A Love Letter to Parishioners Who Want to Be the Pastor’s Best Friend

[Note: Yes, I’m on a roll with the whole ‘love letters’ theme. I’m taking requests now.]

Dear Beloved Parishioners Who Want to Be the Pastor’s Best Friend,

Bless your heart – and I mean that in the most sincere way. Pastors need friends and your desire to befriend your professional minister is heartfelt. Thank you.

Thank you for remembering the pastor’s birthday. Thank you for inviting the pastor to your home for dinner. Thank you for offering to babysit the pastor’s kids. Thank you for inviting the pastor to play golf/go camping/join your bowling league/have a beer/go running/be a normal person.

Be careful.

Be careful not to confuse time spent with the pastor as ordinary friendship.

  • That conversation about the state of your marriage over a salad? That was pastoral care.
  • That time you helped the pastor chaperone the church kids to Disney World? That was youth group volunteering.
  • That time the pastor and family joined you and your family for a big graduation party? That was fellowship time.

Yes, pastors and parishioners can be friends. And also pastors need best friends who are not members of their congregations.

Pastors need best friends who are not members of their congregations. It’s worth saying twice.

The future of your church depends on it and I’m not kidding. If the pastor’s closest friends are members of the congregation one of two things happen when that pastor leaves: 1) the pastor now has no friends or 2) the pastor cannot separate from the congregation which means the next pastor will be impacted.

It’s also important to note that you – beloved parishioner – don’t get to be the pastor’s confidant, pal, or parent figure just because you want to fulfill that role. Maybe that was your role for a previous pastor. Maybe you long to have that kind of connection with your minister. If your pastor doesn’t take you up on offers of friendship, it means your pastor has good boundaries.

As a young woman long ago, the church I was serving included other young women who perceived that we were close girlfriends. The truth is that while church members were sharing the details of their sex life, medical life, work life, and home life, they hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t sharing comparable information. I might say that I was going on vacation to the beach but that’s not the same as sharing “my boyfriend and I got in a big fight on vacation at the beach and here are the photos.” Not the same.

I once served a congregation in which my predecessor had been very close friends with the members across the street. They even vacationed together. When it was clear that I wasn’t going to have that kind of relationship with them, they considered me to be rude or unfriendly.

It’s okay not to be best friends with those who befriended previous ministers.

It’s important to have friendly relationships between church staff members and church members. And it’s also important to remember our roles for the sake of healthy leadership. I have deeply loved the congregations I’ve served and yet, they couldn’t be my closest friends. Again – I loved them and relished our relationship. But I was still their pastor first.

Please encourage your pastor to have friends who are not part of your congregation. It will benefit everyone in the future.

Your sibling in Christ, Jan

P.S. The image of Pope Benedict XVI with a friend and a beer was taken on “Buy Your Priest a Beer Day” which is apparently September 9. Roman Catholics and some Anglicans apparently celebrate this. I know other denominational leaders who’d be up for it.

3 responses to “A Love Letter to Parishioners Who Want to Be the Pastor’s Best Friend

  1. Mary Marcotte

    How about a love letter to interims? The work is important and is more than pulpit supply. I’m sure you can fill in the details….


  2. So–here is a question: How about the pastor’s family, particularly when the spouse has joined the church and is a member? Is this person cut off when the pastor leaves? Experience tells me the church may well pick and chose what they do/don’t want with the member. They may say they don’t want the member’s time as in volunteering for something but experience tells this pastor’s spouse the church still wants treasure as in the pledge and the per capita fee during time away. Perhaps the solution is a pastor’s spouse should not join the church where the pastor is serving. The problem with this is that defeats “family worship” for pastors and their families. Experience tells me some Presbyteries understand and handle this better than other Presbyteries which don’t do such a good job.

    Liked by 1 person

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