Monday, September 28, 2009

The few. The proud. The friends of the minister?

It takes a special person to befriend a minister.

Not because ministers are unusually spiritual (with a third, all-knowing eye hidden in their foreheads). It's not because they have an extra shot of holiness like a charged up Starbucks latte. When it comes to friendship, those things don't apply. It takes a special person because being friends with your minister is a little more complicated, and there's more at stake, than in a “regular” friendship.

In our hierarchical way of thinking, when someone holds a position of authority we pigeonhole them into that role. It makes our relationships easier to organize. It's not just our teachers, and our ministers. It's also our doctors, our dentists, and our UPS man. Can you picture your UPS man wearing something that isn't brown? Small towns are terrible about this. How awkward it is to run into your OB-Gyn in the dairy aisle. Will they recognize you with your clothes on, standing upright? Do you say, “Hi! Great pap last week. Thanks!”

 Teenagers run into this challenge with their parents, too. Remember the first time you realized your parents were still physically intimate with each other? Oh, the trauma! The gagging sounds we made. The revulsion as we tried to delete the mental images forming in our heads. That knowledge was too far removed from our understanding of their role as parents to accept with ease.

And then we have our ministers. Called of God. Appointed for His service. Anointed to preach and teach and rightly divide the word of truth. They spoon-feed us the nourishment we need for spiritual growth. They know (and use in conversation) big, scary words like ecumenical, liturgical, and propitiation. They are on-call 24/7 and have to take their kids to the office with them every week. And their performance is judged based on how well (or how poorly) their kids behave.

And you want to be your minister's friend? Are you sure? As we begin this week's topic, your first assignment is to examine your motives. Look down on the inside of your soul and ask yourself WHY you want to befriend your minister. I know, I know ... that sounds cold and harsh, but do it for the sake of the one you want to bless, if not for yourself.

Every minister I know has been victimized by someone who has “befriended” him or her for all the wrong reasons. Get a bunch of pastor's wives together sometime and nearly every one will have a tale of woe about the friend who stabbed them in the back and trashed their reputation in the church, or used them to get to their pastor/husband.

We really have to dig into our hearts to see if we have ulterior motives for wanting to befriend our ministers. Are we hoping to gain status or a position in the organization? Do we want the reverend's ear so we can change some things we think are out of line? Would we feel better about ourselves if we had personal counsel and attention from the minister or his family members? Those are NOT healthy motives for developing a friendship!

Your second assignment is to be ready to guard your heart, so that you can guard your minister's place in your life. Here are three key areas you need to watch closely.
  1. Be aware of excessive familiarity. You know the saying “familiarity breeds contempt”? You cannot afford to become so casual and comfortable with your minister that you lose respect for his or her God-appointed role in your life. This tends to happen when we forget that “pastors are people, too.” They sin, they have fights with their spouses, they yell at their kids, they wake up with bad breath, and they might do things you don't approve of. Peter had a little trouble with this, I think. He was comfortable with Jesus. So comfortable Peter thought nothing of correcting Him when Jesus foretold his coming death. The Lord turned to him and said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Can you imagine the look in Jesus' eye? The shame on Peter's face? Ouch. That's a rebuke most of us would never recover from! If you can't separate their humanity from their higher calling, you're better off to stay in the pew and befriend someone else in the church. Think of it this way, can you still receive the word of God from someone you've seen in a swimming suit? Can you accept a sermon about Biblical money management when you know your minister is struggling with credit card debt? If not, turn back now!
  2. Don't expect, or offer, an exclusive relationship. Close friendships between a minister and a member of the congregation have the potential to become a hatchery for sharp-toothed, flesh-eating jealousy fish. In fact, ministers are often counseled to be friends with other pastors, not the people in their own church. Let's say Sister A gets ticked off because Minister M spends too much time with Sister B. If Sister A leaves the church, they are wounded, the minister is hurt, the church is divided, and God is not pleased. At church functions, conferences, retreats, and so forth, don't monopolize your minister-friend's time or attention, and don't be hurt if you get the brush-off while they tend to the rest of the flock.
  3. Could you be friends with a secret agent without getting him or her killed? You must be prepared to keep certain doors of information closed at all times. Ministry can be a horribly lonely place, and because ministers are human, sometimes they need/want to vent. Unfortunately, if they vent to you, you're likely to hear some things about your fellow sheep that you'd be better off not knowing. One of the best things you can do is develop your friendship outside of the church and church activities. Establish a relationship around common interests or hobbies. My best friend has a remarkable knack for getting my mind off church business and onto completely innocuous activities. She's like a breath of fresh air for me. When you're together, don't talk church “shop.” And if you do hear information you otherwise wouldn't have been privy to, by all means, give it to God and forget it. There are going to be some areas of your minister's life that he or she will need to keep undercover.

The Bible – Old Testament and New Testament – mentions many people who ministered the gift of friendship to their leaders. Paul's friendships were a source of tremendous encouragement in his life. In contrast, King Rehoboam's friends gave him lousy advice and caused division and war in the nation of Israel. If it was worth mentioning in the scriptures, it surely has value in the kingdom of God.

By all means, if the Lord is leading you to befriend your minister, do so. But do it with wisdom and care, for them and for yourself. Do it with grace, and let the Lord see to the results.

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  1. Thank you Niki for reminding us of the human face of our ministers. As we personally go through ups and downs and it is a pleasure to be around each other sometimes and other times it is (heck), they go through the same thing.
    Very good subject to discuss.
    God Bless,

  2. Thanks for the very practical tips, Niki. I know my pastor's wife mentioned recently that she has felt lonely and isolated.

    I thik one of her favorite activities is our ladies worship dance team, because she's not the leader, and she loves the sense of community in the team.

    This is a very important topic to cover. I look forward to hearing other perspectives as the week goes along.


  3. Oh, Niki, this is an excellent post. Ministry can be so difficult. Speaking from my experience, it can be achingly lonely for a minister and their family. Especially for spouses who may have had no special education or preparation for the role of Pastor's Wife. People have such incredible expectations of these poor ladies, and woe betide the unfortunate soul that can't seem to measure up to a congregations standards. I do know that the advice I got upon marrying my missionary husband was to be friendly with everyone and friends with no one.

    I could talk about it all day, but I won't, although I will mention that it makes it much more difficult for a minister if they are ever in a position where they need to counsel or correct their friend.

    It would be good to pray that God will place friends in the lives of your minister and their family. Just be prepared if it is someone who isn't 'in' church at all.

    Talk about funny and poignant and gut-clinching, Niki! Before I even FINISHED reading, I zipped this address to my favorite pastor's wife.

    WHAT A GREAT POST. Now...dare I send it to my pastors?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
    Let me go through those enumerated items again...and this time feast on the brilliant writing.

    Thank you.

  5. Niki: Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for sharing this wisdom.

    As a pastor's wife of thirty-four years, I relate to every word.
    No wound is deeper or more painful than the jagged bite of betrayal by one of your "sheep" you were convinced was a friend.

    Yet no joy is greater than the treasure of a trustworthy kinship among the congregarion.

    Did I say thank you?


  6. I think congregarion is much more interesting, Jeanette.

    Just had to return to this great post and reread a couple of things as I have a couple of close friends who are pastor's wives and a couple of issues to work on......Stop it, motormouth!

  7. excellent reminder. we so often put our ministers on pedestals, but they are just human. this happens with any person in authority over you, like a therapist or doctor, too. it can be hard to work under that type pressure!

    Where Romance Meets Therapy

  8. Niki, this was a fabulous post. As a pastor's wife, I am so, so grateful for every word.

    You're also hilarious. I love your photos today! Where did you get those?

    I relate to so many things Lisa said in her comment; expectations on pastors and their families can be overwhelming(what they wear, how their kids act, how friendly they are to everyone). Pastors and families need a safe place to let down. Thanks for drawing attention to this important need.

  9. Hey Niki Great post.

    I especially liked your question,
    "Could you be friends with a secret agent without getting him or her killed?"

    You're a riot. I think ministers and their wives have to deal with
    far more than most people are aware of these days.

  10. Hey, great post, Niki. We are a small church with about 60 in our congregation and about 1/3 of those are kids. Our pastor is a local farmer who helped start the church 40 yrs ago and spends his summers at rodeos manning the booth and preaching on behalf of the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys Assoc. We kind of had to coerce him into becoming our fulltime pastor when we couldn't get anyone a few years back due to our being so far from the city. A pastor out here needs a job to feed his family and jobs are scarce. But since Pastor Lorne is a farmer, it works out real well.

    Because he's a local farmer, he was friends with most people before he took over our pulpit. Because he's a cowboy, he's easy-going and humble. He knows and recounts his own flaws before he'll talk about someone elses.

    However, we know there are things he must keep hidden from us even though we consider him our friend. Some days in the pulpit he says 'If you only knew some of the things I hear in my travels you'd shake your head.'

    I'm just so thankful we have a pastor who sees himself as a man first and a preacher second and can listen to our troubles with compassion.

  11. I'm reading all these comments and wondering if this vast chasm between clergy and layperson is actually what God had in mind. We're all called to minister, we're all called to administer correction to friends who stray. We're all called to spread the gospel and share with others, etc...

    Pastor is a specific calling for a certain type of gifting and personality style. It is a special calling, but is it really a "higher" calling? Perhaps that is part of what generates the problem. I do think we expect too much of pastors.

    My pastor is more like Anita's, and I'm thankful for that.

    No matter what, though, there are still definitely challenges specific to this call, which we all need to be sensitive towards.


  12. What a wonderful post. We all need to be reminded of what a difficult job pastor's have in balancing everything. I know that sometimes I take it for granted that they are not superhuman and have the same needs everyone else does. Thanks for the reminder.


  13. Annie purcellbunch(@)yahoo.comSeptember 28, 2009 at 4:41 PM

    Very wonderful post, Niki. How helpful it is to be able "see" from your angle. The small town comments really hit home. I loved this post!

  14. Some days Pastoring is the worst job in the world. Except not as bad as "Pastor's wife!" Other days it's a great joy but "the wife" might not always get the full dose. So I'm thinkin there must be a "special drink" like a place of grace designed just for "Pastors wives" a place where they can "be free to be me." And very great I think shall their reward in heaven! Just don't be in to big of a hurry to get there because we all love you and need you more than you know!

  15. I love this post and this topic because I've seen and talked to so many hurting pastors and their wives. Sometimes it really helps to befriend a pastor and his wife who do not lead your congregation. It gives them a safe place to just be themselves without the pressure of acting out their roles knowing you will see them on Sunday morning.

    Thanks, Niki!

  16. I've been trying to really embrace what points have come up today. I remember when a wonderful couple I consider friends (a pastor and his wife) ended up having to leave a small local church because one person turned the tide against them. I was so shocked, knowing the gentle spirit and heart for the Lord of this pastor. Maybe they took it better than I did because they'd seen it happen elsewhere. I'm a little naive about these things. I am still surprised when there are rifts in the church. Naive, right?

    I know that I can't truly appreciate how a pastor must constantly make decisions between serving his congregation and serving his family. Same for missionary families. So I know there's a special place in heaven for these families.

  17. This is a wonderful post, Niki, with some great practical advice, and thoughtful observations. I love the picture, too!

    God bless you today.

  18. Wow, your post resonated with me. I've been a pastor's wife for 24 years and I have experienced it all. The betrayal, the joy, the pedestal, and the loneliness. I have found that my closest friends do not go to church with me, which is much easier, because I can be free to be me. Pastor's and their families are real people with real feelings and struggle just like everyone else. Great post!

  19. Thank you ALL for your comments! I've alternated between laughter and tears while reading through them today. It was one of "those" kind of pastor's wife days around here.
    Knowing from the comments that all the other pastor's wives out there go through the same things (and survive and thrive), and that there are wonderful people in our churches who sincerely want to be blessings to families in ministry helped ME today.


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