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Ministers Need Friends Too
It is sometimes difficult for ministers to make friends. Here is practical advice on how to become a friend to your minister or pastor.

Glen* is a typical United Church minister serving a two-point rural charge. If you ask him how things are going, he'll usually say "just fine." But if you talk with him long enough, and ask the right questions, you may hear a different story.

Glen realized the critical importance of having at least a few friends who would care for him and his family … .But he has not always found them.

Glen, like many other ministers, is often hurting. Still, he seldom tells anyone how he feels because he doesn't know who would be lovingly prepared to listen. If he had someone to tell, he concedes, that would be a big help.

Doesn't Glen have any friends? Sometimes he's not sure, and life without friends can be very lonely. How could he feel that he has no friends when he is so involved in the life of his congregations? Statistics tell us that ministers often feel this way. And it's not hard to understand if you look at things from Glen's point of view.

Glen entered the ministry because of an unmistakable call from God. When he was first ordained, he and his family accepted a settlement on a pastoral charge many hundreds of miles from "home." They have moved several times since, but they still are not back "home." They likely never will be. That has meant finding "family" within the churches or communities where they have lived and served. Sometimes, after a few years in a pastoral charge, they have found friends and "family," but sometimes they haven't.

In any case, they have always had to move on again. The people in their new pastoral charge are always friendly, but few ever have any need to "extend" their own circle of friends. Most have their own extended families close at hand and have long since formed their other friendship networks. While most members of Glen's congregations consider themselves "friends," in reality they are seldom more than "friends-at-a-distance."

Glen has always had a vision for his churches, but because he does not feel close to all that many people, he often is not sure who shares his vision. His congregations usually accept his leadership, but few people seem enthusiastic. The programs he believes are most important are often poorly attended, and no one ever tells him why.

Not many months into serving his first pastoral charge, Glen realized the critical importance of having at least a few friends who would care for him and his family—who would graciously choose to serve them. But he has not always found them.

Glen has never once doubted his calling. He has always sensed that God placed him in the right place at the right time. His relationship with Christ has always been his strength and support. Still, just a few personal friends could make a difference. Friends who would invite him and his family over once in a while. Friends who would ask how things are going (and really mean it), and who would lovingly tell him the truth when he needs to hear it. Friends who do not see him as just "the minister," but who relate to him as a person.

How to care for your minister/pastor

  • Speak to your minister on Sundays after the service. Most people just shake hands and say "Good morning," or they disappear without a word. Remember your minister has just spent most of the morning sharing himself with others. What he needs is one or two people who will share themselves briefly with him.

  • If the service meant something to you, say so and say why. Most people leave church without commenting on the service at all. Those who do comment often just say, "It was a good service." If it was a good service, your minister would love to know the reason.

  • Regularly ask your minister, "How are you?" and mean it. There are often times when the minister is not really "Fine, thank you," but will seldom admit it unless he knows for certain that you really want to know. Decide that you will be someone who practices "bearing one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2).

  • Be someone your minister can talk with if he needs to, and tell him so. Don't just assume that he knows. You may be more than willing for him to talk with you, but he may not realize it.

  • Just be a friend. Tell your minister very clearly that you are (or want to be) his friend. Allow him to share the same sort of friendship with you that you share with other people you care about.

  • Invite the minister over, and/or spend time with him now and again. You may think that many people invite the minister and his family over. Quite possibly very few do. Unless you know otherwise, assume that he is not exactly overwhelmed with invitations.

  • Be involved, along with your family, in the programs he leads. Nothing is more discouraging to a minister than leading programs no one attends. If you find you cannot be involved, explain that to him. He will then feel supported in spite of your absence.

  • Give him honest feedback on his work as a pastor. Often few people tell the minister when they appreciate the things he is doing. What he needs to hear is that his work is furthering the Kingdom of God. If that is true, tell him. If it isn't, offer correction as someone who loves him, rather than letting him receive it second or third-hand from someone who doesn't.

  • Offer yourself for leadership positions. Much of what your minister hopes to accomplish depends on others offering themselves for leadership. If you agree with what he is doing, be available to help out.

  • If you really can't support what he is saying or doing, tell him so, but offer to be his friend anyway. Perhaps your minister does not believe as you do or support the things you feel are important. Be his friend anyway, and tell him so very explicitly. Then, share your differences with him. Ministers do change sometimes! But change never happens as a result of anger or resentment. And there is always the possibility that you need to change as well.

  • Show your minister this article, and ask for his opinion. At the very least, it will be a great conversation-starter!

*Glen is a fictional person, but he represents many real-life pastors/ministers. Stephen Johnston is the pseudonym of a United Church minister who has felt a lot like Glen. In this article, the use of "he" throughout should be understood as either "he" or "she."

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, March/April, 1996




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