By Mark Dance
Last week one of my very best friends lost a 10-year battle with dementia. I was not only Jim’s hunting and fishing buddy, but also his pastor for a decade.
Some believe and teach that pastors shouldn’t befriend church members, which has unfortunately become one of the most dangerous and unbiblical myths in ministry.
Pastors who attempt to do life and ministry alone are in grave danger of falling short of their finish line. Yet many are being encouraged to do just that.
With that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that pastors are among the loneliest people in our churches.
More than half (55%) of pastors say being in ministry makes them feel lonely at times, according to one Lifeway Research survey.
Here are four reasons why this ministry myth is so dangerous.
1. This myth confuses friendship with favoritism.
So many pastors serve in isolation because they’re sincerely trying to avoid practicing favoritism. If we confuse friendship with favoritism, we fall prey to Satan’s dangerous isolation trap.
Pray for discernment before you accept artificial, unbiblical relationship categories that can lead to loneliness.
My closest friends have been staff, members, and leaders of the churches I’ve pastored. It’s not that I’m blind to the authority of the pastor’s office as much as I see church members as family, not just employees and volunteers.
2. This myth fuels our desire for approval.
I talk to pastors almost daily who carry burdens alone because they’re afraid to share them with their church members.
Most aren’t so much afraid of getting fired as they are being pitied. Men thrive on respect, and so we hold onto it too long sometimes.
“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
At the end of Romans, Paul mentions 33 people by name who helped him in his ministry. I’ve lost count of all the Aarons and Hurs (Exodus 17:12-13) who’ve held up my arms while I was pastoring, parenting, or just staying vertical.
3. This myth overestimates our abilities.
If you don’t have a close friend in your life from your church, you’re missing out, or worse—burning out.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you’… the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:21, 25-26).
Preaching about the interdependent members of the body of Christ is much easier than practicing it, but it’s well worth the effort.
4. This myth underestimates the dangers of isolation.
Popular South Carolina pastor and author Perry Noble was terminated in 2015, primarily for alcohol abuse, which he attributes in part to isolation.
My #1 mistake—I chose isolation over community. I was a hypocrite—I preached, ‘You can’t do life alone,’ and then went out and lived the opposite. Yes, the Scriptures do say we should seek solitude from time to time. However, solitude is refreshing, isolation is destructive. Isolation is where self-pity dominated my thinking, thus justifying my abuse of alcohol” (Church Leaders, October 2016).
Church friendships have become guardrails for me against isolation, loneliness, and spiritual erosion.
Whenever you face the inevitable challenges of life and ministry, please remember your sacred siblings are as called to help you as you are called to help them.
“For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother” (Philemon 1:7).