Had an interesting chat with someone today regarding dogcollars and the issue of 'favourites' and as it unfolded it made me smile as the underlying issues came to the fore. The major issue appeared to be: 'I/we should be the favourites, not them!'
Over the years I have been taught (many, many times) that, 'ministers should never make friends with those in their church'. The interesting thing is that I have often received two pieces of wisdom, often from the same person and they are this:
i. Having friends in your church makes you vulnerable, and
ii. Not having close and accessible friends makes you vulnerable
I would like to think that everyone in the church I belong to is a friend (i.e. we are not enemies) but I am realistic enough to know that not everyone in church will be good, close, or best friends and that none of them will ever be my very bestest friend ever (that's God and the Wife).
Acquaintances - Some will never be more than casual acquaintances. I know their faces and a little of their home situation (married, kids, and the like) but I know I'm never going to be close because we don't share the same hobbies, interests and stuff. These are the people you know in passing but never really get to stop and engage with - and this is often not for the want of trying. Acquaintances might be the starting point but, for some, can also be the pinnacle of the relationship!
There are varying degrees of friendship:
Friends - I usually find that people who consider me to be a 'friend' actually become that but others, regardless of how much you try, will never become friends because they don't really want such a relationship. Friends are the people you spend time with because they, and you, want to. You might not share much the same but you enjoy each others company. I would hope that this would be the minimum position for Christians - but sadly not always!
Good Friends - These are the people who share some of the same interests and goals and strive to spend time with you and respond warmly when you invite them to do the same. They are part of your middle circle on the friend atom and are people who can be relied upon and who can rely upon you. The sort of people who will be there should you need them on a 'works both ways' basis!
Many of those I consider to be 'good friends' are people that disagree with me on some issues and don't share the same values, attitudes and beliefs perhaps - but being around them (and they around me) is something that is positive and enlivening.
Close Friends - For me these are the people I know I can open up to without fear and with whom I will pray and bring my major issues too safe in the knowledge that the relationship is flat (i.e. we are equals and have mutual respect and trust). These form the inner circle of friends and are eclipsed only by those at the very centre. These are people with whom I share a faith life and know I can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with when it comes to 'being Church' and 'doing the stuff'. I'm happy to fill my life with 'close friends' and yet so many who perhaps publicly crave this want the position but are not willing to pay the price of mutual commitment and 'sold out on Christ-ness' that it demands. This, like any front line role, means that unless we are prepared and willing to do this means we are not covering each other's backs and are in fact liabilities rather than supportive and protective (for that's what close friends are): That said, I'm happy for close friends to fall and fail (because we all do) but the commitment needs to be real.
Best Friend - This nuclear group consists of the very closest people and the number of these is limited and the people are extraordinarily special. I'd have to say that this contains my Wife and a few others. Theoretically all have the potential to be here and yet few are actually are willing to invest the commitment that allows people this close. Interestingly some here might only see me as a good or close friend - but they are those I'd share the deepest innermost bits, my fears, hopes and the nasty bits I'd rather keep hidden. The very centre of this is my other half for she is brutally honest and wonderfully supportive and often shows me the sort of love and acceptance that only she (and God) can.
So that's my four levels of friendship; each leading onwards and upwards. Offering, opening up and supporting, caring and engaging with others in the same way!
The key to ministers having friends is that they do not prefer some over others and this is something I have sought to do. The door has been open and the opportunity is there for anyone to come and be part of my life. The trouble is that some have taken this offer seriously whilst others have said they wanted to be friends but that wasn't what they really wanted. In fact some I have spent time with in the (now obviously) mistaken belief that we were becoming friends have later informed me that this was never the case (and whilst that wounded I soon realised that I probably much better off in that they went!). making friends is making oneself vulnerable and that's never comfortable now, is it?
So should pastors, vicars and leaders have friends in their churches?
Of course they should!
Should pastors, vicars and leaders restrict or choose who can become friends?
First response is 'No' but there does need to be some wisdom and discernment involved - to allow some close might well be folly indeed.
I hope this makes people think and helps some to develop proper Christian and enabling relationships in their congregations and fellowships - it's what Church is all about - innit?