When I was a pastor there were about a dozen guys in my church over the years who treated me like a best friend, for some of them, I think I was their best friend, who later blew up at me, left, and never talked to me again.
We did stuff together. We talked. We laughed. We ate food.
There was a line as a pastor that I could never quite figure out: when was I a pastor and when was I a friend?
In some cases, being a pastor is being a professional friend. People pay you to be their friend. I know that sounds cynical and cold, but my personal experience along with my knowledge of other pastors’ experiences lets me know this is true.
What many of them viewed as friendship I viewed as my job. I wouldn’t have been hanging out with these guys under other circumstances.
Many of these guys expressed problems with me all along. They’d pick apart my sermons, they’d make judgments about my behavior, and find fault with any number of things I did and said. In only one of these cases did I ever go off on one of them as they did on me (I regret this. It wasn’t good).
I tried to exercise patience and forgiveness as that’s what I felt I was supposed to do. But no matter how much patience and forbearance I used with them, inevitably they got mad enough at me to leave the church.
The friendship was gone. The time together, the patience, all of it was thrown out because I did some obscure thing that set them off.
On one hand I get it, if I approached the friendship as my job, they probably picked up on that! I’m not an overly outgoing, social guy, I don’t make friends easily. They were only my friend because I was the pastor and they were my friends because I was their pastor.
I’ve heard it said that pastors can’t have friends. This isn’t true. I had true friends while I was a pastor and they remain friends even after I’m no longer their pastor.
Friendship with pastors breaks off because often there was no real friendship to begin with. They were using me, how spiritual it makes one feel to be friends with a pastor! If the pastor likes me, certainly God does. And I viewed many of these relationships as duty. They weren’t going to last.
On top of that, people leave churches. If you have a friendship with the pastor and you don’t want to go to church anymore, you have to find some ridiculous problem with the pastor so you can blow up at him and get gone.
It took me a while to figure this out, but often this explosion to end the friendship had very little to do with me. I wasn’t perfect, but clearly I didn’t do anything deserving this treatment.
One inside tip: Many men take out their anger at their dads on pastors. I know this sounds weird, but it’s true. The guys who’ve had the worst relationships with their dads were the most explosively rude in their expression of dislike toward me. There’s other stuff going on; it’s not all you.
Another factor is that people are fickle. When the apostle Paul did a miracle the crowd thought he was a god, then they changed their mind and wanted to stone him. Jesus was hailed as the coming king in what has been called “The Triumphal Entry,” only to be crucified by the same mob at the end of the week.
This isn’t a Church Thing. Christians have no monopoly on fickleness. Observe the Cancel Culture overspreading our society. Famous people that no one had a problem with, accidentally say something slightly off from what the crowd wants to hear and that person is cancelled. Off with their heads.
People are weird. We just are. We get tired. We want change. True friendship requires forgiveness and patience. Those things are hard. People carry religious baggage into the church, who knows how that will work itself out over time. Not well, usually.
Jesus Christ said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”
You can’t be everyone’s friend. You’ll destroy yourself trying.
What you can do is do your best to love people, be patient, forgiving, and forbearing. But also know that at any time for any odd reason they can turn on you. It’s terrible to go into a relationship thinking, “I wonder when this guy will turn on me.” But for the pastor, you’re going to end up thinking that anyway!
God knows our frame, He knows we are dust. We can truly wonder “what is man, that God is mindful of him?” Why does He care for us knowing full well we will be His enemy many times?
Love. God is love. This is part of the job for God.
Even after these guys got mad and disrespected me and ran off, I still love em. I can’t help it. I care about them. I’d still help them today. Well, ok, there’s a couple I’d be happy to never see again, but still, I’d do my best!
It’s part of the job of being a Christian—love your enemies. What praise is there if you love those who love you?
Loving people is part of the job and don’t be surprised if you get fired! Happens to God every day and He’s doing love perfectly.