Calling upstairs in your own house may seem strange, but this arrangement helped maintain boundaries with our good friends. Ron and Rosha were not just neighbors, they lived in the upstairs apartment. And they belonged to the church I pastor.
Just before moving in, Rosha, pregnant, suffered complications requiring home rest. Despite some hesitation at moving again, they both soon felt glad about the new situation. Instead of Rosha being alone all day, I could check on her. Over those tense months, we shared more than a house. We shared many prayers and concerns, which led to the joyful delivery of their first-born son, Rajiv, that fall. Our daughters were soon like sisters to Rajiv.
It was good to have close friends, even if friendships with parishioners are a bit risky.
Soon after I moved to Cincinnati to marry Roger and plant a church, my only other friends in town moved. Ben and Cheryl had introduced Roger and me. Both pastors, Ben and Cheryl were mature friends who also understood the challenges of ministry. When they moved to pastor in another town, my only remaining friends were Roger's colleagues.
Missing Ben and Cheryl, I wondered, Do we look to our congregation for friends? One early attempt was with Anna.
When Anna and her husband, Kent, moved to our neighborhood, I rejoiced at the prospect of a friend. We shared a similar stage in life and began to spend time together. But soon, I felt we were struggling in our relationship. I asked Anna if we could talk about it.
"Anna," I confessed, "you're my best friend." I felt vulnerable baring my heart.
"Kathy, I don't know if I can be friends with a pastor," Anna admitted. "I feel intimidated, like I can't measure up." Yet as we talked, Anna also criticized me for some faults I had been honest enough to reveal. She said I was "too good" to be friends with, yet I didn't measure up to what she thought a pastor should be.
This paradox characterizes what many pastors experience. People in our churches feel a barrier to befriending us. This problem, of course, exists in other professions, especially for those in leadership. Chris Argyris, in Overcoming Organizational Defenses (Prentice Hall, 1990), writes, "Loneliness at the top is a product of a reciprocal isolating dynamic of aloofness between subordinates and the executive."
Leaders of companies struggle with this dynamic. Yet if they don't have friends at work, church provides an outlet. Pastors have an added tension. For pastors, the workplace and church family are intertwined.
What is the answer? How do we meet our human need for friendship in the complex atmosphere of our ministry?
Friends who pastor me
After a painful situation had erupted at our church, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary wrote me a letter. She had invited other women from my denomination to meet for a retreat prior to a minister's conference. When I showed my husband her letter, he asked with a smile, "Are you going to meet every week?" He knew the intensity of my need for just such a support group.
Although we don't meet together, several friends outside my congregation serve as a kind of support group. In some ways, they pastor me. Melanie and I were first part of an accountability group. I met her through my husband's work with a parachurch ministry. After the group disbanded, Melanie and I continued meeting monthly. We share prayer concerns and personal issues for which we need to be accountable. Some months we rejoice together, other times we cry on each other's shoulder.