Pastors are people - they need close friends!

Can Pastors Be Friends with Church Members?


Leading a church is a noble calling, but for many pastors, it can feel like a lonely job. Pastors often have great pastoral relationships with their members, but meaningful friendships can be harder to cultivate. Some pastors have been taught they should not make friends with church members, and others wonder if it is possible.

The reality is, everyone needs strong friendships, especially pastors. We’ve written before about how discipleship can help solve the loneliness epidemic, and pastors are not immune to loneliness. They need good friends.

In this article, we will explain why we believe pastors can and should be friends with certain church members, plus provide several ways pastors today can build strong friendships.

Pastoral Friendships: The Challenge

It doesn’t matter if you’re the pastor of a mega-church or a church plant, it can be difficult to build strong friendships in your congregation. There are several reasons for this:

  • As pastor, you have a certain level of spiritual authority over members.
  • Members get a very up-close look at your work on a regular basis, and it can be hard to separate the role from the person.
  • Members fund the pastor’s salary through their financial giving.
  • Any kind of meeting (lunch, watching the game, going fishing, etc) can feel like “it’s for ministry” and you have to be switched on.
  • Pastors can get too focused on the work, and not make time for cultivating strong relationships.
  • Pastors are flawed, but it can be hard to be vulnerable about things when you’re around the people you’re supposed to be shepherding.
  • Sometimes people need to vent about work​​this is really difficult for pastors when speaking with church members.

church pulpit - can pastors be friends with church members?

There are other reasons it can be hard for pastors to build strong relationships with their membersthere are real challenges here. Jeremy Todd, a pastor and writer for the Gospel Coalition, explained it this way in his article, Yes, Pastors Should Have Friends:

“As a young pastor I was advised to never become close friends with anyone in my congregation. This advice, though intended to protect, only deepened my sense of isolation and despair. I longed for relationships with those I lived alongside and saw on a regular basis.”

While there may be some risks and challenges with building friendships with your congregation, there are definite problems for pastors who feel isolated. This is one of the reasons we believe it is important for pastors to build and maintain strong friendships. Let’s explore this more.

Why Pastors Should Have Good Friends

There are several logical and Biblical reasons that pastors should have good friends in their church.

Jesus modeled friendship with his disciples: In John 15:15 (ESV), Jesus says this to his disciples: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus lived in a life-on-life relationship with his disciples. They learned from him, but they also befriended him and ultimately carried on his ministry after he ascended into heaven.

All Christians are called to community: Pastors regularly preach about the importance of community, and they are not exempt from that calling. Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV) highlights how important it is to have strong relationships: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Pastors, just like everyone else, need encouragement, accountability, and to be pushed towards Christ.

Loneliness Limits Ministry: Stephen Witmer shares the importance of friendships for pastors in his article, Loneliness Limits Ministry: “I’ve realized that a failure to prioritize and cultivate friendships deprives me of significant joys and fresh ideas, contributes to loneliness and envy, and increases my vulnerability to sin. I’m a better pastor when I’m surrounded by friends.” If you want to be an effective pastor, you’ll need good friendships in your life.

Friendships refresh the spirit: Leadership can be a tiring and lonely road at times, but friendships are good for the soul. Witmer quotes 1 Corinthians 16:17-18 (ESV) to illustrate this point: “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours.” Like Jesus, the apostle Paul had strong relationships. These people brought him joy and refreshed his spirit – a vital task for someone who frequently traveled and faced persecution.

Now that we have established the importance of good friendships for pastors, let’s talk about effective ways to make friends.

can pastors be friends - men playing basketball

How Pastors Can Build Strong Friendships

Go deeper with a few in your church: In our loneliness epidemic article, we referenced the US Surgeon General warning that “preventing loneliness is about the quality of connections.” We are the most connected generation ever because of things like social media, but those connections are no substitute for strong friendships. This is why many pastors can feel lonely – they are connected to everyone in their church, but have no real deep, meaningful relationships.

The cure for loneliness is not more friends, but stronger friendships. As a pastor, it is important to choose wisely and build strong friendships with just a few members of your congregation. You do not need to build strong friendships with everyone, and frankly, you cannot maintain many strong friendships. Having a few people in your church, however, that you can truly trust and be open with has tremendous value.

Build strong friendships with other pastors: C.S. Lewis once defined friendship in this way: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” Many pastors have found it helpful to build strong friendships with neighboring pastorsthey have gone through many of the same issues and can relate to the challenges of being a pastor.

Here is an example: Because of the nature of pastoral work, there are many things that pastors must keep confidential and those things can weigh significantly on them. It can be helpful to have pastoral peers outside of your community with whom you can share honestly (without divulging confidential issues) about how those things are affecting you.

In order to build relationships with other pastors, you can seek to start a regular prayer gathering for community pastors, host an event for pastors at your own church, or even join one of our discipleship training cohorts to meet other pastors who are looking to grow. 

Make friends in your community: As a pastor, it can be easy to focus all your time on ministry and the church, but there is a whole world outside your church. Make friends with your neighbors, connect with parents of your kids’ friends, find people who share in your hobbies, and find people you can go deeper with. They may join your church after becoming your friend, but they may never join your church and that is ok too. Friendships matter, both inside and outside of the church.

Lead a life-on-life discipleship group: Many pastors we know have found great friendships through discipleship groups. In these settings, you go deep with a few. Groups are designed to build trust, provide space to be vulnerable and open, to discover truth, to hold each other accountable, to pray for each other, and so much more. Learn more about starting a discipleship movement at your church by joining one of our upcoming information calls.


We believe that, whenever possible, we should follow the model given to us by Jesus. He had friends, and pastors should have friends too. In a world with countless loose connections, people today need strong friendships. There are many benefits to having good friends for pastors, and there are several different opportunities to build those friendships. These relationships can take time to build, so don’t be afraid to start today.

Interested in meeting other pastors and learning about our next training cohort? Join an information call to learn all about them!