9 Pastor’s Safeguards from Dangerous Friendships

As shepherds of Jesus’ flock, we sometimes overlook the need for a bit of self-protection. Some friends are better than others—some friendships are dangerous (aside from sexual temptations).


Some are more pronounced in smaller churches, especially in newly planted congregations but all merit a look. Here’s the deal; there are people who long to control you!


My wife and I parachuted into our first church plant when I was 25. For a while, we had friends only on Sundays as we knew no one in the immediate community, and our initial members were freeway Christians, driving several miles to our small campus. Loneliness rendered us vulnerable to a few new “friends” harboring hidden agendas.


Several motivations can beget malevolent friendships: Personal insecurity. A longing to satisfy an unfulfilled calling through another person. One issue stems from pastors trying to build friendships hoping to manipulate boards, etc. There are many sources, but control is the issue.


So let’s look at safeguards and protective solutions as we look to strengthen leaders in what can be a lonely job.


1 The $50 Handshake


Early into our church planting adventure, I got the $50 handshake three times—well, twice at $50, and one guy low-balled at $20. The first couple sucked me in, as did the lovely flowers a woman donated (before trashing those “dirty hippies” who were the bulk of the congregation).


These people warmed me up to gain control over our baby church.


I eventually learned to reject strangers bearing gifts after some meaningful struggles. The worse were the guys who had graduated from a ministry training school but never followed their call any further. And there were always insecure individuals who lived under a need to control others. Whatever the reason, beware of new people greeting you with money or dinner in restaurants where you couldn’t otherwise afford to eat.


2 Too Tight with Board or Staff


I’ve witnessed this one in others. It is a pastor befriending influential people within a congregation in an attempt to manipulate a board. Not good! Sow dishonesty and reap the reward. The same goes for cozying up to wealthy individuals to access their generosity.


Sometimes too close a relationship with staff members can backfire (again, this is not about sex—that’s a topic for another blog). One pastor going through deep water bared his soul to one man and two women on his staff. He shared nothing that you or I wouldn’t. The problem was that these people gained personal meaning and a sense of control as his go-to people. When the pain disappeared, they couldn’t stand the idea that he was no longer needy and they were not so needed. They turned against him, even attempting to twist his earlier revelations to their advantage.


3 Peers Turn to Pressure


I love pastoral peer groups but won’t allow them veto power over my life. Again this is not my story but one I’ve witnessed. A leader opens up to a group of local pastors during a time of weakness. He later passes through the waters, but they begin to attack his decisions on higher ground.


Love and support are one thing. Veto power is not part of that equation. Any idea that suggests you owe someone control because they supported you in deep water is evil. There is wisdom in a multitude (or handful) of counselors, but we’re talking counselors, not controllers.


4 Denominational Turnabout


Leadership is a lonely business. Truman’s motto, “The buck stops here,” is as isolating as it is relevant. Denominations exist to support churches and pastors.


I’ve learned to turn to denominational leadership for support in times of turmoil. I’ve also learned to measure my openness. What you share in private has a way of becoming public and bent when you and where you least expect it. The advice is simple—only speak in a closet, whatever you wouldn’t mind hearing shouted from the housetops or appearing in writing under a denominational letterhead.


5 Healthy Measured Friendships


Build your deeper friendships outside your congregation’s power structures. Don’t disdain friendships with board members or your staff. But it would be best if you respected the purpose of those relationships. They are not positioned to be your best friends, though a close friend may enter one of those roles.


You must disciple your staff. Discipling your team is a primary responsibility. But remember that you are their boss, which is a special kind of relationship. You may need to discipline or even fire a team member. The wrong sort of friendship could render that impossible. And there are some things you need to keep to yourself and your family.


6 Reconnect with a Mentor


Most of us got into ministry pretty well sponsored by a mentor. Time and task take their toll on mentoring relationships. If you struggle with loneliness as the key leader in your congregation, it will bless you and your mentor if you rekindle the relationship. And they’ve certainly earned your trust. I’ve done this well, and I haven’t. When I did, life was better for them and me. However, life’s daily grind caused me to only reconnect with a couple of meaningful pillars in my life via their funerals. Just saying…



7 Join a Group Where You’re Not the Leader


Join a group of learners outside your church. A peer group focused on mutual learning works well, as joint participation provides constructive support. Take a class at an adult school or enroll, even audit, a course in a local junior college. Besides, studying something not ministry-related will benefit you and might even enrich your preaching.


8 Walk Across the Street


Do you know the first names of three neighbors on either side of your home and the corresponding six across the street? Doing so will aid evangelism, but we’re discussing loneliness as pastors. You need to know some people who are nonbelievers. I value friendship with agnostics and even a couple of people who are hateful toward the gospel. We’re not talking deep dark secrets in those cases, but keeping company aside from church is healthy and balancing. Inevitable conversations about God with nonbelievers can toss buckets of cold water over our most cherished prejudices. Balance is good, and outsiders are good sources of it.


9 Seek Counseling


If you feel alone and have no healthy alternatives, please seek help from a pastoral counseling ministry. If none are available locally, search online.


Leading a congregation is an isolating job. There is no way for that to change other than through healthy relationships with people who may never quite fully understand what you feel. Of course, your spouse should be your closest friend. Beyond that, the magic ingredient is authenticity. After developing a slow friendship with another pastor, he eventually told me that it felt good to know that I wouldn’t judge him if he let out a curse word or two. There was wisdom in his observation.


For more on this check the Equippers Library tab in the menu.



1 thought on “9 Pastor’s Safeguards from Dangerous Friendships”

  1. Pastor I read this and remembered that I don’t know the names of my neighbors. I was out side trying to remove weeds. A lady older than me came across the street. She kinda snuck up on me as I was turning around I was caught off guard. Oh hey how are you I chattered. She in her broken english said she had a weedwacker i could use for my weeds. I smiled and said thank you. But her real motive was not my weeds!! She had a need! See, we live in los padres national forest, her need was more than I could handle. She had a 500 pound bear dead in her back yard. I skeptical said are you sure its dead? Oh yes she said. I asked if I could go see. After all seeing is believing right! I headed home. What will she do? Who will she call? In this process I made calls , but what I didn’t know was the friends I made along the way. All the way up to fish n game. I made friends. But what we didn’t know!!! Was the bear was still alive barely hanging on to his life. The Lord provided for my neighbor I did not even know her name. The process of this I made a new neighbor for a friend. Got to have a women tea party with my manager, met a writer who helps people write and publish books. And got to meet fish n game in my area. God friendships “friends God bring to you” that just make your day more positive. Love your neighbors, even if you don’t know there names.

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