Posts Tagged ‘pastors and friendships in the church’

Pastor Henry felt all alone.

Along with his wife and two sons, Henry had just received an invitation to become the next pastor of Grace Church, a thousand miles from his last ministry.

Henry and his wife Mary surveyed the congregation when they initially visited the church but couldn’t seem to find anyone they might want as personal friends.

But one morning during his first week, Henry received a call from Bret, a longtime member who told Henry he’d come by the church at 11:30 to take his new pastor out to lunch.

Exhausted from the move, Henry was glad that someone was taking the initiative to get to know him.

Bret took Henry to an expensive restaurant, telling his pastor all about the community, the church … and the previous pastor.

In fact, Bret told Henry a lot about the previous pastor.  Pastor Mark was a good preacher who led the church through a time of unparalleled growth.  This information made Henry feel insecure.  How could he hope to compare favorably with a predecessor he didn’t know and might never meet?

But Bret didn’t just recite the previous pastor’s virtues.  Bret also slammed Pastor Mark’s leadership in many aspects of ministry, and told Henry that Mark was pushed out of office due to his shortcomings.

Henry felt better as he realized that Pastor Mark wasn’t perfect, but had his own issues.

And then Bret told Henry, “You know, I’m so glad you’re here.  You’re just what this church needs at this time.  And whatever you need, I’ll be glad to help.”

As Bret drove Henry back to the church, the new pastor felt a bond developing with his new friend.  “Finally, somebody believes in me” he thought.

Over the next several months, Bret and his wife Hope invited Henry and Mary to their home for dinner.  The two couples quickly hit it off and became best friends.  They went to movies together, ate in each other’s homes, and saw each other nearly every week.

Six months later, when it came time to suggest names for elders, Henry recommended that Bret be considered.  The others on the nominating team remained strangely silent, not saying yes or no.  Henry backed off.  Two others were selected instead.

For the next several years, the two families got along famously … and everybody at church knew it.

One Tuesday night, Hope called Henry and asked him to come over right away.  When Henry arrived, he found Bret in a foul mood.  According to Hope, Bret had been drinking and had verbally and physically abused his wife.

Henry did not like what he was hearing.

An hour before the next meeting of the official board, Henry met with Jeff, the board chairman, and asked Jeff what he knew about Bret and Hope.

Jeff was reluctant to say anything.  After all, everybody knew that the two families were tight.

But Henry insisted, and Jeff finally said, “Bret has a drinking problem, and he refuses to get help for it.  Bret wants to be on the church board, but we can’t let him because, in Paul’s words, he is ‘given to drunkenness,’ ‘violent,’ and ‘quarrelsome.'”

Henry suddenly felt very foolish.

Jeff went on, “Pastor, I don’t know how to say this right, but your relationship with Bret and Hope is causing some people in this church to question your judgment.”

After the board meeting, Henry went home and told Mary what Jeff had said.  Mary and Hope had become very close, but Hope had never shared with Mary anything about Bret’s drinking … or any other weaknesses they had.

Several weeks after visiting Bret’s house, Henry started noticing that Bret and Hope were no longer attending services.  Henry thought about contacting Bret, but he knew such a conversation would drain him of much-needed energy to run the church.

A couple months later, chairman Jeff called Henry and told him that a campaign was underway to remove Henry from office.  When Henry asked Jeff who was behind the campaign, he was told, “Bret and his wife Hope.”

Henry’s heart sank.

As a longtime member, Bret had developed friendships with many people in the church over the years, and he had a good idea who he could influence to join his “throw out the pastor” team.

Henry decided to ask Jeff a question that he had never asked before: “When Pastor Mark was forced to leave this church, who was most responsible for his departure?”

Without hesitation, Jeff answered, “Bret and Hope.”


Insecure pastors … and there are thousands of them around … often compare themselves to other pastors … especially their predecessors.

A wise pastor quietly gets to know the previous pastor so he can (a) form his own opinions about his personality and ministry; (b) learn about that pastor’s influence and tenure firsthand; and (c) tap into that pastor’s wisdom concerning key junctures in that church’s past.

A foolish pastor rejoices when the previous pastor is denigrated, thinking it makes him look good by comparison.

But the same person who criticizes the previous pastor will eventually criticize the current one.

And the same person who supported the previous pastor will eventually support the current one as well.

Many years ago, I learned the wisdom of Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

Pastors need to choose their church friends carefully, or the friends they latch onto early in their ministry make turn to bite them later on.


I once met a man (I’ll call him Peter) who had served as the senior pastor of a church I had known my entire life.  That church’s first pastor lived two houses down from my house, and I went to school … and later church … with his children.

My uncle, aunt, and cousins had attended that church as well.

Years later, I made many friends in that church.

And eventually, I was called to be on their staff.

While Peter and I were talking, I shared with him some conflicts that occurred during my time in that church … conflicts that became so embedded in that church’s culture that they later affected Peter’s ministry.

I could tell that Peter had an enlightened understanding of what happened to him in that church.

Why don’t more new pastors contact their predecessors and gain that wisdom and understanding up front?

Could it be because of people like Bret and Hope?

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Something happened on Facebook recently that distressed me.

One of my friends – a good friend, I thought – became Facebook friends with one of my enemies.

This “enemy” wasn’t someone that I despised, but someone who, let’s just say, is not one of my biggest fans.

Why was I concerned?

Because I didn’t want my “enemy” to influence my friend to stop being friends with me.

You ask, “Jim, that doesn’t happen among Christians, does it?”

Oh, yes, it does … and it’s happened to me a lot over the past few years.

How does this happen?

It’s simple.  Pastors … no matter how hard they try … make some enemies.

Those enemies have friends in the church … and the pastor is often friends with those same people.

A pastor’s enemies are usually vocal.  They’re always trying to explain why they don’t like the pastor … or why they don’t attend their church anymore.

Let me give you an example.

Nearly 20 years ago, a woman demanded that I do something for her, and when I resisted, she went ballistic on me.

She told many people how unhappy she was with her pastor, including a newer believer who was gearing up to start a vital ministry.

The newer believer quit coming to church.  When I went to her house, she refused to come to the door … and her whole family left en masse soon after that.

A friend had now become an enemy.

This kind of thing happens all the time in churches.

Someone is unhappy with the pastor … spreads their discontent to others … and usually finds someone who takes their side.

What do you do when a friend and an enemy become friends?

Do you “unfriend” your friend on Facebook and never speak with them again?

Do you distance yourself from your friend and think, “If you want to be friends with that person, then we are no longer friends?”

Do you contact your friend and demand that he or she “unfriend” your enemy?

These sound like responses an 11-year-old girl would make … but not a mature believer.

Over time, I’ve learned three important lessons about friends befriending enemies:

First, it’s okay for your friends to be friends with your enemies.

I don’t want anyone telling me who I can and can’t have as a friend … and I need to extend that privilege to others.

There are people that I don’t like but my wife adores.

There are people that I like that my wife can’t stand.

And there are people that my friends like who don’t like me.

It is possible for someone to be friends with you and friends with your enemy without being unduly influenced by either party.

This happens to many of us when two friends separate and divorce.  We don’t take one side or the other … we remain friends with both individuals.

We must allow our friends the same courtesy.

Second, real friends stay loyal to you.

If Joe (an enemy) tells Judy (your friend) that you’re a no-good-so-and-so, and Judy ends up siding with Joe, Judy may drop you as a friend.

But what kind of friend was Judy if she’d abandon you like that?

But if Joe tries to persuade Judy that you’re no good, and Judy ends up defending you, Judy has proven to be a faithful friend.

Let’s say that a pastor leads a congregation of 500 people and that he assumes all 500 people are his friends.

But then a rumor flares up that the pastor has stolen money from the church … a rumor that’s totally false … but a rumor some people pounce on to say, “Let’s get rid of the pastor.”

The pastor may think to himself, “Okay, maybe I’ve lost a handful of friends, but 480 people are still loyal.”

But the accusation … whispered through the church … may result in the pastor losing several hundred friends … and even his position.

That’s when the pastor finds out who his real friends are.

Like all pastors, I’ve been accused of various wrongs over the years, and it’s hurtful to watch people I thought were friends walk away … often for good.

But I’ve also discovered that many people have vigorously defended me, even when it’s cost them friendships.

Those people are your real friends.

Finally, your friends may eventually have to choose between you and your enemy.

I have a good friend who was also friends with one of my enemies … although I didn’t know he was my enemy at the time.

Anyway, whenever my friend and my “enemy” got together, the “enemy” delighted in running me down.

Finally, my friend had had it.  He told the “enemy” to stop running me down … and when he wouldn’t stop … my friend stopped being his friend.

I don’t like having enemies.  I don’t want to hate anybody … a response I can control … but some people have chosen to hate me … a response I can’t control.

And when I hear that a friend and an enemy have gotten together, it makes me a little bit nervous.

But we all have to learn to trust people, and to believe that our real friends will defend us and support us no matter what our enemies might say.

I didn’t like most of the music from the late Seventies, but I did like this song by the late Andrew Gold – his only real hit – called Thank You For Being a Friend (otherwise known as the theme to The Golden Girls TV show).

And I dedicate this song to all of my real friends … and want you to know how much I appreciate and love each one of you!

(Choose the first song in the top left corner … and skip the ad.)













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