Can a Pastor Build a Friendship with a Congregant?

I hope to build deep social connections with others. I know that deep friendships have a great deal of positive benefit in my life. Friends are people with whom I can share encouragement, accountability, fun, conversation, support and a wide variety of interactions.

As a pastor, there are times when I feel the distinction when connecting with those that are part of the congregation that I serve. For example, when I go to young adult activities, I don’t just go as a young adult seeking connection with others, I go as one of the pastors of the church. At the same time, I have built friendships on

As a United Methodist pastor, I believe that some of the most enduring connections that I will have outside of my family are with fellow clergy in the annual conference. I am seeking to build those connections. However, the people of my congregation and community are those that I have the opportunity to spend time with on a more regular basis.

Can you be friends with your pastor?  As a pastor, can I be friends with someone in the congregation? If so, how? If not, why not? What are the limits and opportunities?

I believe that a pastor is able to build meaningful friendships with a small number of the congregation, while the broader less connected social circle will be found outside of the congregation. Will you please share your thoughts, feelings or opinions about the connection between clergy and congregant?

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6 thoughts on “Can a Pastor Build a Friendship with a Congregant?

  1. Pingback: Hanging On: Rural churches face financial struggle « Walking in the Wilderness

  2. This is an interesting topic/question. As the ‘congregant’ in the relationship example, it is something that I too have asked myself. I have pondered whether or not it is challenging for a pastor to represent his or herself in an authentically human way – not as clergy – but rather in a close and meaningful way in a “friend” role. I think it probably comes down to how both parties define the relationship. For example, which role (clergy or personal friend) is most applicable to the way in which the congregant and pastor interact?

    When considering your question in this light it seems natural to relate the question to other professions as well. While not a perfect analogy, let’s say a business executive may be a hard-hitting big-shot with other colleagues and business leaders, but with friends and family he/she may be completely different. Is there a switch that gets turned on sometimes and not others? Not to say that serving as a pastor is ‘just’ another profession – I can only imagine how intensely unique it truly is. Good post. =)

  3. I don’t know. It depends on how you define friend. In the phileo sense, I think yes. I think the pastor should strive to be a friend with everyone in the congregation. But I think what you’re getting at is what I would call being buddies.

    In the current UM system, I think its dangerous to become buddies with a member of the congregation. It has the potential to breach boundaries of pastoral care; it emphasizes one or a few relationships in the church over the others. It has potential for a significantly negative impact on church politics. And when the pastor moves, its hard to change that relationship to pastor/congregant/buddy into buddy; it makes the job hard on the incoming pastor to build relationships.

    This is how I’ve seen it played out in my experience from both sides of the clergy/laity divide.

  4. Many who get paid to minister have a perspective of boundaries in the same way that therapists have with their patients. I don’t find that to be a healthy paradigm of ministry. When ministry takes on a “professional” perspective it put up walls between those who get paid and those who do not. By doing this it marginalizes volunteers and the their valuable ministry.

    My recommendation is to just follow the Lord’s leading. Lay people (especially volunteers) need your friendship and you need theirs as well. And it is probably not good to live in a cloistered ministerial environment. 🙂

    Either way, I thank God for your ministry Andrew.

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  6. Andy: I find this to be a very challenging question. I think that being a minister of the gospel can be very lonely, in that the responsibility is great. I notice that Jesus died for the entire world and was surrounded by great multitudes that constantly caused Him to set out to be alone, with His Father, and to, no doubt, collect His thoughts and strengthen Himself in this,His most important relationship. I notice that he did choose to be with certain people, that He ministered to personally, and that He choose twelve people with whom He would be intimate. They shared his joys, marveled at His miracles, learned from His life. They saw Him weep, and pray, and fume! He held them accountable, and they acknowledged that responsibility. I think it wise to follow His example.

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