This week I was sitting with a pastor who said very matter-of-factly: “Pastors don’t have friends.” How sad, I thought, both for this pastor and for their congregation … Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, of course. I was, like many pastors, cautioned about being “friends” with members of my congregation: you can’t show your vulnerabilities, you have to be strong, they’ll turn against you, you’ll create rifts in the congregation, you won’t be able to be “pastor” to those you become friends with. How glad I am, that I didn’t listen to them! Everyone needs friends – men and women who know them and love them, who care about them, who laugh with them, who give them honest feedback and criticism when needed, who will just sit with you when you don’t want to talk.
The research shows that 70% of pastors say they do not have any … ANY … friends. And, hardly any pastors say they have anyone they considered a “close friend.” So, why do pastors have such compassion for people and reach out with an understanding heart and mind and give so much of themselves to others, but are unable or unwilling to enter into real friendships with people? Is it fear of vulnerability? Lack of trust? A healthy cynicism?
In this video clip of Brennan Manning shared today by Stan Ott on Twitter (@withStanOtt) and Facebook, Manning says that when we meet Jesus face to face on judgment day we will be asked one question, “Did you believe that I love you, that I desired you?” He goes on to say that many of us who are faithful churchgoers, church leaders, and, yes, even pastors, don’t truly believe we are loved … desired and longed for … by Jesus Christ. I wonder how this plays out in the friends we make … or don’t make … This isn’t a criticism of pastors, but a deep sadness for us. The truth is, I can relate. I have a very hard time trusting in the unbounded love of Jesus for me. It’s hard, isn’t it? to give up the concept of a critical God for a God who yearns for us? And I believe that when we open our hearts to that “furious longing of God” that Brennan Manning speaks about, we are freed to both be a great friend and have great friends.
I am blessed to have friends … some in the church, some outside the church … and I am eager to make new friends here in New Jersey. I already have some budding friendships with pastors and leaders here … sharing coffee or a glass of wine, seeing a movie, or commenting regularly on each others Facebook status … this is the start of sharing the heart of who we are with each other, and I look forward to that.