Did you know that all of our email blasts come out of questions from the pastors’ wives that Alongside serves? And this is one of those questions that comes up just about every semester during our cohorts. The funny thing is, my answer would have (and will always be) the same. But my experiences in this area have been radically different from one church to the next.
Can I have close friends that are a part of our congregation? Yes. Absolutely. In fact there is beauty in being able to do life, share your struggles and victories with someone who is a part of the flock. Someone that stands shoulder to shoulder with you on the front lines of battle. During a long chunk of my ministry life, God blessed me with a kindred spirit that also served alongside Craig and I. But does it introduce a different layer of complexity? Again yes. Absolutely.
My kindred spirit friend and I had to wrestle our way through how to do friendship in the midst of church ministry. Here are some things we discovered along the way.
Choose well – this one was more on my end. I listened to her have conversations with others and asked myself, “Was she careful about how she used her voice? Did she lift others up or use it to be negative? Did she show wisdom in when she spoke and when she kept silent?” (Prov. 18:21). I tested the waters. Sharing a little and seeing how she handled it allowed trust to grow, guided by wisdom. Sometimes we pastors’ wives are afraid of having confidences betrayed when a “friend” shares information that we entrusted to them. But other times we fear judgement, not knowing whether or not the person has the spiritual chops to handle hearing hard things, even hard things they might see in me, places where my heart isn’t like Jesus’ yet. I learned to entrust her with little before I entrusted her with much (Luke 16:10).
We need to say a little word about watching for peoples’ agendas. It’s a bummer that there are some that want to get to know you for what you could do for them, but it’s just the way it is. Just watch for that and gently shepherd those that would pursue you for self-centered gains.
Talk about expectations – My friend and I talked about the fact that when we are at church, our focus is on others, that we wanted a friendship that was inclusive. So if we had something we wanted to talk about, just she and I, we agreed it would wait until we could schedule some time together. This got rid of the hurt feelings that happen when we didn’t say hello to each other on a Sunday morning. We understood that our friendship would be outward facing, particularly when at the church. This also helped with the jealousy that other women struggle with when they see a friendship they want to be a part of.
Create boundaries together – We talked about helping each other honor Jesus through our conversations. She was the Director of Women’s Ministries at our church, so we talked about how we’d handle when I had information about someone that she was considering for leadership that would cause her to proceed with caution. Here’s how it went: when she was considering someone, she’d simply tell me who it was and if I thought that leadership wasn’t the best fit for them at this time, I’d simply say “I have some concerns,” or “I have a red light or a yellow light.” She trusted my judgement and proceeded with caution. But it protected our friendship from the sin of gossip and negativism.
Another boundary that we figured out, though it took longer and we messed it up several times before we’d learned the lesson was that I could not be her champion with my husband. If she had something that she wanted changed, she needed to go to him. I was not the Women’s Ministries spokesperson at our dinner table. Once we got this, it was a big help in keeping my marriage healthy and our friendship without an agenda.
The other boundary that can be super-hard is figuring out how to share about marriage struggles, when you are talking about “her pastor.” This is when it’s helpful to have someone outside your congregation to share with, but still in a way that honors him and lifts him up.
Pray Together Often – Sometimes there is nothing either of you can say or do to take away the hard and the hurt. But there is something about hearing your friend invite the presence of the Lord and His healing hand into that, sometimes when our own words fall so far short. I remember may early morning walks where we’d cry out to the Lord for the health of this Body we’d been called to serve. And it was a joy to do that together.
While friendships within your church can be a beautiful thing, I’ve seen they are not God’s provision for every season. During some seasons, He has provided a friend outside of our church. But either way, pray for her, seek her out and celebrate whomever the Lord provides in your life to fill that special space.