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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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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