Cultivating friendships with those outside of the faith requires vulnerability, authenticity, and patience but can be rewarding in our lives.
By Jacob Lewis
Last year, I was struck by a particular set of statistics from Lifeway Research regarding pastors struggling with feelings of loneliness. According to Lifeway Research’s Greatest Needs of Pastors study, more than 1 in 4 pastors (28%) say loneliness or lack of friendship is a mental challenge they face in ministry. But many acknowledge the significance of having close relationships with others.
As a pastor, I see myself in that statistic. So, I encourage pastors to seek out other pastors and build strong friendships that sustain and encourage those in ministry positions. But I’d also like to consider the impact friendships outside the church have on the life of a pastor.“One danger of long-term ministry is how quickly pastors can become insulated from the ‘outside world.’” — Jacob Lewis Click To Tweet
One danger of long-term ministry is how quickly pastors can become insulated from the “outside world.” Much of our time is devoted to working in and serving the church. Especially in an active church, our interactions can become limited to the spheres of church and family.
Personal engagement in the community
It’s important to consider the impact we have on our community—outside of those spheres of family and church. What kind of relationships do we have with our neighbors? What type of interactions do we have with the community outside of church? As a pastor, it’ll be easy to fall into the mindset that your work begins and ends in a church context. We must continually remind ourselves that our pastoral ministry extends to those outside our typical field of ministry and make the effort to invest in relationships with them.
In 2022, trust in pastors fell for the third straight year and reached an all-time low of 34%, according to the latest Gallup survey. Statistics like this are disturbing, but they should serve as a call to action. It’s pastors’ responsibility to reach out to our lost communities and give them the opportunity to know us as genuinely and personally as possible. This is easier said than done; cultivating friendships with those outside of the faith requires vulnerability, authenticity, and patience. However, Scripture shows us these friendships can be some of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.
Friendships outside of the faith will cause spiritual growth
Your lost neighbors and friends will be willing to challenge your faith in ways no one else can. And this is a good thing! If you want to become a better defender of your faith and grow deeper in your relationship with Christ, there’s no better opportunity than cultivating a friendship with a lost person. They will ask you tough questions and expect tough answers. There’s a great danger for pastors in becoming insulated from the lost world. Cultivating friendships with someone outside of the ministry will give you a new perspective on the worldview of the culture in which we live.“If you want to become a better defender of your faith and grow deeper in your relationship with Christ, there’s no better opportunity than cultivating a friendship with a lost person.” — Jacob Lewis Click To Tweet
Peter advises believers to live in this way and to expect challenges saying, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16a, CSB). Friendships you cultivate with unreached members of your community lead to opportunities to share the gospel with others. As we love the unchurched, our love will cultivate a natural curiosity in them. What a blessing it is to have a message to share with those who are searching for hope!
Friendships outside of the faith will cultivate a humble spirit
Peter talks about the danger of forgetfulness in a letter to the church. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge… For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins” (2 Peter 1:5, 8-9, CSB). The struggle against spiritual amnesia has remained the same in the church throughout the centuries. It’s tempting to forget where we started. But it’s necessary that we return and preach the gospel to ourselves time and time again.
One thing that most surprises people outside of ministry is that pastors are people too! We get frustrated; we laugh and enjoy life; we have family issues and workplace drama like everyone else. When we open our homes to people outside of the faith, we give them a front-row seat to the struggle and grace that one finds in the life of a believer. We preach the gospel from the pulpit, but we must also preach it from across the kitchen table, in our backyards, and into the lives of those living around us who have never considered attending a church. Befriend your lost neighbor, your life and theirs will be better for it.
Friendships outside of the faith will ultimately draw us closer to Christ
I have found that years in ministry and church life can make one jaded to the struggles and heartache of the unsaved. If you make yourself available to the lost people in your community, you will also be making yourself available to getting closer to the heart of Christ and His ministry.“We preach the gospel from the pulpit, but we must also preach it from across the kitchen table, in our backyards, and into the lives of those living around us who have never considered attending a church.” — Jacob Lewis Click To Tweet
Many grumbled when Jesus chose to visit and befriend Zacchaeus. Jesus’s response to the critics then proves true for us today. “Today salvation has come to this house… For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9a, 10, CSB). Jesus chose to eat with sinners because they needed to know repentance and forgiveness were available. Chances are, you have lost neighbors who are uninterested in church and completely unaware of the gift of forgiveness and repentance that has been offered to them through Jesus Christ.
Maybe you, like many pastors, feel discouraged and disillusioned with ministry. Church life can feel more like a fight than a family. I have been there. Take heart and invest in personal ministry in those seasons. Our community is our closest mission field, and our homes are our greatest tool for sharing the gospel.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
Jacob serves as the Pastor of Haw Bluff Baptist Church in Kelly, N.C. He holds an M.Div in Apologetics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves on the Board of Directors’ Mission Catalyst Committee for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.