So why do pastors resist making friends in the congregation?
Because of the risks. The risk of letting your guard down with someone who then leaks that information. The risk of letting someone into your life you lets you down by a major character flaw. The risk of having someone around you who is actually deeply compromised in sin. The risk of being unable to confront someone because of the friendship.
So we put the brakes on, and keep almost everyone at a distance because of the risks.
Now, here’s a question: do you think Jesus had friends, real friends? Well, the answer leaps out. The band of 12. Martha, Mary, Lazarus. ‘Friends’ is the word he chose for them, in John 15:15.
Second question: do you think Jesus, with hindsight, if he had known the pain it would cause, would have let Judas into his life?
The answer again is obvious: he knew, and we know, from scriptural patterns, that the Messiah would be betrayed by one of his closest friends:
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship. (Ps 109:4,5)
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned against me. (Ps 41:9)
Do you think Jesus was acting for three years? Do you think he only realised at the end what Judas was going to do? Or do you think that the reason it felt like such betrayal was because they were genuinely, deep friends?
Third question: Do you think Jesus treats you as a friend, despite all the pain you daily cause him? (Don’t think I’m going sentimental here: Jesus wept over the stubbornness of Jerusalem, we grieve the Holy Spirit by our sin).
You’ll say, “Yes, but he is my – and Judas’s – Lord. It’s not really a risk for him, because he can offset it by his omnipotence.”
Which means, I suspect, we haven’t really come to grips with the experience of Jesus as a normal, relational human.
And it also means, I suspect, that we haven’t come to grips with the experience of Jesus as a Lord who daily offsets the risk by still pursuing his gospel agenda through a flawed church.
And, further, it means we haven’t realised that we aren’t immune from being a betrayer of friendships ourselves. We aren’t perfect pastors in a flawed church, are we?
Yes, having friends will involve risk. But what kind of cold, non-relational beings would we be if we never took that risk?
- If you are a pastor, do you feel reluctant about having close friends in church? What are you reasons?
- If you’re not a pastor, do you keep your pastor at a distance? Do you know why you do that?