Friendships inside and outside the church: ‘Living deeply with others’

By David Butler

Who are the friends in your life?

I’m not sure there is a more important question we need to be asked on a regular basis.

If you know much about life and relationships, you know that friendship issues are huge in the overall scheme of things. In fact, there are not many issues God is more concerned about than the condition of our relational world.

Sooner or later we have to come to grips with this compelling truth. “I cannot grow into who God has called and created me to be unless I am living deeply with others.”

Yet, study after study underscore the all-too-common reality that the vast majority of pastors self-identify as being lonely. The problem of course is that going friendless in ministry is both diminishing and dangerous. God provides the inner re-fueling pastors need through others. Leaning into life with a few close, trusted friends creates a protective shield.

So why do pastors and ministers seem to have such a lack of friends? Why do pastors choose to live such guarded lives? Some common explanations include:

  • The demands of ministry don’t allow enough margin or time to develop friendships.
  • Most of a pastor’s work is self-directed and done solo, which lends itself to loneliness.
  • Risking friendships with other pastors can be tricky.
  • The desire to be seen as strong, rather than weak, the one doing all the helping, fixing.
  • The awkwardness of being known and challenged.
  • The inability to have conversations about anything other than ministry.
  • The fear and pain of being hurt, betrayed, or abandoned again.

Six days before Jesus entered the most stressful and ultimately painful week of His life, where do you find him? With His friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus sharing a meal. The apostle Paul openly acknowledges how worn out he was and that his soul had no rest (2 Cor. 7:5). God comforted Paul, not by relieving the stress, but through the comfort of a friend (2 Cor. 7:6-7)

Jesus and Paul both werestrengthened through the presence of friends — the same kind of soul-deep strengthening every pastor needs. In both situations, nothing out of the ordinary happened. They simply shared life together: time, place, and ordinary presence. You can’t help but imagine them speaking all that was on their heart.

I’m not sure what all this means, but one thing is clear, friendships are essential to our perseverance, our ability to live a fruitful life. The minister Leighton Ford was right: “Leaders in ministry need safe people, safe times, and safe places in order to bear fruit over the long haul.” (Zach Eswine The Pastors Abbey)Likewise having the right people in our lives at the right time makes all the difference. They enable us to be as we have never been before.

Consider these seven questions:

  • Who stretches your mind?
  • Who listens to and encourages your dreams?
  • Who is there to protect you?
  • Who are those who share your tears?
  • Who rebukes you?
  • Who knows how to make you laugh and relax?
  • Who is it that seeks after God with you?

No one has taught me more about the power of others than my friend Jeff. He has, in many ways, been the answer to all the above questions over the past nine years. As a highly honored and respected health care professional, his life is extremely demanding, but on more than one occasion he has been there with and for me.

Most memorable was the day my wife was diagnosed unexpectedly with an aggressive and life-threatening form of cancer. Treatment began that same day. Miles away, at Dartmouth Hitchcock hospital, I made a late night drive home to pick up some clothes and immediately return.

As I pulled into my driveway just past midnight, Jeff was there to meet me. There were few words exchanged. In a rare moment of vulnerability, I sobbed on his shoulders. He prayed over me. During the next several months, as we went through treatment after treatment, that night came to mind time and again.

I was good. I had a friend.

Published April 9, 2018

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David Butler

David Butler is husband to Gayle and father to three adult children. He has eight grandchildren ranging in age from 18 years to 1. David earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Murray State University, a master of divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his doctorate from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. David has 44 years of ministry leadership experience, most of it serving three Kentucky churches. He has served as a youth pastor, assistant pastor, conference leader and senior pastor. He was the senior and founding pastor of Springdale Community Church in Louisville, Ky. Most recently he served as lead pastor of CenterPoint Church in Concord, N.H., and as a North American Mission Board trustee. Presently he is serving as NAMB’s Send City missionary to Boston. His love for Boston actually began 30 years ago when a good friend serving the campuses of Boston as part of a national student ministry invited David and Gayle to spend a weekend exploring a city they had never visited before. The experience of that weekend has been pulling them out of their comfort zone ever since. No matter where they served, they continually looked for open-door opportunities to do ministry in Boston out of a love for the city. What God began in their hearts 30 years ago is now happening at a time and in a way they would never have figured out on their own.