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Can pastors have close friendships in their churches?

Over the past two decades, I have gone back and forth on answering that question. On the one hand, it would be ideal for a pastor to have close friends in the church they serve. On the other hand, ideals rarely come to fruition. We live in the tension of biblical ideals and ministry realities.

If you were to ask me how I would answer that question today, I would say, “It depends on what you mean by a close friend.” How is that for an answer? Not very helpful, right? But if we take a minute to clarify terms, we can more helpfully answer the question.

I was recently reading a book that is pertinent to whether or not pastors can be close friends with people in the church they pastor. The authors of Resilient Ministry lean on Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky’s book Leadership on the Line to distinguish between “Allies” and “Confidants.”

I can read your thoughts now, “Wait, I thought we were talking about close friendships? What’s this about allies and confidants?” Hang on…it all ties together.

According to Heifetz and Linsky, Allies are people who share many of your values, or at least your strategy, and operate across some organizational or factional boundary.” They go on to state that allies “cannot always be loyal to you; they have other ties to honor.” On the other hand, confidants have few, if any, conflicting loyalties. They usually operate outside your organization.

The authors of Resilient Ministry accurate summarize the discussion by saying,

Pastors are constantly working with allies. Everyone from members of the ruling board to kids in the youth ministry share a unique bond with the pastor. On the whole, they share the pastor’s values and operate within the organization of the church. Yet pastors are always calculating – consciously and unconsciously – whether these allies in the congregation could or should be party to their more personal concerns. Could they be trusted confidants who would honor such increased responsibility with loyalty and integrity? Mistaking an ally for a confidant could lead to conflict and serious breaks in trust.

So, can pastors be close friends with people in their churches? In my opinion, perhaps. If pastors don’t confuse allies with confidants, close friendships within the church are possible.

What do you think? Are these distinctions helpful? Can pastors have close friends in the church they serve? What about confidants? Or is there not a difference in your mind?

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Dec 29, 2021

Thanks for the comment, Lawrence. And thank you for being an ally to your pastor!


Speaking only as a layman, I think your point is well made. I fully enjoy being a pastoral ally and really have no desire or qualification to be able to assist my pastor with personal or personnel issues. Our pastor has had and continues to seek advice from others who are also in full time ministry. Fellow ministers are far more capable of advising one another due to their shared problems and outlooks. Church members are in no way fully capable of understanding the particular burdens of ministry. We can come close to understanding IF we perhaps have some understanding of leadership's issues and consequences, but it is far better to have counsel from someone who has direct experien…

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