Yes, pastors need friends in the church

Have you ever been in a room full of people and yet felt alone? Isolation and loneliness are common struggles for even the most extroverted pastors, and they remind us that those called to shepherd God’s flock need ministry too.

As a young pastor I was advised to never become close friends with anyone in my congregation. This advice, though intended to protect, only deepened my sense of isolation and despair. I longed for relationships with those I lived alongside and saw on a regular basis.

The local church is called a family for a reason; we worship, celebrate our joys, and navigate our struggles together. Our church family should see us at our best and worst—and be okay with both. How can we expect our congregation to view itself as a family if pastors are unwilling to be part of that family?

Acknowledging this need changed my entire outlook on and experience in ministry. It led me to understand four things about pastors and their need for fellowship.

1. Pastors are church members

Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but a church employee hasn’t graduated from being a church member. A member is in community with the body of Christ, not only vocationally as a pastor but also personally as a friend.

Luke refers to the church as a body of believers devoted “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42); the apostles are included among the members.

The intimate community described throughout Acts doesn’t take place at a distance, but through active participation. The pastor and his family are not merely counselors, but friends who genuinely desire to know and care for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Pastors must view the congregation as “us and we,” not “me and them.”

2. Church members are known

Living in community necessitates allowing others into our lives. Jesus himself models this for us. When he called his disciples, they didn’t follow at a distance; they were invited into his life. This concept is difficult, especially for the pastor and his family who may already feel separated or scrutinized. Yet becoming a family member requires knowability and a genuine effort and desire to be known beyond a “stage persona” or an idealized version of oneself on social media.

Knowability requires intentionality. Take marriage, for example. The honeymoon period is great, but it doesn’t compare with the intimacy experienced after years of marriage. The same is true of pastoral ministry. The first few months at a new church are often filled with social engagements but only surface-level relationships. Genuine intimacy requires time and effort.

When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, “You are the Christ,” his response came after much time spent together. Yet Peter and the other disciples still had a long way to go in knowing Jesus.

If we long for deep relationships, we must deliberately take time and effort to build them. How does this happen for you? Are you welcoming church members into your home, accepting invitations into theirs, inviting others to participate in activities you enjoy, having real conversations, and just being yourself?

3. Community requires vulnerability

Pastors often preach the importance of community but fail to put it into practice themselves. True community requires vulnerability. I’m not implying tearful confessions in the local coffee shop. But when someone asks how they can pray for you, share a real request. Don’t let pride prohibit vulnerability.

The night before his crucifixion Jesus invited his disciples to pray with him in Gethsemane. Yes, they fell asleep, but Jesus invited them to pray with him in his hour of need anyway. Genuine vulnerability may extend beyond prayer, but the Christian life doesn’t exist without prayer. When was the last time you invited a church member to pray for you in a real time of need?

4. Pastors need ministry, too

Recently, a church member offered to prepare a meal for my family. There was no immediate need or request; her motivation was a simple act of love and kindness. Yet, out of pride, I declined her offer. Thankfully, she met me with a swift and needed rebuke, expressing appreciation for how we minister to her family, and how she viewed this gesture as an opportunity to minister to us.

By rejecting genuine hospitality from the congregation, we can unintentionally convey the message that we don’t need the same care and ministry we tirelessly pour out on our flock. As pastors, we must be willing to admit we need our congregation as much as they need us. And God intends for this need to be fulfilled by them, our family of faith.

Jesus received ministry

Jesus spent his earthly ministry meeting needs and faithfully teaching the truths of the kingdom, all while simultaneously receiving kindness, hospitality, and encouragement from others. He experienced genuine friendships with those he taught and served.

May his example remind us how to humbly receive ministry from others. May we commit our lives to a body of believers, admit our fears and insecurities, and exert the effort to get deeply folded into the family God has so graciously entrusted us to lead.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at tgc.org.

Topics: Pastoral Care

About the Author

Jeremy Todd (DEd, Southern Seminary) is the teaching pastor at Harvest Pointe Community Church in Charles Town, West Virginia. He is married to Leslie, and they have one son.