The other day my wife and I were picking up our twin sons from preschool, and we met another father who also has twins. “No one else knows what this is like,” he said. We all agreed. Unless you have twins (or multiples) you have no idea what it’s like. Only by having the same experience can you identify with having twins.
That’s true of many things, including being a pastor.
This is why I am glad to be currently in a peer group of other, more experienced pastors. We meet usually once a month and we talk about stuff only pastors are likely to talk about. And in the midst of these conversations that sense of shared experience creates a bond, an understanding, that those of us who are pastors are unlikely to find anywhere else.
There’s a certain incongruity in preaching about the body of Christ, the church as the priesthood of all believers, when as the pastor you are in the unique position of not being just another member of the congregation. The funny thing is that sometimes I long for that feeling of belonging among my own people. I wish I could be more self-disclosed. I wish I could have closer friendships than I do with others in the church.
Of course, some of this is my fault. Because at one level a pastor should have friendships in the church, in his or her church. It may be more challenging, but it’s not impossible. The problem is that there are those who think that the pastor should have a sort of professional distance. I confess that I have thought this way at times. I probably have acted this way even more frequently. I recognize that I have not always made the effort to enter more fully into friendships with those in the church.
One reason I have kept my distance is fear. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of divulging the wrong piece of personal history. Fear of trying to pastor someone when there is now an awkwardness between you. Fear of weakness and failure and of what others think. It’s this very same fear, I think, that makes me want to maintain a distance.
Having a group of other pastors with whom you can discuss the difficult problems, ask the awkward questions, and share more personal struggles is one way of addressing this gap. I am grateful for my fellow pastors. I hope that our peer group grows and becomes closer-knit over time.
Yet as much as I appreciate this peer group, there are aspects of church life that still escape the pastor in his local church. For instance, there have been times when I have wished I were just one of a number of other men at a similar point in their lives in our congregation, talking about kids, jobs, movies, maybe sneaking theological discussions in here and there, helping one another, praying with one another.
I wonder if our (or any) congregation realizes how lonely being a pastor can be. I remember at my induction the pastor who spoke talked to the congregation about making friends with the pastor and his family. He spoke of including the pastor and his family in their lives—even in their life events like birthdays and other significant moments. And there have been a few occasions when a few folks have done this. I wonder now if I failed to take advantage of those opportunities. Was I so afraid to make the wrong impression or of being vulnerable that I didn’t open up, didn’t let myself be known?
Jesus once said to his disciples, I have called you friends. He said this because he was open about everything with them. He shared with them. He let them in. As risky as it might be, perhaps all of us—including pastors—are called to do this as followers of Jesus. Certainly I could use more deep friendships, because despite what Facebook tells me I do not have over 100 friends.