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Church Leadership

Ministers Need Friends

Photo by LabyrinthX via Flickr
Photo by LabyrinthX via Flickr

This may come as a shock to people who go to church– but being a church leader is a very lonely job. Sure, if you work in a church with a large staff it probably isn’t that lonely since you have co-workers who can become friends. But by-and-large, friends are hard to come by for ministers.

Loneliness is a major issue for church staff.

Reasons

  1. It’s hard to be friends with parishioners. Kristen and I have been fortunate in this regard, but by-and-large it is really hard to truly be friends with people in your church. You can be acquaintances, but you’ll never get to the point where you can go out for a laugh (or a beer) and lament about work sucking. (or just share “real life.” You have to be guarded.)
  2. It’s hard to find people wired like you. Even in large cities, there aren’t many people wired quite like a pastor.
  3. It’s hard to be friends since work hours are weird. I’ve not met a person who worked in a church who kept 9-5 type hours. It’s always that plus a bunch of nights out… randomly scattered. Makes it tough to be friends.
  4. It’s hard to have a life outside of the four walls of a church. The reason so much is said and written about balance and rest for church workers is that they suck at balance and resting! The job is just too demanding.

Solutions

  1. Understand that this isn’t optional. For your long-term health as a minister in the community, you require friendships. (Not church acquaintances) You require true friendship outside of the church, in your local community.
  2. Seek permission from your supervisors. This sounds like a silly step, but you may need to hear “get a life” from your boss or board to make this a reality. If they’ve been a leader in the church for a while they will know that if you have good friendships locally you are more likely to stay in the community a lot longer. But if you are lonely, you will be a poor leader and in your boredom you’ll start looking for a job elsewhere.
  3. You aren’t in ____, so get over it. I know you are probably from somewhere you liked better. And you have friends who are in those places. That’s not helping you. Get over it and get to know some people in your community. God planted you where you are, He is smarter than you are, you need to suck it up and make friends.
  4. Do something outside the church. How did I make friends when I was in full-time church ministry? I volunteered to coach the golf team, I joined a golf league, a started participating in local politics. I wasn’t looking for 1,000 friends, just a few people who didn’t go to my church that I could be “just Adam” with and not “Pastor Adam.”
  5. Meet up with your long-time best friends once per year. Meet up at a conference, go away hunting, go on vacation together, go visit them for the Holidays… just do something where for a few days you can be with your long-time friends.

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

11 replies on “Ministers Need Friends”

I fully agree with this list, mostly because I do suck at this. I’m feeling burnt out by Church activities, and it’s so hard to step back when you’re in a small body. But I also feel the need to have friends that are not connected to this church, or that used to be connected. I’ve tried a few options that just didn’t fit, so I’m attempting a new one in about a week. We’ll see how this one goes.

This post hits home for me, as it’s been something my wife and I have been wrestling with for the past few months. Within my church, I can’t avoid the fact that people view me as a pastor and spiritual mentor, which honestly can be draining after awhile.

Right now, I’m pursuing friendships with pastors from churches in our area, which has been incredibly refreshing. We’re wired for ministry, understand the hours thing you mentioned, and can find time during our work week to connect due to our ministry schedules. It’s just in the beginning stages, but it’s been great for me and my wife so far.

I don’t see how that’d work. But if its all you have…

Honestly, I think there is a lot of wisdom in finding stuff to do away from the church altogether. You need to be aware of and offended by “the church bubble.’ Getting a life outside of the church should be about meeting people you have affinity for OTHER than church stuff. It’s always good to remember that in most communities only about 5% of people actually are a part of a church. Making some friends among the other 95% is a good thing!

@joel- I think that other ministers from different churches can be a tremendous source of friendship for church staff. So much in common. And they certainly understand the need for discretion.

I am fortunate to have discovered this in my current ministry setting. There are group of us youth pastors that meet twice a week sometimes to plan ministry events together but most of the time to watch stupid videos, drink coffee and be free to be ourselves. These are my best friends in and out of ministry because the get it and we can be who we need to be. Great article.

In our small town, it’s really hard to meet folks because everyone’s grown up together. That’s really how you find our you’re wired differently. My wife and I just don’t fit in. Our friends from the past are our lifesavers…there are very few people in our town that our age…..but that’s what happens when you live in a town of 1900.

i have actually declined an invitiation to things b/c it was people from my church. not because i dont like them or don’t appreciate them. i just knew i needed a break from the people i see every week. for me though, it was more of an exhaustion thing. i just needed a break from the same people i see every week. like you said adam, friends who don’t see me as “pastor dane” or whatever.

I”m a big fan of this post. I’ve done youth ministry for a long time and I’ll never forget something Chap Clark said to me years ago. Sort of Tongue in Cheek he said make sure to have friends outside the Church because when you leave your church you’ll probably not talk to your church friends again. Granted this has changed a lot with the new available ways of staying connected with people but it still rings true a bit.

I like friends I don’t have to talk about my church or my youth ministry with. Granted I love friends who “get” me and understand what I do with my life and I also advocate for some youth ministry friends but I also thing just some people who aren’t involved in the Youth Ministry world at all are really helpful.

What I do. I play basketball, I run, I hang out with my kids friends parents, we travel and vacation with friends.

I too like to be just Lars and not the pastor. Whatever I can do to be around people and just be me is good.

Adam, this post is AWESOME- so true. It’s easy to think that the only “social network” ministry peeps would have would be the church… and it is so easy to get stuck there. Through this past year, I have learned the importance of true friendship- and most of those true friends are “outside” the church.

I think it is all about being relational, while still having personal boundaries. Having friends is what makes me Ashley. I am a social person. I am an extrovert. When I start limiting my social circles, I limit myself.

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