Pastors Can Be Friends with Church Members (and 4 Other Radical Ideas)

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Some ideas accepted as common sense need to be turned upside-down.

Victor Hugo wrote,

“One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.”

If that were true in the 1870s, how much more accurate is it now! We are an influenced people. Television, radio, newspaper, the Internet and so much more is constantly bombarding us with new ideas.

In many ways, this is unfortunate because our culture has increasingly given up critical thinking. Thus, whatever is seen or heard is assumed to be “gospel truth,” even though much of what we see or hear is simply one person’s opinion.

That’s why I often find myself thinking, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Ideas are powerful things, as Hugo eloquently stated. And while many of the ideas I hear and see aren’t always that helpful, there have been some extremely influential ideas that have shaped my thinking, which has flowed into my praxis.

I thought I’d share with you five ideas that literally changed the way I thought.

1. It’s OK to love the people you serve for real and to be friends with them. 

When I was going through pastoral training, it was regularly communicated to me that it was unwise for pastors to be friends with people in the church.

There were numerous reasons given: “People won’t respect you if they see your weaknesses,” “You’ll end up getting hurt” and “You need to maintain a ‘professional’ relationship because that’s the nature of the vocation” were some of the most common reasons given. My professors and mentors had some keen insights here, and there’s no doubt that being friends with people in the church you serve will bring about some emotional pain and ministry trials.

But is it wise to put up walls around your heart toward the people you are called to serve, love and lead?

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What set me free from this thinking was reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

I found Paul’s heartfelt love for that church so captivating that I couldn’t brush it aside. The apostle Paul clearly had a strong love for the Philippians because he writes he “yearned” for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. How could Paul pray that the love of the Philippians would grow like crazy if he himself didn’t have such strong love for them (Phil. 1:9)? How could Paul, who so longed to be with Christ through death (Phil. 1:21, 23), be willing to stay in order to help serve the Philippians (Phil. 1:24-25) if he didn’t love them and consider them friends?

There’s no need for pastors to “fake” their love for the people in their church.

What I mean is there’s no need for pastors to try and convince people they really love them but carry out their ministry from a distance.

On one hand, everyone in the church can see the distance. You aren’t fooling anyone. And on the other hand, the apostle Paul shows us it’s OK to love the people we serve for real and it’s OK to have friends in the church.

Luke Geraty Luke Geraty has been lead pastor of Trinity Christian Fellowship for the past six years and is a member of the Society of Vineyard Scholars. Interested in missional theology within the rural context, Luke loves all things espresso, hockey, hip hop, and fly fishing (what a weird combo!). He and his wife have four children. He blogs regularly at ThinkTheology.org.

More from Luke Geraty or visit Luke at http://ThinkTheology.org

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  • Marsha Smith

    “many pastors assume when people start asking questions, it’s the first sign of abandoning the faith. Thus, to ask a question is to reject truth!”
    All are excellent points, but in my life experiences, this one seems to ring truest of all. It is as if church members are so often required to leave their brains at the door. I’m convinced, however, that God welcomes our questions and delights in our curious ponderings.

  • Pastor Ruiz

    Amen! I’ve been a pastor for 16 years and have always been close to the sheep and yes it’s true sometimes people take advantage of this and sometimes you end up getting hurt but thats part of getting close to anybody. The fact is that the benefits out way the hurts. I love our parishioners and have gone through the hard and difficult times in their lives but again, the good and great times i’ve shared with them out way those hard and difficult times which by the way it’s what brings you closer to each other. Would not change those experiences for anything. Growing together is what it’s all about. The honor and glory belongs only to Christ! Amen

    • Ben

      Paster Ruiz, I want to thank you for being a paster it is not any easy job, however I am sick and tired to be called a sheep, The saints of God are not animals Jesus did not die for them it was for his image Jesus come to save. I want you to call a sheep on the phone and have intelligent conversation with it. Yes Jesus said to Peter feed my sheep and feed my Lambs. show me the scripture where you were a sheep and now you are a man. Ben

      • http://www.thinktheology.org/ Luke Geraty

        Ben, in 1 Pet. 5:2, Peter instructs pastors to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” I think that’s why a lot of people (pastors and non-pastors) refer to people in a church as “sheep.”

        However, I understand what you mean. “Sheep” doesn’t imply “stupid” and sadly, some pastors think it does. Thankfully, all Christians are “sheep” who are to be led by the great Shepherd, Jesus.

        Signed,
        Luke Geraty, a fellow sheep

        • Ben

          Thank you Ben

        • Ben

          good Morning Luke, yesterday after our conversation about we the people and not sheep, I did a little research John chap. 10 verse 6 Jesus used illustration and He used sheep and going in and out of pastures i read the whole chapter. We are not sheep or any kind of animals, for example Jesus said to Peter you will become fisher of men, are we fish? or the saying a wolf in sheep clothing, now when did you ever see a wolf in a literal sheep clothing sneaking up on a sheep. this are illustrations that Our Lord used to make a point. More than ever I will not be called a sheep by any one i am a son of God made in His image washed in His blood and filled with His Holy Spirit. You quoted 1Pet. 5,2 pastures are to be Shepherds- a teacher a comforter a leader making disciples. and praying for the people. Ben

          • http://www.thinktheology.org/ Luke Geraty

            Ben, like I said, I can understand your personal view on the issue. I’m simply saying that there is a reason why Jesus refers to his followers as sheep and I, as one of those sheep, don’t see it quite like you do.

            I could go into a long treaty about how the word pomnion essentially proves my point, but that’d be a long drawn out lesson in Greek and I would rather drink some coffee now and call you friend!

            Luke

      • Cdlott

        The term sheep is used because it is a wonderful description of Gods children. Sheep can be very difficult and rebellious. The shepherd sometimes has to bind their legs, or even break one in order to keep it safe from harm. Ee are all like sheep who stray from time to time we should not take offense at this term. Even the pastor who is charged by God to prtect the flock is their self a sheep.

        • Ben

          Cdlott, would you have your father break your legs so you wouldn’t run away and to keep you safe. sheep are stupid animals, we have a mind and when we received Jesus we received a new mind and a new spirit. please treat your self as an image of God not an a dump sheep. Ben

    • http://www.thinktheology.org/ Luke Geraty

      Amen. I totally agree!

    • Casey

      Amen, and many have forgotten that the path we are treading as believers and disciples is THE WAY OF THE CROSS. If along the line of our service to the Lord, something is hurting us, or we are made to suffer because of our commitment to the Biblical truths, then BLESSED are we indeed. Praise GOD for crosses, and let us not by our own wisdom do away with them.

  • Ben

    my comment My God has giving a brain to think with and i ask a lot of question when it comes to the Bible, But some pastes are ill equipped to answer question so they hid be hind cliche. Ben

  • ServantHeart2012

    Great concepts, and if I may offer one more; Congratulations! You have completed the prescribed courses of study and the university, college, or whatever has bestowed upon you . . . a doctorate degree. That doesn’t mean you need to change your stationary and business cards immediately to reflect that. It also doesn’t mean you should expect your family, staff members, and others you are close to to begin referring to you as “DOCTOR so-and-so,” or your admin. assistant to start answering the phone “DOCTOR so-and-so’s office.” Make no mistake. We are all very proud of you, but pushing people to call you by your title cheapens your accomplishment. Just be yourself. If they choose to refer to you as “doctor” so be it, but when you insist they address you that way, good luck keeping them in the fold!

    • http://www.facebook.com/Easttxseminary EastTexas TheologicalSeminary

      I strongly disagree, its about giving him the respect he deserve and earned. When you call your Doctor’s office, you ask to speak to Dr. So-and-so. Why call him that? Because that is what he is and have earned in letter, pay, and respect. Let’s stop disrespecting those that are worth the respect to be called by their title. We all know that it has nothing to do about spirituality, but it is about RESPECT. I have yet to see one call an officer by his name and not his title, or judge by their name and not their title. I wish one would go into the WHITE HOUSE and call our President by his name with giving him the respect by putting a handle on it. That would be very disrespectful.

      Now, I do agree, we should not demand people, but teach people that out of respect address our spiritual leaders with the titles they earned and are give. We are to be more wiser than the world. If the world respect leaders in title calling, we should do the same to our leaders in the church. ~ Dr.MFM

      • Casey

        Dear Brother in Christ, I believe he means pastors ought to be warmer human beings and open up some more in order for the ministry, and their messages to really get across to the people, and I firmly agree with that.

      • Ben

        EastTexas, when did you call on the name of the lord you called Jesus you said Reverent Jesus or Holy seed or Bishop Jesus or any titles man have giving themselves. did you ever read any where, where Peter talked about Paul saying

        Brother, or farther or Bishop James or pope Andrew. How much respect do you have for the Lord of lords and King of kings please answer. Ben

      • ServantHeart2012

        Dear Friend,
        Respect is not “earned” through achievement whether it be academically or by virtue of election or appointment to a “respected” position. Titles are bestowed upon people every day. Respect is earned by conducting oneself and ones affairs in a manner that is worthy of respect. Make no mistake, those who demand respect rather than earn it will almost always feel DIS-respected. I do hope you can grasp that concept some day. Until then I fear you will be one of those who constantly feels slighted even though you have “earned” your doctorate.

  • Cdlott

    Amen!!!!!!!!! Solid points.

  • casey

    Dear Brother, “Create margins and boundaries so your family knows they are the number-one priority in your life.”

    Please think again in the light of what Christ says in the gospels.

    ‘The management of your family’ is no doubt important, and I believe, by ‘taking care of our families’, a Christian ought to mean taking care of the spiritual life of the family FIRST, and as Christ says, the rest will follow..

    • http://www.thinktheology.org/ Luke Geraty

      The statement about making a family number one is not meant to ignore texts like Luke 14:26. The sad fact is that many (most?) pastors that I have known in my life or have had relationships with or mentored really struggled with making their families their priority. There’s a very specific reason why we are told in Scripture that a man and a woman become “one flesh” and that the man is to “hold fast to his wife” (Gen. 2:24). Scholars almost unanimously agree that this is about the priority of the covenant between the two.

      So I wouldn’t disagree that one’s taking care of one’s family implies that to do so means to withhold truth from them or to mistreat them in any way spiritually.

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