In grad school counseling class, we took a session on the ethics of relationships and counseling. The bottom line: never have more than one relationship with a person at a time. The professor wasn’t talking about boundaries and inappropriate behavior, he meant, “don’t be someone’s counselor AND friend, or counselor AND family member.” He was talking about how to refer people who are close to you (friends, family etc) to another counselor so you can maintain just one relationship.
Meanwhile, as an MHP in a church of my peers, I find myself in multiple relationships with many people. I’m pastor, friend, taskmaster, leader, counselor, employee. Some of this is easy to manage (I never counsel my close friends), but the rest is unavoidable if you choose to be friends with your church members.
For the record, I don’t know how some pastors choose NOT to be friends with their church members. Lisa and I would have burned out long ago if not for the amazing friendships and love in our church. If you cannot find those friendships at your church, could that be a sign of a bigger problem?
10 9 lessons my friends and I have learned about growing a friendship in the midst of multiple relationships:
1) I’m the only friend in my circle of friends who’s job gets critiqued on a regular basis by his friends. No one sits around talking about a friend’s business ability, what is wrong with his company, what he could do to work on it, but it happens to MHPs all the time.
2) Conversely, I’m the only friend who monologues at his friends for 30+ minutes every Sunday. How weird must it be for my friends to hear me preach at them? No one else does that to them.
3) I’m also often the only friend they have recruiting them for a ministry. They wonder at times, “is he really my friend or does he just want something done for the church?” A word from the mighty John Ortberg seems in order here, “If I am to lead in a way that honors the Imago Dei in each person, I must value the formation of their character above the usefulness of their gifts.”
4) My friends have had to see that the pastor can be attacked or blamed unfairly for any number of church matters. They get a front row seat to how church gossip and the human heart’s tendency to always believe the worst can really hurt a pastor and his wife.
5) My friends have had to learn that I rarely get to take the pastor hat off and sometimes feel exposed when they are over at the house for a casual meal and bring church business, or when they call on my day off for a “I know its your day off, but” call.
6) Also, for most pastors, once the hat goes on, its very hard/slow to take off again. Maybe I’m crazy, but when someone calls for “quick church business” after hours or on a day off, its very hard for me to stop thinking about it. Once the door is opened, I walk through it every time and often the door to wear the hat becomes a black hole of mental energy. Maybe crazy, but very real. I’ve had to learn to not get frustrated, but simply share this dynamic with my friends. 100% of my friends get it and respect it once I humble myself to explain it.
7) Conversely, as pastor, I can do this exact same thing to my friends – bring church business into their lives and homes when all they want is a friendship conversation, not a church problem or a request to serve. Pastors are so used to blurring the lines that we too fail to protect our friends from church business.
8) I’ve learned that a pastor’s identity can be linked too tight to church, creating a hair trigger response to any church business, positive or negative. We could all do to cool it when critique or a partially thought through idea is presented.
9) I’ve learned to help my friends process my own processing with them. Am I venting, or do I need an intervention? Am I thinking our loud, or launching a new initiative? Ignoring these distinctions gets a pastor in trouble and confuses friends and its on the pastor to frame the conversation as “hey, I’m just thinking out loud here” or “I’m just needing to talk about some things.”
Hope this helps – where would I be without close, soul feeding friendships inside my church? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be here, that’s for sure.