Preventing Leadership Exhaustion through Healthy Friendships!

“It is lonely at the top!” But is it supposed to be? Is that the example that the Lord has given us? There is no higher level of authority than God Himself and He sits in eternal unity with the trinity; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus lived and ministered with 12; giving three of them intimate access to Him. If that is the example of our Lord why are so many Christian leaders lonely?

Healthy friendships are a gift to the soul. Yet, maneuvering through this can be tricky for a ministry leader. More likely, a pastor develops mentoring relationships, where they are pouring into someone else, or have someone speaking into them (albeit that’s rare for most as well). However, the give and take of good peer relationships is necessary. What a wonderful feeling to go out with a friend or two and leave refreshed not drained. Peer relationships require being on an equal footing, which limits the number of likely candidates for a leader.

Can a senior pastor develop such a friendship with a member of his congregation, a board member or a staff member? Can a staff pastor develop such a friendship with the lay leaders under them?

Yes, and no! Each of these situations creates an unequal footing. Friendship is built on trust, honesty and openness. A leader cannot always be open with a member of his congregation. The nature of the relationship makes it impossible. The pastor will always know confidential information he cannot share with others. So what about with a board member? In most churches the board holds the ability to hire and fire a pastor, they control his salary and benefits. So the board acts as the pastor’s boss, again making it an unequal relationship. Few people, will be transparent with their boss. Does a staff member make a good candidate for a senior pastor? Another unequal relationship, in that most pastors are in the boss role for their staff members. This scenario works better amongst two staff pastors who are on an equal footing. The challenge they often run into is having boundaries at work, to not appear cliquey. There are leaders who will say none of the above scenarios is possible, with a few others who have healthy friendships within one of those situations. I believe it is possible, but ONLY if both are high in emotional intelligence. If understood the pastor cannot be as open as he may like to be. Or in the case of the two staff pastors, keeping their personal relationship outside their work life.

However, the best peer friendships may be those that come from outside the church. Fellow pastors within the community, not necessarily in the same denomination. One pastor of a large congregation shared with me that when he moved to a new community, he set up a coffee date monthly and invited 2 or 3 pastors from the community to join him. The purpose was to get to know them, learn how they could work together but also he was feeling out if there was one he could connect with on a deeper level. It took time, but he found a pastor from a different denomination he hit it off with. Now they have a monthly coffee conversation, their wives have become good friends so they all spend time at one another’s homes and go out on dates. He states strongly that this relationship is what’s help he and this other pastor to stay level and grow in their ministry.

This is a challenge for pastors, but I also know it’s a necessity. “No man is an island” and trying to operate as one WILL led to a crash. It’s worth the effort to find and develop healthy peer connections. This is at the heart of a new group I’m launching in January called ‘Water Walkers’. It’s my desire to see pastors who don’t know one another come together and discuss the deeper more personal issues of ministry and family life, in a non-judgmental, supportive environment.  The goal is not only seeing them gain healing and growth but also some connections that might last beyond the group. If interested check it out at …

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