Five Reasons Why Pastors Struggle Making Friends

by Brandon Sutton

Recently, I wrote an article entitled, Pastors Need Friends in the Ministry. In that piece, I highlighted my own struggles as a pastor and how my friends from my current church have revived my ministry. 

The implication of the article is that pastors struggle making friends in their own church. Many Christians don’t realize this, but a lot of pastors are isolated and feel alone. They’re not always adept at making friends with whom they can share their life and burdens. 

This is not because most pastors are weird or anti-social (though some are exactly that). Rather, it’s because pastors very often struggle with making friends due to their past experiences. 

Here are five reasons why pastors find it difficult to make new friends in their church. 

  1. Pastors have had close church friends turn into real enemies. Many pastors have been burned by people in the church, and in many cases, the people who hurt them were close allies. There was a couple in church that my wife and I considered dear friends and close ministry partners. They had supported me through good times and bad. But when the church began to grow, and I proposed moving from one service to two on Sundays, these “friends” turned on me. They’d experienced their previous church go to two services, and in their eyes, it wrecked the church. They weren’t about to let it happen again. Consequently, our friendship was the cost, and these friends became enemies. 
  2. Pastors aren’t sure they trust people. As I said, pastors have been burned. Consequently, they’re fearful of entrusting themselves to others. Friendship requires trust and transparency. It involves sharing burdens and struggles. Pastors are afraid of being vulnerable because they’ve had their words used as weapons against them. I remember having a conversation with a friend from church and jokingly said, “Ministry would be so much easier if I could just be the dictator.” Never in my wildest dreams did I believe this would come back to haunt me, but this “friend”, when he became an enemy, told people that I hoped to rule the church as a dictator—that dictatorship was my preferred style of leadership. When a pastor has his words used against him like that, he becomes hesitant to open up again in the future. 
  3. Pastors struggle balancing being a shepherd and a friend. Friends are people who, when you’re around them, you can let your guard down. You can be yourself—quirks, shortcomings, and all. But that’s not easy to do for pastors. Members of our church are, first and foremost, sheep of the flock whom we have been charged to care for (1 Peter 5:1-5). They are God’s sheep who we must feed, protect, and guide. Practically speaking, this makes it difficult to relax and be yourself around certain people. Pastors are supposed to be examples, and we don’t want anything ruining our influence in people’s lives. We’re also charged to seek the spiritual good of our people. This often requires admonishment, correction and rebuke.  This can be a difficult task within the context of a person the pastor considers his close “buddy.”
  4. Pastors are afraid of being accused of favoritism. I will never forget when a woman in my former church told me I had favorites. I honestly had no idea, but, apparently, I gave more time and attention to certain individuals than I did others. Members notice who their pastor spends time with.  And pastors are aware that others are watching who they eat with, who comes to their home, whose homes they go to, and who they talk to most on Sundays. Pastors should be most concerned about leading and influence. Showing favoritism, whether intentional or not, can harm our ministry.
  5. Pastors struggle holding their friends accountable as they should. At my previous church, there was a man whom I considered a good friend. We hung out at each other’s homes. We went out to eat and to ball games together. We had a lot in common. But he was lazy in his faith. He didn’t engage in the spiritual disciplines like Bible study and prayer. He rarely witnessed or discipled other men. His church attendance was inconsistent at best. He didn’t lead his family well at all. What began to manifest, is that our friendship often stood in the way of me having courage to tell him the truth as his pastor. When I did speak the truth to him (repeatedly), it hurt our friendship. The man eventually left my church, and we pretty much lost touch with one another. Given the superseding obligations I had to him as a shepherd, I found it difficult being both his pastor and friend.

Pastors need friends. It’s essential for their personal well-being and ministry success. But many pastors find it difficult to build and sustain friendships. If you’re a pastor reading this, just know you’re not alone. Sometimes it’s helpful knowing that you’re not the only one who struggles in this area. If you’re a churchgoing Christian, think of ways you can encourage and even befriend your pastor. Consider the above reasons why pastors find friendship in the church difficult and try to be one who offers grace and understanding in this struggle. Offer love and friendship unconditionally. Because remember, to do otherwise, is of no advantage to you (see Hebrews 13:17).   

Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the Recovery & Redemption ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.


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