Why They’re Not Actually Your Friends (A Hard Truth for Pastors and Leaders)

Over the last year and a bit, I’ve talked to so many leaders who are distraught over how many friends—often people they thought of as close friends—have left their church. And when they left, they also ended the friendship.

Friends they’ve worked with or served with end up no longer being friends—quitting the church, leaving staff, or even walking out for good over a disagreement.

Leaders have struggled with the problem for years. Pastors, even more so.

No surprise, but this phenomenon intensified over the last two years as COVID isolated people and culture became more divided on almost every issue.

First of all, I empathize. It’s happened to me too. It hurts, sometimes at the soul level. And friendships—being the unique relationships they are—once built are often difficult to replace.

That said, I’ve also had decades to find a different perspective.

Ready for a contrary view?

What if they were never your friends?

I’m not trying to be mean or question your relational IQ.

I get it. You’re saying, “But we had dinner with these people. We went on vacations together. We were at each other’s houses all the time. Our kids played together. We were close.”

I realize that.

But, again, the question—what if they were never actually your friends?

I know, you’re thinking, What???? But hear me out.

True friendships don’t depend on your leadership. They depend on the relationship.

And as long as you’re the leader, you’ve got a few variables in the friendship that make it hard to discern whether this is truly a friendship that will survive your leadership.

You know the stereotype of the business leader who retires and is later shocked to discover his phone never rings and everyone he used to hang out with isn’t interested in him anymore.

A similar thing happens to pastors and church leaders.

I’m going to share why that’s the case, but hang on to the end for some hope.

Understanding the unique dynamics of leadership and friendships should make pain of processing relational transitions easier, not harder.

Why It’s Weird: The Problem is Your Power

Aside from any normal relational struggles you and I bring to life (welcome to the human race—we all do), leadership brings a strange dynamic to any friendship—power.

Even if your leadership’s approach leans egalitarian, and you see yourself as equal to your team – not above them – the challenge remains: you hold power.

Beyond the power to hire and fire, you also hold the power to determine the mission and direction of the organization. Your words weigh more, and you have the clout that simply accompanies the position you hold, whether you feel like you do or not.

I’ve done everything I can to shake the power imbalance over several decades in leadership and use my power to benefit others. Still, the dynamic remains: As a leader, you hold power.

As a result—and here’s the dynamic—people build relationships with you for reasons other than just pure friendship.

Sometimes they’ve built a relationship with you because they want to be close to their leader, or they want some influence over the organization’s future direction. Other times, they’re just drawn to the leader’s charisma.

That’s not cynical; that’s just real. And they may not even realize they’re doing it. You likely won’t know it’s happening.

Except it is.

They’ll use the term ‘friend,’ and it will resemble a real friendship in many ways.

But it will always be influenced by the power dynamic.

Flex that power in the wrong direction, say the wrong thing, or make the wrong move (whatever that is), and the friendship strains or dissolves.

The problem when you’re friends with a leader often isn’t relational; it’s positional.

Why Pastoring Is Even Weirder: Ministry Is the Perfect Storm

I spent over two decades as a pastor in a local church. If you think leadership is weird, ministry is weirder.

Here’s why.

Ministry is the perfect storm: work, faith, and community collide.

When I was in law, those spheres of my life were more separate and clear. I worked at a law firm by day, had a church I was part of evenings and weekends and had friends from many parts of life.

When I entered full-time vocational ministry, everything melted into one.

Ministry is strange.

What you believe is also what you do. And the people you serve are also your community.

By the time you’re established as a pastor, everyone in your local circle is either someone you’re serving in ministry or someone you want to reach.

This can create many issues (for example, it can make you feel that workaholism is faithfulness—it’s not), but let’s think about the relational impact.

No one can really see you as just, well, you. You’re always the pastor.

It makes any friendships you have harder because you can’t talk about absolutely everything.

It would be inappropriate, for example, to talk to a friend in the congregation about a struggle you have with your elder board. Or discuss personnel challenges you’re having with staff with the church member you play golf with every Saturday.

Similarly, if you’re frustrated with your church, you can hardly unload that on an unchurched friend. It’s bizarre to complain about the gossip in your church to an unchurched friend and then invite him out next Sunday.

It leaves a lot of pastors feeling like they have no escape. One of the best practices I had (and still have) is to have a few friends who don’t work for me or live near me that I can talk to about anything. A good therapist is a great idea too.

Make a Different Decision and See What Happens

By now, you might be thinking that your friendships are different. They really are authentic and life-long.

Maybe. And if so, that’s awesome.

But try this. As much as you’re enjoying the relationship (as they likely are), do something associated with your position they don’t like and see what happens.

For thousands of pastors in the last two years, that kind of move dissolved the relationship.

You said the wrong thing/didn’t say something/said too much/said too little/wore a mask/didn’t wear a mask/got vaccinated/didn’t get vaccinated/opened too early/opened too late, and now they’re gone.

“I thought these people were my friends,” you complain.

Nope. You were their leader. Or they were your colleagues.

It felt like friendship. It functioned like friendship. But it wasn’t really friendship.

A genuine friendship endures when the position doesn’t.

Of course, this is really hard to see when you still hold the position. But I promise you: this dynamic happens all the time.

How to Tell Who Your Real Friends Are

The hard part is that you won’t really know who your friends are until either something happens (and they walk out) OR until you no longer hold your position.

Sigh.

I know.

The question to ask is: who will be with me when I retire/leave this position?

I asked one friend, in his forties, about this. He left a church over a decade ago where he and his wife had many friends. They literally had dozens of families they tracked with.

A decade later, they track with one couple.

That’s not to say the other relationships didn’t mean anything. They were (mostly) dependent on his position.

Last year, as I was stepping off the staff of the church I founded, I asked a wise mentor (now in his eighties) what I should prepare for.

I’ll never forget what he told me: They forget you quickly, Carey. 

At first, I didn’t want to believe him. But he’s right.

People move on. You were their leader. Now you’re not.

Several years ago, I led a church.

I remember driving to one couple’s house. It felt like we had a friendship, but from time to time, I would say to my wife, “Do you think X and Y are our friends because they’re our friends? Or do you think they’re our friends because I’m the pastor?”

I found it impossible to answer that question until recently.

In 2015, I stepped aside as Lead Pastor as part of a succession plan, but we still live in the same community and are part of the same church. Then in late 2020, I stepped back from the teaching team. In other words, I’m done in any official position.

Guess what happened to that friendship?

It’s closer than ever. It turns out they were (and are) real friends.

But sometimes, you don’t know until it’s all over.

Leaders, your friends are who’s left when you have nothing left to give other than yourself.

So, What Do You Do? 

The good news (and the hard news) is to keep making friends. I know that sounds like the opposite of this post, but it’s not.

You can’t lead in a relational desert. You have to have friends.

But – and this is a big caveat – understand the unique relationship you’ll have with people as long as you’re in leadership.

And if a friendship dissolves (and some will), you’ll know why it happened.

Understanding this dynamic,

  • Makes the grieving easier.
  • Clears the fog more easily.
  • Helps you discern what’s really happening.

Personally speaking, I’m still leading, so I’m not out of the woods yet. These days I help equip leaders. And when you have a podcast with 20 million downloads and content that gets accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month, it means that people want to be ‘friends’ with you for various reasons.

I’m not naive enough to think that when the audience goes away, or I’m no longer doing what I’m doing, that I’m going to be overwhelmed with people trying to connect with me.

I cherish professional relationships and ‘friendships,’ but I’m aware that lasting friendship is a rare gift.

Dunbar’s Number and Concentric Circles

I now process relationships using the filter I shared in my bestselling book, At Your Best: How to Get Time, Energy and Priorities Working In Your Favor. A lot of leaders have found it helpful.

British psychologist Robin Dunbar argues that humans are historically and genetically programmed to be able to handle 150 personal relationships.

He says that your limits are cognitive—they’re hardwired. Dunbar’s conclusion about the human capacity for relationships springs from the way the brain developed.

Drawing from anthropology, biology, and human history dating back to ancient Greece and Rome, Dunbar breaks down the limits of meaningful human relationships into a series of concentric circles.

 

Starting at the center circle, Dunbar suggested that you and I are hardwired for three to five true friendships—intimate relationships with people whom you have the habit of connecting with at least once a week.

You don’t even need to use your other hand to count the number of intimate friendships a human can have.

The next circle is the twelve to fifteen people he calls your “sympathy group”—friends you connect with at least once a month who share your values, interests, and often perspectives on life.  The total of twenty relationships between these first two circles is about all the people most humans can manage to truly know, said Dunbar.

But wait…I know way more people than that, you’re thinking. And you’re right.

You do “know” the names, bios, and perhaps the kids’ names of a larger group. But Dunbar maxed that number out at 150.

Not 1.5 million.
Or 1,500.
Or even 300.

Just 150.

Be very careful about who makes it into that innermost circle.  Treat them like your closest friends, and then realize everyone else plays a very important role, but not the role where everyone’s ‘your best friend’. Because they’re not. They can’t be.

Occasionally, I’ve lost friends in that 3-5 inner circle. Sometimes it’s been my fault, other times not. And it hurts.

But then there’s someone else in that middle circle who soon becomes one of your best friends.

And, by the way, I cover more in the book, but one of the reasons you feel so overwhelmed is because all those people have access to you digitally. In some cases, hundreds or thousands of people do.

In At Your Best, I share how to handle and prioritize the relationship with all those people.

The key is that the depth of the relationship should determine the depth and speed of your response to people. 

What Are You Learning About Friendship and Leadership?

I know this is a hard teaching, and I almost didn’t post it because it can be so easily misunderstood.

I hope, in the end, it helps. Honestly, it helped me love people for who they are and what they need from me.

And yes, I continue to make friends…great ones.

What are you learning about friendship and leadership?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

Why They’re Not Actually Your Friends (A Hard Truth for Pastors and Leaders)

73 Comments

  1. Charles Eldridge on January 15, 2022 at 4:25 pm

    Man, this hits really close to home. Wish I could’ve read it in January 2020.

  2. Bruce Sechrest on January 13, 2022 at 7:42 am

    I am now in my seventies…My father preached for over 50 years before he passed away. Iv been a Christian over 67 years. In the 1950’s My Dad went to Bible college to learn how to preach. On the very first day of classes, he had to stand with others and repeat this saying. All of them stood and repeated the following:

    “Brother Brown I love thee not
    I do not know why Brother Brown I love thee not
    I only know Brother Brown, I love thee not…”

    It’s taken me a lifetime of Kingdom work to understand this.. and as a servant , my understanding continues

    thank you for your article, I agree with it completely.. My father would also say “standing for Jesus will take a backbone big as a sawlog. If you could do anything else you should.”

  3. Katharine on December 28, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    Interesting read. I’ve studied friendship from a Biblical perspective and came to the conclusion that the solution is a bit simpler, at least for me. Rather than have friends or lose friends or count friends (and you introduced me to a new side-thought, the possibility to make friends) all of which can possibly lead to disappointments I cannot often avoid, I believe we ought to have the goal of BEing a friend–befriending.
    I’m rather a servant style of leader and I find joy in helping others succeed, making that phone call that causes a difference in a life, etc. They hardly know they are being lead, at all.
    Of course, I find it easier to enjoy befriending some people, than others. With some, I would never think of using any but a gentle tone; with others, if I dared allow myself to speak, it would grow ugly fast. However, each person we encounter needs the friendship of Jesus, whether they know–or want–Him at all.
    I guess I feel called to be the “Jesus” they need, to be the “only Bible they will read”, etc. If they have to move on, it does not alarm me. If I have to move on, it does not grieve me.
    I know Jesus is fully capable of meeting their needs through someone else.

    • David on January 12, 2022 at 11:29 pm

      Appreciate your take on the article.

    • Tim Carigon on January 13, 2022 at 1:04 am

      You are exactly right! I think it is kind of funny when you say your mentality comes from being a “servant style” of leader, and I would say DUH. That is the only kind of leader that is described in the Bible. I am not saying DUH to you, but you just said the key to it all. The problems mentioned in this article all stem from an unbiblical style of leadership where you carry weight/power due to a position you were given. You comment is right on. Keep being that weird “servant-style leader”. You might not get anywhere in the American church, but you certainly will in His Kingdom. ;o)

  4. Ron Fischer on December 14, 2021 at 10:54 am

    Moving from a High Tech career into ministry certainly brought this reality in front of me – real hard. Conversations change when we walk into a room (I still remember what people talked about when I wasn’t a Pastor). The hard reality that I realized some 8 years ago was this; you will always be the position – not a person. You move into a community as a position, and people won’t let go of it. When we retire in the fall of next year, We plan on moving back to Ontario where we do not plan on telling anyone what I did as a vocation – I’m a techie and teacher from the old days. Maybe we can make some friends that way. I don’t want to be a position, I want to be a person.

  5. Steve Darnall on December 10, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    I highly recommend Jim Wilder’s books about practicals of building joyful communities with deep attachment/friendship:
    “RARE Leadership”
    “The Other Half of Church”
    I am sorry for the experiences many of us have had, but before giving up on friendship with who you lead, please at least what these books detail. With their focus at work and church we get to partner with God as He develops discipleship with friendship.

  6. jimi dowds on December 10, 2021 at 6:22 pm

    brilliant article indeed –
    so many folks saying how much there life was disrupted by others
    having led many leaders for 40 years in many nations

    the most helpful thing i came across was “‘disrupt the hell out of yourself first thing every day before anything or anyone gets a chance “

    then all that matters is being the best friend to Jesus you can and letting everything else come out in the wash

  7. Victoria Riollano on December 9, 2021 at 7:42 pm

    THIS IS SO REAL!
    I love what TD Jakes says.
    Some people are a part of what you are a part of.
    Some are for what you are for.
    Some are against what you are against.
    Few are for YOU!
    I have learned it being on a church leader side and now being the co-pastor of a church in Virginia. Losing a “friend” hurts when you feel like you’ve poured your heart in. I try hard to keep myself from building a wall to let no one in AND call all interactions “just ministry.” Relationships are definitely a challenge. My heart is to just love people well and allow relationships to come and go organically.

  8. David Simmons on December 9, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    Great reflections. I did my DMin dissertation on the pastor’s friendships, in part to process why I lost so many painful friendships in the pastorate. Friendship are very utilitarian in church (i.e. Aristotle’s political friendships), so it’s ripe for disappointment when you take a leadership stand. The need for vulnerability in authentic friendship stands in conflict with pastoral position, as you’ve pointed out, so deep friendship is very difficult when you are a person’s pastor. When people gain a friendship with us, in some ways, they lose a pastor. That’s why the friendship of David and Jonathan is so important. David was a “needy” friend (as are most pastors). Jonathan had to give up everything (power, leadership, etc.) to be David’s friend. Very few people are able to be that for their pastor.

  9. Ben Thomas on December 8, 2021 at 11:49 pm

    Another way to think about this is who are:

    Acquaintances

    Associates

    Allies

    The reality is we’ll have a few allies, people who we do life with and can dive deep with. Most others are acquaintances, people who we met but don’t really know, or associates, people we work with, work for or interact with because of work. If work wasn’t there, would we know them?

    Thanks for the article Carey

  10. Rev. David Cyril Marlatt on December 8, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    I think in the end, most of the people we pastor or have as potential won’t know it until after we’ve laid down our lives for them.

  11. David Teague on December 8, 2021 at 12:18 am

    C’mon guys…..it’s NEVER supposed to be about your or me or us!! Jesus needs those people to see HIM in us…..we are supposed to be almost invisible if we are close to the Lord….they will ONLY SEE HIM !! When they pull away or no longer need us they are showing that they NO LONGER NEED OR LOVE THE LORD. Nothing personal about it.

    No doubt it makes the Lord sad…..how many millions of times has he watched all of us pull away and fade out of his presence for so many different reasons. Watch The Chosen……gauge all the people clamoring to be close to Jesus….what he might be able to do for them, love them like no one else can.

    We have to be JUST LIKE JESUS…..We have to Love them even they are have tossed us away and we are no longer importantant to them just as JESUS is no longer important to them. Even if they say he is…..Do as Jesus does, FORGIVE THEM AND CONTINUE TO LOVE THEM. That is the true test of your Faith and Love for the Lord. forgive them even when they let you down just like Jesus forgives us when we let HIM down.

    The secret is to learn to be a piece of CLEAR GLASS…..WHERE ALL THEY CAN SEE IS HIM….NOT YOU OR YOUR FEELINGS, ETC. JUST HIM !!

    LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE IN HIM EVEN WHEN THEY ALL SAY WE DON’T NEED OR WANT HIS LIGHT !!

    • JK on December 9, 2021 at 6:54 am

      Please don’t forget pastors are people and God created us with needs and feelings, too. Even Jesus had close friends.

      • LAL on January 15, 2022 at 7:12 pm

        👍 yes

  12. Darrell Roland on December 7, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    So true. After serving at my first church for 15+ years, I addressed sin with a LP and lost many friends. Even those my wife and I considered our kids and closest of friends. Tough truths to believe, but if we don’t we risk the danger of becoming disenchanted with Jesus’ church. Stay strong and embrace hard truths from trusted sources.

  13. jimi dowds on December 7, 2021 at 1:45 pm

    “ no one pastors a church anymore you pastor a parade “

    Rick Warren

    hold everything and everyone so lightly that the pain is much less than it needs to be

  14. Jeremy Scudder on December 7, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    Wow! Timely. Thanks so much Carey.

  15. Robert R. Buchanan on December 7, 2021 at 11:39 am

    You’re likely to get lots of comments! I’d been a lead pastor for 35 years and now am an associate. It is true that if you move from one church to another — either by God’s leading or you’re forced out (sometimes by God’s leading and good design, other times, not so much), people will forget about you. All of this is true for the pastor’s wife and children, too. It’s a great blessing to have some friends remain over the years, but ministry is still a service of sacrifice — sometimes of family (moving away) and friends coming and going during certain times of life. They needed you and frankly, you needed them. Just keep loving them, thanking God for them and lean on the Lord and the inner circle he provides.

  16. Drew on December 7, 2021 at 10:03 am

    Blown away more by the comments than by the article. What this tells me is that whether you are a pastor, a ministry leader or just a parishioner we have a lot to learn about our limits and genuine Christ-infused relationships. Jesus called his disciples friends at the last supper and yet they all but 1 deserted Him, Judas turned on Him. You have to know how to process the hurt. This article is helpful because it reminds us of the fragility and need of deep human connection, that we are all broken and that most relationships are more transactional than friendship. I too have been burned by lots of people, and unfortunately burned others. I don’t have an unrealistic view of people, but I have learned to forgive others deeply and ask for forgiveness. I’ve learned to guard against resentment and bitterness and continue to learn to grow in my love for others, to sacrifice for others and receive from others. I’ve learned to keep building and build better relationships. And mostly to keep trying. Thanks Carey for your honesty and perspective. Sometimes just knowing the reality of our limits helps us lead and love better. God is bigger but He also designed us to need Him and others and work within that design. Don’t give up, let Him show us how to remain in His love.

  17. Ruby O'Dent on December 7, 2021 at 8:30 am

    My husband has been a pastor for over twenty years, and he shared this article with me. Frankly, I think a pastor who looks to the congregation as his/her source for friendships is a fool. I watched a seminary friend and his wife do this and be badly burned.

    From the very beginning of my husband’s ministry, we’ve never, ever made friends with anyone in the churches he serves. We are friendly, and we can genuinely enjoy some of the parishioners’ company, but we never forget that they can–and sometimes do–turn on a pastor in a heartbeat. They can be surprisingly vicious and dishonest, and they can be unwilling to stand up for their pastor “friend” during an attack. When this happened to my husband, we both were relieved we hadn’t lost any friendships along with the church because we hadn’t made any friends there to begin with. We had our outside friendships for support during that awful time.

    A pastor who’s emotionally involved in the form of a friendship with a parishioner is less effective as a pastor to that person because they come to know each other far too well on a personal level. A pastor can lose a church member friend yet still have to frequently face that person, and loss, at the church, reopening old wounds. It’s far healthier for both pastors and congregations when the pastor’s friends are not connected to the church in any way. Our friends come from the broader community we live in–dancing groups, interfaith organizations, book clubs, other pastors and their families from our own and other denominations, neighbors who aren’t in the church, our cousins, our college, grad school, and seminary friends.

    I recommend the “mean sheep” books by Dennis R. Maynard. The first is When Sheep Attack. I also strongly second Carey’s suggestion to lean on a therapist, regardless of what is or isn’t going on in the church at the moment. That’s where a pastor–and the rest of the pastor’s family–can safely unload their grievances about church members, committees, staff, and anything else and get unbiased, professional guidance for how to reframe a situation and come up with strategies for working with it. Sometimes you have to try a few therapists before you find one who’s the right fit, but it’ll pay off in the end.

    • DJ on December 7, 2021 at 10:42 am

      Very well said. Thank you for the counsel.

  18. PM on December 7, 2021 at 2:05 am

    Worked in ministry my whole life and amazed at the complete lack of self awareness for many pastors. Treating staff terribly, narcissistic, all under the premise of leadership. They don’t understand why people leave, or don’t want to be near them. Think Michael Scott as Pastor.

    • Susan Raymer on December 7, 2021 at 8:26 am

      Ty for this article… same true for pastors wives!! I’ll never forget that first crushing blow of the loss of one of my church, “friends” who left the church and didn’t call or return my texts for months. I was heart broken! I kept myself from forming more intimate relationships for a while after that, but so missed it! Now I risk it, and it’s worth it. There are seasons in life with people and that’s ok. I will focus to love well the best I can!

    • Anonymous on December 8, 2021 at 12:25 pm

      Yep. I was an elder at a church where one of my best friends became lead pastor. When my wife and I brought up issues we saw that needed to be addressed, we were gaslit and told we were just seeing things. My wife worked for the church and our friend who was her boss began to use spiritual abuse to shut her down. Because of a lack of humility from him/others in leadership we decided we had to leave. I owned everything I could in our last meeting to try and salvage our friendship, but he has only spoken to me once in 18 months. We have tried to get our kids together and have a few times, but lately we have been shut down. This isn’t a one way street where pastors are being mistreated by friends. Many times, it is the pastor doing the mistreating.

      • Melissa on December 10, 2021 at 4:09 pm

        I can relate. I’m sorry you’re going through this.

  19. Tony on December 7, 2021 at 1:18 am

    Thanks so much Carey. I read. I wept. Thanks for making sense of it for me.

  20. Lisa on December 6, 2021 at 10:56 pm

    Haha… This doesn’t just go in that direction. We were a part of a church for a decade, both as high-level volunteers, and I was even on staff as an assistant for a time when we moved last year. We grew in this church, and God used it to change our marriage and our lives. But in the last 15 months since that move, people I considered life-long, through and through friends, many of whom were on staff as pastors and leaders, have dropped us, even though we have done our best to maintain friendships with them. It’s hurtful when life must take you away from your community, but there’s always one side that tries a little (or a lot) less than the other.

    • Anonymous on December 8, 2021 at 12:27 pm

      We have a similar experience. For many pastors, “friendships” are transactional.

  21. Tim Henshaw on December 6, 2021 at 10:24 pm

    a goo d article, Carey. Unfortunately, this is always a two way street. As an elder in the church, I felt it was my responsibility to support and encourage the pastors and to champion the ministry. I have found a lot of pastors and churches to be “user friendly”, as long as you are willing to be used, they are friendly. Having moved from a mainline denomination after I came to faith in Jesus, I was so encouraged as I believed the pastor of that church was the first man I had met who actually believed in what he was doing. I was in a stage of rapid spiritual growth and learned a lot from this man but in the end, I was nothing more than a giving unit to him. I left that church and was welcomed to another. I had a great interest in prayer and prayer ministry and was so pleased that a pastor also had the same passion. Only later did I learn that I was the facilitator of that pastor’s doctoral project on prayer. Twice bitten, 3 times shy

    • Lisa on December 6, 2021 at 10:58 pm

      I can relate to your experience. Unfortunately, many who are pastors in the church use the people who so faithfully and willingly serve them.

    • DJ on December 7, 2021 at 10:52 am

      Yes. Church-Hurt is real. From, and To the pastor’s; as well as From, and To the parishioners.

      • DJ on December 7, 2021 at 10:53 am

        pastors

    • Anonymous on December 8, 2021 at 12:30 pm

      I’ve had a similar experience and I wish Carey had discussed that side of it in this article. This will be used by some pastors to justify their own behavior towards others. Many are very good at playing the victim.

    • Dan on December 10, 2021 at 8:52 am

      Tim, thank you for your post. What you said about being nothing more than a “giving unit” really spoke to me as a pastor. I never want people in my church to feel like that is all there are to me. It was a great reminder that we has pastor’s need to be careful not to take advantage or abuse the people we are called to lead.

      • Melissa on December 10, 2021 at 4:29 pm

        In my more cynical, burned-out moments as a church leadership volunteer, I’ve thought that the whole model of church is messed up. At worst, it’s a way for a minister to earn a living by leveraging free labor. I felt that way because I gave too much – I’m a housewife that could and did volunteer my full-time effort. I also felt that way because ministers would get frustrated and angry when they couldn’t squeeze more out of the standard 20% of people who were doing 80% of the work. For a small church, where a Minister must grow the congregation in order to make a comfortable living, I can see that it would be a massive temptation to get frustrated if, for example, the volunteer Music Director set boundaries like not being willing to learn new songs and teach them to the band with only 24 hours notice. Or provide the music for all the creative ideas for special events that the Minister comes up with. If the living wage that you’re not yet making is dependent on getting volunteers to offer more services to the wider community, that’s a situation ripe for frustration and even abuse.

        Now, all of this is coming from that burned-out place that is stripped of any spirituality or sense of mission. It’s a stripped-down-to-the-bone, least charitable way of looking at it. But I think sometimes an extreme example can provide clarity. This is an example of how an over-worked volunteer (my own fault) can feel.

        It’s heartening to hear a Pastor express the desire not to fall into this type of trap. Bless you.

  22. Ranjit Rodrigues on December 6, 2021 at 9:35 pm

    Thank you for this post, Carey. It helped me to understand & process the pain of lost friendships. You blog has been incredibly valuable over the last 2 years. Both your books have been so helpful too. God bless you always and keep going – you are a blessing to the nations; even to us here in India.

  23. jimi dowds on December 6, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    to be brutally honest I am loving the fact that most forget quickly as it frees me up to do the two things that’s been neglected most of my days – enjoying my own company and lots of time to enjoy loads of new connections

  24. Craig Huizenga on December 6, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    “They will never forget you toll somebody new comes along”. Even for those who stay with you through thick and thin you still have to ask yourself, ” Are they worshiping me or God?”

  25. Verna Ratzlaff on December 6, 2021 at 5:45 pm

    Very interesting points here – We are non-pastor people who have moved to various provinces and communities throughout our life – We thought we were life-long friends with several pastors and their wives but once we moved and attempted to stay connected – we were let go. I guess they were too busy with their current “ministries” to stay friends.

  26. Lee Heyward on December 6, 2021 at 5:13 pm

    I deeply appreciated your words snd seasoned wisdom in this post.

    Thanks for boldly saying where few dare to tread!

    Lee Heyward

  27. Sue Wilson on December 6, 2021 at 3:38 pm

    Carey – I have been a minister’s wife for 45 years. I was kid love to hear from your work de and her perspective in this. I have lost so many ‘friends’ because they were upset at my husband’s decisions or our leadership team’s decisions. My heart has been broken over and over again because of the loss of friends. I am to the point of never wanting to serve again on a local Church. Give me Jesus Only but forget the church politics. I’m done.

  28. Tim Claus on December 6, 2021 at 3:20 pm

    Most the folks we need are aquaintances, co-workers, etc. I put very few people in the friend category, and those are folks I have close, long term relationships with. Some of my family members don’t fall in the friends category.

  29. Janis on December 6, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    This also explains why friends that ministers have outside of their congregation, or before they were ministers, are so critical to their mental well-being. Thanks for saying this to succinctly.

  30. Gabe on December 6, 2021 at 1:07 pm

    Carey,
    Your wisdom and experience is helpful, and you’re clearly a good communicator. I think you may connect even better if you would “tone down” how often you tell us how many downloads/followers/etc. you have. I find it distracting to the important message you are bringing.

  31. Susan on December 6, 2021 at 11:55 am

    Carey,
    This article is sorely needed and so appreciated.

    I love making friends as a pastor, but it feels like I’ve had to learn to hold back a piece of my heart for all the reasons you describe. I feel like I always put more stock in my relationships than others. They matter to me. If I love you, I love you forever.

    I had a close friend/congregant (or so I thought) who just abruptly stopped talking to me. I texted several times over time, called, and even sent an email asking for the opportunity to clear the air. No response. Nothing. Nada.

    I have grieved the loss of this person for months. I’d rather be cussed out than ghosted. So, I’m left to ponder the worst possible scenarios (that I create) in my head. Taking the blame on myself even though I don’t even know what I did wrong. I get little reminders of this loss all the time, and I just keep turning to Jesus for comfort. Knowing I’ve been here before and knowing Jesus is a healer.

    We served together for years and this person was by far the church’s biggest cheerleader. Called the church their family- over and over. It’s interesting that the church members who remain don’t know what to do with this either. Nor do I.

    I wonder if those who toss friendships away even think about the impact on the other people at the church they professed to love?
    The pain it causes pastors? The impact it makes on the children involved?

    I had someone tell me this once: “They don’t love you as much as you think they do, but they don’t hate you as much as you think they do either.” Praying this is true.

    Thank you again, Carey. You vocalize things we don’t dare say.

    • Melissa on December 10, 2021 at 4:35 pm

      You never know – sometimes something that happens with one person in a congregation can be so painful that the person can’t bear any reminder of the congregation at all.

  32. Jeffrey Rickards on December 6, 2021 at 11:18 am

    I still remember that time when a couple in the church I served left me feeling bewildered and bereft. Living away from family and friends this couple we had befriended filled a void and a need. Painfully l learned that as a pastoral leader the church was where I served not here personal needs are to be met. Ministry is done through relationship and not friendship. It is not about me. I learned
    to cultivate friendships outside the church. Now that I am now retired my friendship network treats me as a person and not just a pastor. In my years of conducting funerals I in the end it is your family and true friends who are at your deathbedside and graveside.

    the

    • Nelfa on December 6, 2021 at 1:20 pm

      “The church was where I served not here personal needs are met.” So we’ll said. Thank you, Jeffrey!

  33. Janice Snyder on December 6, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Yes! Keep making friends, and more importantly, keep making friends with people younger than you. When I worked in Spiritual Life ministry at a Lutheran nursing home, that’s the best advice one of the frail elderly residents gave to me. “Look around”, she said. “All of my friends are dead. The best thing you can do for a happier future than I have is to make friends with younger folks. They’ll keep you young, and keep you up-to-date with technology and pop culture. And in return, you can mentor a new generation of people who are looking for meaning.” My husband and I are in our 60s and active in life, work, and in our church. We are blessed to still have friends in their 70s and 80s (people who mentored us) and now, we’re reciprocating friendship to a range of people in their 20s to 50s. It’s a happy thing. We laugh a LOT and have learned to appreciate craft beer. 🙂

  34. Bob on December 6, 2021 at 10:40 am

    After 42 years of ministry, in five different churches (the current one for 25 years), all I can say to young pastors is this article is spot on. Enjoy people while they are a part of your life, love people fully, never use anyone and let go easily. But be encouraged. I just spent 2 days golfing with a friend of 40 plus years.

  35. C on December 6, 2021 at 10:39 am

    I often wonder if something is wrong with me that I cannot see. I understand this article and the comments but I also understand that life changes, circumstances change, seasons change, people change. Initially it makes me sad when things change and relationships seem to fizzle but I don’t get heartbroken about it. Am I calloused? I don’t think so??? I don’t despise the people that I lose touch with. I still love them. And I don’t dwell on the loss. I consider myself to be a pretty fiercely loyal person and once I love you, I will love you forever but I realize that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will hang out and do life together all the time or even some of the time. And that doesn’t mean I will LIKE everything you do. And I think that’s ok. You probably won’t like everything I do either.:) I just look at it as a chapter in the story closing but a new one is beginning and who is to say that somewhere in the book the characters won’t meet again and if not that’s ok too. I do not, at all, intend to criticize anyone, just truly curious about a blinder I may have and genuinely just want to encourage anyone who is wounded by others. We are all sinners bound to disappoint each other at some point but when our hope is ordered properly in Christ first we can get through any disappointments in this life.

    • Steve Darnall on December 6, 2021 at 10:57 am

      “When I was in law, those spheres of my life were more separate and clear. I worked at a law firm by day, had a church I was part of evenings and weekends and had friends from many parts of life.”
      Sometime it might be good to explore this more – my friends involved internationally are getting more involved in developing bivocational/non paid staff pastors. They’re seeing good fruit in learning how not to have the spheres separate – one movement has seen so much growth in discipleship they now require full time paid staff to take unpaid sabbaticals (~1 year in 5 or 6) where they work secular jobs.
      It is similar to where my professor friends would take sabbatical from teaching to go work in their fields (i.e. education professors would go teach Jr. High) and administrators would work the front lines (when I was hired as a director of tech support I started by spending time on the help desk phones, and with pc and server teams).

  36. Steve Darnall on December 6, 2021 at 10:30 am

    Thank you, Carey.
    I’ve been in leadership in church, business, education and public universities including being hired as department/team optimizer (fixer when necessary).
    The tendency to formal mindset versus relational leaves many execs without true friendship because they did not know how to interested in the people around them. They “cared about” them – but we’re not “interested in them” – or did not know how to show it. When team members experientially know you are interested in them, drawing out their insights, vision, dreams, plans etc. it is way easier to build friendships. I still meet with people (in person or online) outside our mutual org. structure who I led years, even decades, back. They were close friends then and still are today. My observance is many pastors, execs and other leaders don’t know how to be friends with people in their org because subtle formal or top-down mindsets affect them in big ways. So the lack of friendships may not be just about the people – it could be the way we see discipleship/leadership development.

  37. B. Bentley on December 6, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Good words Mike. I’m going to copy them down. Thanks

  38. B. Bentley on December 6, 2021 at 10:20 am

    A wake up call I needed for the years ahead of me. Thank you

  39. Mike on December 6, 2021 at 10:09 am

    I’m 4 1/2 years into my first lead pastor role.
    I followed the founder of the church who returned a decade earlier to rescue and revitalize it.
    The transition went really well. We doubled in attendance and had a breakthrough in finances.
    Then covid and the great scattering.
    Here in Fl churches are open with little to no restrictions but the polarization and fear has taken its toll on all of us.
    This is a lonely road.
    The commitment of many was very dim Pre covid.
    The love of many has waxed cold.
    The metrics and the methods have all been swept aside.
    When I am quiet with The Lord I hear this again and again.
    “ If you will make the secret place with me the priority of your life. I will give you everything you need. I will resource you. I will provide for you. I will surround you with right people.”
    Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
    All the disciples ran when trouble hit.
    Paul was all but abandoned in prison.
    The cross is a lonely place.
    We need the resources of heaven brothers.
    I submit this with humility as a beginner trying to fight through my own insecurities… trying to hear God… trying to lead in difficult days…
    Praying for Pastors not to quit.
    A great voice in my life said “ You’re never happier than when you’re doing the work of The Lord”

    • B. Bentley on December 6, 2021 at 10:23 am

      Good words Mike. I’m going to copy them down. Thanks

    • JP on December 6, 2021 at 3:02 pm

      This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • Queen Esther on December 9, 2021 at 2:44 pm

      This is very deep Mike. Answers come from the secret place.

  40. Bill Mugford on December 6, 2021 at 10:03 am

    Carey:

    I recently had the privilege of drawing together about 15 clergy for whom I have been blessed to be responsible. The retreat featured each participant telling his/her story, and I was deeply impressed with the substantial intertwining of my colleagues’ lives.

    At an evening session, one of our younger guys told his story, then ended with the following statement, “As I look around tonight, I realize that the people around this circle have become family.”

    Thinking about the really healthy, enduring and growing relationships I had observed over the years – which have included everything from honest truth-telling to extraordinary comfort (not that these are mutually exclusive) – I could not help but think about numerous times their shared activities and experiences have borne credible testimony to that “family” dynamic.

    BTW. We have recently had new clergy join our region, and I am watching them begin to be authentically included.

    It seems that we are all being given a rare and unusual gift, for which I am very grateful and want to cultivate.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful and courageous article!

    Gratefully,

    Bill

  41. George on December 6, 2021 at 10:02 am

    So timely, especially with the holidays. Many of those people we thought were friends and expected to return are not coming back. And try as we might to think that we can move on from those relationships, the pain is still there and still raw.
    So while I’m trying to think I’ve let them go, those closest are the hardest, deepest pain.

  42. Teresa on December 6, 2021 at 9:50 am

    Wow. This answers so very many questions.

  43. Christopher Pineau on December 6, 2021 at 9:49 am

    I only half jokingly say these days that I don’t have friends, I have co-workers. Because I distrust other humans in general so much (on grounds they always will only serve themselves above all and abandon most everybody in the crunch) that I don’t even bother associating with people outside of work, other than my gaming group who I convene with online weekly. Call me negative, but that’s consistently been my experience with other people throughout the majority of my life, to the point where I may as well be the Frankenstein Monster, I sometimes think. I get along famously with my bosses at work, but do I spend time with them outside work? No. They’re my bosses and they have lives of their own, and plus? Being in tight with the boss outside work makes it more difficult for them to do their job where you’re concerned. The diagram you included made all the sense in the world and made me think “That explains everything. I’ve never been someone’s “best friend” that I can think of offhand, not for decades anyway, and it just makes me not want to even bother trying anymore. Don’t get me started on how much of a minefield dating is these days for us single men, either. It’s just me and Him, now.

    • Melissa on December 10, 2021 at 4:46 pm

      St. Therese of Lisieux had a life in which she was so mistreated and so isolated that she found a way to use this to deepen her relationship with Jesus. With the total absence of anyone who really understood her, the understanding of Jesus showed up so much more clearly.

      Abraham Lincoln said, “I’ve often been driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”

  44. Damian Schoonmaker on December 6, 2021 at 9:45 am

    The pain of what you’re talking about, Carey, is at times almost incomprehensible. It’s only by God’s grace that we endure, I think.
    Thanks for giving voice to this. It should be required reading for all new ministers. I’m going to make sure my staff and interns read it!

  45. Howard Burke, EdD,DRE on December 6, 2021 at 9:18 am

    Well stated. Fact is we refer to many as friends but even after decades of ministry once the position has ceased and regardless of the untold accomplishments; life transformations through salvation, baptism, & their discipleship; you find it was really more of a mutual acquaintance with blessed benefits, than a lifelong friendship.

  46. Reynaldo on December 6, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I love what the former elder pastor reply. They will forget you quickly. That is so true.

  47. Tom on December 6, 2021 at 9:03 am

    Carey, I appreciated this post. Reflecting on more than three decades of ministry. Most of my “friends” haven’t continued the relationships after I left the place of ministry. I am a United Methodist Pastor and moving is in our DNA. Over the years there is one couple and two individuals who call to inquire how I am doing and to whom I feel I can be honest. It truly is a lonely profession.

  48. Duane Boyett on December 6, 2021 at 8:51 am

    Very Helpful
    Thanks so much

  49. Ken McBride on December 6, 2021 at 8:50 am

    Hi Carey
    Thanks for this post. I retired (or as I prefer to say was Refired) four years ago. I led a mid sized church of around 600 families for 32 years. I refer to a pastor’s position as ‘transactional’ in the sense that we clergy are parachuted into a community we usually don’t know, when we are ‘hired’ to lead/pastor. When that relationship changes and there is a new incumbent, ‘former’ friends get caught up with getting to know the new kid on the block. The king is dead, long live the king is the order of the day.
    Still I have been surprised at how few really keep connecting with us, especially my wife and partner whose friends I thought weren’t on the same basis as mine – I was wrong!
    I don’t think what you say is a huge surprise. Everyone else in the church apart from staff, choose to live in the community you minister in; recognise they can invest as permanently as they want in the community and largely know they can outlast even a long term clergyman like myself.
    The good news is that having more time has enabled my wife and I to invest more in family, and having joined a new church, we are building new friendships. We realise the people we now live amongst may join us in the local care home if that need arises! So we thank God for new areas to serve Him in, and new friends who are not transactional but primarily relational.
    Ken McBride from Newcastle, Northern Ireland

    • Kevin Casterline on December 6, 2021 at 9:50 am

      I guess that means in order to have “friends” I must continually be making them as well as playing my part in keeping some of them who are interested. I wonder how many people on the other side think I’m not interested in continuing the friendship but they wish I was…maybe none, but theres only one way to know for sure I guess…try.

  50. Chad Allen on December 6, 2021 at 7:57 am

    Carey, thank you for this timely post. I was leading in one church for over 20 years and have been in a lead pastor role in my current church for 10years. You put to words a reality I’ve been experiencing these last couple of years. I find your thoughts accurate, insightful and helpful. The pain is real, and the hope is real. Thanks for your encouragement and insights!

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