. Have the relational waters been challenging to navigate at times? Certainly. Yet we have made friends in our churches, and we have been grateful to have them.

Pastor, you need friends—and you need to have some of them within your church.

Steve Bezner is senior pastor of Houston Northwest Church.

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