Since I transitioned from the corporate world over a decade ago, I’ve been asked several times, “What’s the biggest surprise about being in ministry?”
They are many, like having to lead worship from a karaoke machine at my first church (I’m not musically gifted, at all). Or dealing with insurance claims after our church was struck by lightening… twice in a month (I double-checked my theology after the second strike). Ministry is synonymous with surprises.
Among the biggest surprises is how hard it can be to discern true friends. Don’t get me wrong; most people in the church are friendly. Most people treat pastors with respect. But it can be hard to find friends among those you’re charged to shepherd. Sharing personal concerns, venting frustration, or confessing sin can be hazardous for pastors if done with the wrong person.
Pastors often have friends outside the church, but here are some ways I’ve discerned my true friends in the church.
True friends remain loyal while knowing my ugliness. I’ve got more than a few foibles. My weaknesses are many. True friends don’t change their friendship when you have bad moments. They may—and should—challenge your poor choices, but my true friends have stuck with me even when I’m ugly and mean.
True friends take the heat with me. Pastors receive barbs. It’s part of being a leader. If you can’t take the heat, then don’t be pastor. But on occasion, pastors receive a bombardment of unwarranted condemnations from people in the church. True friends stand with you. In one of my most difficult moments in ministry, I had a good friend move out of his seat in a worship service, stand with me, and put his arm around me. The whole church knew where he stood. I’ll never doubt his friendship.
True friends take the initiative to encourage me. They take the time to check in without wanting anything in return. They send a quick text of encouragement, or leave a voice mail. I’m blessed to have friends in my church that take the initiative to encourage without any expectation of reciprocation.
True friends pray often for me. Prayer is the unseen foundation of friendship, but you know it’s there because you feel the support. My true friends pray for me. They pray for my success. They pray that I’ll be protected from sin. They pray for my family. They pray I’ll be obedient.
I believe pastors can and should have friends within their congregations. Learning to discern and trust these friends is a process, but they exist. These friends will remain loyal to you, take the heat with you, encourage you, and pray for you.