Real friends

by Eddie Thompson
Friday, March 8, 2013 | 5 yrs old

While attending a conference, the CEO of a multi-million dollar company confessed a long-standing secret to a group of peers. He said, "I don't think I have any real friends. I haven't had time for them. I thought if I worked all the time I wouldn't have to have friends. Perhaps my lack of real friends has ended up costing me more than I thought.”

I’ve often considered how leaders make real friendships, particularly pastors. I've even questioned this in my own life more times than I care to admit. Honestly, it's not a stretch to say that sometimes the loneliest person in the church is the pastor. He's surrounded by people yet may not have a real friend among them.

Our Church Ministry Team Leader, Brian Upshaw, Ph.D., recently posted a question on Facebook asking what pastors thought about having friends in the church where they serve. He got some great responses because the question stirs up something deep inside of people in ministry. I think every pastor is going to mull this over, particularly as he gets older. Oh, he might know a lot of people, but real friends?

I’m reminded that Batman had Robin. But who did Superman have? He hid his real identity from all his "friends." Too many pastors see themselves as “Supermen,” failing to let anyone see who they really are. I even met a pastor once who referred to himself in the third person as “Superman,” but he was lonely and his wife was depressed. It wasn't hard to see why.

Jesus saw friends as central in a way we often miss. He told His disciples that He was going to stop calling them His servants and change things: “Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15 NIV). He was making a distinction between two types of relationships. Servants and friends are very different. You give a directive to a servant, but you bring a friend into your confidence. You “make known to” your friend what is going on in your life. In addition, at the end of His life, during His time of deep trouble and distress while He was praying at Gethsemane, Jesus asked His own three closest friends, Peter, James and John, to keep watch with Him (Mark 14:32-34). Imagine God Himself asking three friends to support Him! It seems so dependent of Jesus, so “unspiritual.” We may say He should only be looking to the Father for support. The reality is that Jesus modeled a need for both the divine and the human connections.

This is what I would say about real Christian friendships:

  • They run toward you when everyone else runs away from you.
  • They are a safe place where you can be yourself.
  • They are people you can be comfortable with.
  • They are the ones you go to when you need support.
  • They will walk with you through thick and thin including problems with your marriage, your children, your health, and your job.
  • They help you connect with God in a deeper way.
  • They make life more meaningful.
  • They know who you are and still care for you anyway.
  • They speak the truth to you, not to wound, but because they want the best for you.
  • They cross time and distance.

It’s easy for pastors to think that the people they minister to are their real friends. In a way they are, but in another way they really aren’t. Consider that most of these friendships are actually service-oriented relationships and not mutual friendships. It might be a 90/10 relationship where the pastor does most of the advice giving, caring, teaching and listening. A mutual friendship, on the other hand, is a two-way relationship where both can share who they are, what they feel and individual needs they may have. If the pastor does somehow figure out how to have both a service relationship and a mutual friendship it can be great, but it also carries the extra risk that if something goes wrong in the friendship that it will negatively impact the church and vice versa. More than one pastor, including myself, has attempted a “dual relationship" only to have the friendship blow up and affect the church. Because of this, many pastors have decided their friends should be other pastors. This may be a wise choice, but this only works if they are going to be vulnerable to one another. Real friendships are always risky.

So how about your friends? How do you go about making them and keeping them? If you are struggling to find a real friend, please don’t give up. I believe God wants them for you as well, and they may be closer than you think.