Thursday, January 03, 2013

Crowded loneliness (or friends of the pastor and discipleship methods)

A good friend (who is also a part of the church where I pastor) sent me the link to this article: "Pastor, Not Friend" by M. Craig Barnes ( It's always been a tough question for me. Should pastors be friends with the people in their churches or not?

I have read a lot of material from Barnes over the years, and have respected him a great deal particularly because of his experience in the small church setting. However, I tend to not side with him in this instance. Not that I don't think he has valid points, but I believe this is much more of a "business model" than a "Jesus method" in regard to the relationships between pastors and congregations.

Certainly, what he says makes sense. It is hard for pastors to be "friends" with the people in their congregations. Just like it is hard for doctors, and lawyers, and so many other professions. However, I don't think the fact that it is difficult means it is impossible; and I don't know that it should be.

I was told in seminary, and many people subscribe to the theory that the clergy need to be "different." And after serving 13+ years in a small church, I have been tempted on more occasions than I care to remember to give in and say it is not worth the effort. One sentence that stuck out to me in this article was this: "Ordination costs pastors, and one of the greatest costs is maintaining the lonely status of being surrounded by everyone in the church while always being the odd person in the room." That is where he gets the phrase "crowded loneliness." Yes, I can relate to that.

But if you think about Jesus... What were his relationships like? Did he only hang out with other Messiah's?

Actually, and I don't know if I heard this from Mike Breen, Dave Fitch, or who (but my wife reminded me of it), Jesus did have some boundaries regarding friendships as described in Scripture. He had the 3 (Peter, James & John), the 12 (Apostles), the 72, 120, and the crowds (see Acts 1:13-16, and others). This was his method for making disciples, but I believe it also defined his relationship status with others (yes, I think they are related).

What if we broke it down like this (and you could interchange 'discipling relationships' and 'friendships')...

  • 3 - the number of INTIMATE discipling relationships we have
  • 12 - the number of PRIVATE discipling relationships we have
  • 72-120 - the number of SOCIAL discipling relationships we have
  • 120+ - the number of PUBLIC disclipling relationships we have 

Maybe I am just naive, but I believe this is a good guideline for a pastor (or anyone). Not that the numbers need to be exact, but I can see having rather intimate relationships (friendships) with a few people in the church (maybe the elders, or maybe others); having a not-quite-so-intimate relationship, but still being fairly close with up to 12 people (such as a board, or a small group or something); being able to be socially involved with a larger group - like a church body (you can easily know the names and basic facts about 120 people); and being more 'publicly' involved with an even larger group still (you know them, can teach them, worship with them, hang out with them, know bits and pieces about their life).

In a nutshell, while I see some valid points in the above article, I believe I am going to stick with how Jesus did things. Is it easy? Not always. But who ever said life was supposed to be easy???

Just a thought.


Jim Lehmer said...

Having been through "boundaries" training last fall, I can say our denomination pushes much the same thing (distance, crowded loneliness). OTOH, my pastor has told me she pretty much disagrees with and disregards the whole thing.

That said I will say that as a "supply preacher" now, that feeling of "crowded loneliness" is amplified, turned all the way up to 11. Once the service is over and a few "nice sermons" and "thanks for comings" are out of the way, it's pretty much as if you don't even exist as people talk about their lives and families, upcoming events, etc. Understandable, but still sort of...lonely.

Tom said...

Great post.

dan horwedel said...


I would agree about the supply pastor dilemma. You ARE in a world all your own. :)