"Choose your friends wisely," I said to a pastor this week, encouraging him to let more people into his circle. "But choose them." I told him, "If you attempt to lead alone you'll isolate yourself. You might get hurt by being transparent but at least you'll be real."
During my first year of being a pastor an older pastor told me that pastors can have few friends.
"You have to protect yourself," he said. "So be careful." I was confused. Was he right? Well, it depends on how real, how transparent you want to be.
Pastor Ron Edmondson from Lexington, Ky., consults lots of pastors. He always challenges pastors to be transparent, to risk vulnerability, but to always do that with clear boundaries. I like the following challenges Edmondson gives to pastors:
The church never can love your family as much as you do. Your family always needs you more than the church does. Some pastors have to learn to say no to the church they serve and yes to the nuclear family with whom they have been entrusted. A church can get another pastor, but your family can't get another dad.
If you protect your day off, you'll be happier. You will wear out quickly without a day a week to rejuvenate your soul. Pastors need time away from the demands of day to day ministry.
You have influence. Use it well. The pastorate comes with lots of power and responsibility. It's easy to abuse or take for granted. Don't. Be humble. Ask God to keep his hand upon you so you will use your influence wisely.
No amount of accountability or structure will keep you from temptation if your heart is not right with God. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart." One of the most important questions a pastor's friends can ask is, "My friend, how is your soul?"
Your personal health affects the health of the church. You have to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. One church member told me his pastor is about 100 pounds overweight. "It's really hard for me to follow him," he confessed. Ironically, he said the pastor had just mentioned the many virtues of daily Bible reading and prayer. Being so overweight made that challenge ring hollow. Those who work hard at being healthy shepherds for the congregation, will be much more likely to have followers.
The people in your congregation deserve authenticity. If you are honest about who you are, it will not only help keep you from trying to meet unreal expectations, but it will help the people in your church be transparent with you and others. So be yourself. Be someone worthy to follow. Make sure you are living it, not just teaching it.
You will not make everyone happy. Most pastors liked to be liked. You see the problem there, don't you? Comedian Bill Cosby said, "I don't know the key to success but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." If you try to make everyone happy, you will be very unhappy and unproductive and may even be a person with lots of anger right below the surface.
Give others the benefit of the doubt. Most people are doing about as well as they know how. Remember, you are working with volunteers, most of them very loving, loyal people. Be gentle with them. Maybe some of your Sunday school teachers don't teach as well as you had hoped, but they are doing it. Thank them. Tell them you appreciate them.
Be careful how you measure success. What is your measuring stick? Numbers? Finances? Your church building? One pastor said, "My goal is for my church members to treat everyone in their sphere of influence just the way they want to be treated."
Be willing to take chances and think outside the box. If you could change your community in two or three significant ways, what would you do? Where do you think you are most needed? If faith is spelled R-I-S-K, what risk is next for you?
Seek spiritual direction and mentoring. I've counseled more than 500 pastors. All pastors need those who will come alongside them, listen to them, challenge them, and ask them good questions.
Take a daylong silent personal prayer retreat six or seven times a year. A pastor friend says, "The main job of the pastor is to stay connected to the vine." No better way to do that than to get away for a day to just listen to what God is saying to you.
Remember that relationships not programs define ministry. People over programs — always.
There are people in the church that love and support you. Lean on them.
Learn to be a positive person. Smile a lot. If pastors see the glass half full, their parishioners will follow.
When you're done, step aside. The words of John the Baptist in speaking of Jesus are still relevant today. "He must increase, but I must decrease."
Don Follis has pastored in Champaign-Urbana for 35 years. He directs retreats and coaches leaders via pastortopastorinitiatives.com. Contact him at email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @donfollis.