Posts Tagged ‘pastors and friendship’

Many years ago, I read a quote from a pastor describing church ministry that went something like this: “You are either entering a crisis, in the midst of a crisis, or coming out of a crisis.”

Like most pastors, I survived many crises during my 36 years in church ministry, including rebellious staff … plunging donations … crooked contractors … draining antagonists … worship wars … false accusations … and many others.

Before I resigned from my last ministry more than five years ago, I began observing how my friends … at least, people I considered to be friends … responded toward their departing pastor.

I’m unsure if my experience is typical, but I offer this up especially for my pastor friends who have gone through a crisis that still affects them … especially a forced termination.

I believe that pastors have five kinds of friends when they go through a crisis:

First, a pastor has professional friends. 

This list includes pastoral colleagues and denominational leaders.

At least in my case, most of my pastor friends simply weren’t there for me.

If you’re a pastor and you’ve gone through a forced termination, you’ll discover that many – if not most – of your pastor friends will distance themselves from you.  They won’t contact you … listen to you … encourage you … or pray with you.

And in most cases, when you leave your church, your relationships with those pastors will end forever.

Is it because they’re busy?  Lack the time to find out what happened?  Don’t want to interfere with a pastor/church conflict?

I don’t really know.  But I’ve come to learn that those friendships usually vanish.

As far as district personnel … those relationships usually end as well.  Most district ministers relate to the pastors in their jurisdiction as professionals, so when a pastor leaves, he’s quickly forgotten … and the district minister tries to forge a relationship with that church’s new pastor.

To his credit, my district minister – even though he had only been on the job one month – met with me … heard me out … encouraged me … and called me the month after I left … which is more than most district ministers ever do when a pastor has been forced to leave.

Second, a pastor has church friends who betray him.

This includes:

*those who believe the first accusations they hear about the pastor

*those who quickly forge ties with the pastor’s detractors

*those who cut off all contact with the pastor

*those who initially support the pastor when he’s around but turn against him after he leaves town

If someone never liked their pastor … or criticized him incessantly … that person cannot by definition become guilty of betrayal.

Betrayal is reserved for those who were friends with the pastor but turned against him when it became expedient or popular.

In my case, I was surprised by some of the people who turned against me.  I had spent hours with certain individuals … in counseling, in ministry, outside of church … and thought our friendship could withstand almost anything.

So I was initially shocked that some deserted me so quickly … but I’m not alone.

Jesus’ disciples all ran for their lives after His arrest, didn’t they?

And Paul wrote to Timothy, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.  May it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).

As I wrote in my book Church Coup, many pastors view people in their congregations as friends, but those same people really don’t view the pastor as their friend … only as their current minister.

When I had strong proof that someone had betrayed me, I unfriended them on Facebook.  I wasn’t going to give them a portal into my life or feelings.  In one case, a woman whom I had unfriended made three requests to be friends again on Facebook, but I ignored her … especially when I discovered that she had severely criticized my wife in a public meeting after we left.

When you’re pastoring a church, you have to be “friends” with everybody.  When you’re no longer pastoring that church, you can choose those you want as friends.

It’s an empowering choice.

But sometimes a friend still believes in you, but the friendship dies anyway.

There was a man in my last church that I considered a good friend.  We did some things outside church together, and he was fiercely loyal when the bullets started flying over my head.

A couple of years after I left, I returned to the community where our former church was located, and I invited him out for a meal.  He did most of the talking, and never asked me one thing about how I was doing.

As painful as it was to accept, I knew that relationship was history.

Third, a pastor has friends who remain supportive but with whom he loses contact.

When some pastors experience a forced termination, they encourage their loyal followers to leave the church, and if they sense enough of them are willing to go, they consider using those people as a core group to start a new church … but I believe that’s unethical.

In my case, I encouraged everyone to stay at the church … both publicly and privately.

But while many initially stayed, more and more left over time.

Sometimes they called or wrote and told me why they left.  Sometimes I heard from someone else that they had left.

Some of those friends went to another church or stopped going to church at altogether … casualties of the conflict.

Some moved away from the community but chose to stay in touch via Facebook or email … at least for a while.

There is a natural attrition to all of our relationships, most of which are geographically based.

When we’re living in the same community with someone, and we see them all the time, it feels like that friendship will never end.

But when one of those friends moves away, the relationship changes, and in many cases, withers away.

But I am grateful to every single person who remained supportive, even if we’ve lost touch over time.  And if we make contact again, I hope we can pick up where we left off.

Fourth, a pastor has church friends who stay in contact with him.

On my final Sunday morning more than five years ago, I stood in the pulpit and preached one last time.

If I had surveyed the congregation and guessed which individuals would still be my friends five years later, I would have guessed wrong.

Some that I thought would be friends forever surrendered our friendship for good … but thankfully, others I didn’t anticipate stepped up to take their place.

In fact, I have developed many new friends through this experience, none of whom care about my history … and many of those friends are pastors who have undergone their own crises.

I have also discovered that on the whole, women are much more loyal as friends than men.  They are better listeners, more understanding, more empathetic, more responsive than men, and more spiritually oriented.

It was exclusively men who initially turned on me … even if their wives were supportive of their actions.  Maybe this shouldn’t surprise us since women were much more loyal to Jesus after His death than His own handpicked disciples.

Here’s a basic rule of thumb: I can still be good friends with those who attend my former church, but in most cases, I can be better friends with those who no longer attend the church.

Those who still attend the church naturally feel loyal to their current pastor and leadership team.  But that means that neither of us will ever feel entirely comfortable discussing what is happening at the church currently … and that may color how we view incidents from the past.

It’s easier for me to be authentic with those who no longer attend the church because we’re freer to be transparent.

Finally, a pastor has personal friends who will always be there for him.

When a pastor comes to a church … especially if he plans to stay for many years … he gradually comes to view his church family as his real family.  I suppose this kind of thinking is necessary for a successful ministry because the pastor’s whole life revolves around that congregation.

But the flip side is that the pastor often ends up neglecting his family members and old friends who live elsewhere because he is so immersed in congregational life.

In my case, all of my old friends remained my friends.  And when I moved back home to Southern California, many wanted to get together again, even though we hadn’t seen each other in decades.

These friends didn’t care about a conflict in a church hundreds of miles away.  They just wanted to renew our friendship and laugh about old times.

And I can’t say enough for my family members … on both my wife’s side and my side.  Over the past five years, I have gotten to know them much better, and have developed an abiding love and respect for them that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

For those of you who have stuck by me these past few years, I now know who my real friends are.

And I thank God for your listening ears (and I haven’t always been easy to hear) … your encouragement … and your prayers.

You have not only demonstrated real friendship, but authentic faith as well.

You mean more to me than you’ll ever know … and I hope I can be half the friend to you that you’ve been to me.

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