Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Pastor Personals: Friends Wanted

A friend mentioned to me that some time ago, a former pastor of his church (who I also knew) confessed to my friend his loneliness and depression, and how few people he counted as his personal friends. Given that this man had decades of ministry under his belt and was widely respected, I thought that was particularly poignant. Certainly it wasn't because of any lack of friendliness; he is one of the most thoughtful and outgoing men I've met, one who truly cares about other people. It got me thinking, before I knew this was a common problem for pastors, just why a man in his high pastoral position would have a problem finding friends. If anything, I would think that he would have longer and deeper friendships than the rest of us, holding as he does the wisdom and experience of years of dealing closely with other human beings.

Sadly, it is an all too common problem. Kathy Callahan-Howell writes in Christianity Today of her own problems finding friends, especially within her own congregation. Her attempts to win one friend who was both neighbor and fellow churchmember went like this:

Missing Ben and Cheryl, I wondered, Do we look to our congregation for friends? One early attempt was with Anna.

When Anna and her husband, Kent, moved to our neighborhood, I rejoiced at the prospect of a friend. We shared a similar stage in life and began to spend time together. But soon, I felt we were struggling in our relationship. I asked Anna if we could talk about it.

"Anna," I confessed, "you're my best friend." I felt vulnerable baring my heart.

"Kathy, I don't know if I can be friends with a pastor," Anna admitted. "I feel intimidated, like I can't measure up." Yet as we talked, Anna also criticized me for some faults I had been honest enough to reveal. She said I was "too good" to be friends with, yet I didn't measure up to what she thought a pastor should be. (emph)

I think that's telling. At least one person in her congregation believed that because Kathy was a pastor, she was "too good" to be friends with, and because of that perception there was no room for Kathy to be merely human. Well, hello. I think that's pretty significant, and I'm sure that the propensity of people like Anna to put pastors on a pedestal is not lost on pastors. Steve Chastain of Stupid Church People has talked about the "game face" that he would put on whenever in front of his congregation, one that he felt obligated to wear whatever he was feeling on the inside.

And let's be honest: we all do it. Pastors are just pros at it. We know it, and that's why we don't trust them enough to be friends with them. I have a whole category of behavior that I would never do in front of a pastor. When I was a smoker, I never confessed it at church and always looked around when in public to make sure no one from my congregation was watching. One time I think I got caught by some of my closest church friends outside of a McDonald's. I can imagine the shock: "He's a smoker?!". It still gives me the willies to think about, a decade later. I got caught. Not smoking, but being a coward. Pretty shameful, but let me go out on a limb here: If you have been a regular churchgoer for at least a few years now, can you relate to this story?

If we live in fear of each other finding us out, discovering that despite the presence of Jesus in our lives that we are still normal, struggling sinners like the unchurched, how must our pastors fear us? Welcome to churchianity, the ugly underside of our walk with Jesus. It's obviously not His fault; look what he has to work with. I just know that He wants better for us and from us.

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