|Photo: Flickr/Steve p2008|
My husband began to list some of our dearest friends. The woman with whom I had a weekly prayer date for ten years. The woman who warmed our hearts with encouragement and our bodies with early-morning scrambled eggs and hot coffee. The woman who walked into my life as a teenager and stayed on as a kindred spirit.
I don’t know if it surprised the other couple, but it surprised me, a little. All of those friends were members of our church.
In my twelve years as a pastor’s wife, the one ministry manifesto I have heard repeated more than any other is: You can’t have close friends in your church. This prohibition is handed down to seminary wives and passed around ministry families like it’s gospel truth. Church people might be objects of ministry. They may be burdens or blessings. They could be acquaintances, neighbors, fellow-laborers even. But they can never be friends.
This, sisters, is a lie. The church of Christ is never—never!—us against them. It is never ministry families on one side and church people on the other. It is never pastor’s wives above or beyond or away from the women in the church. It is all of us together in Christ.
So, not only can we be close friends with church members, we ought to be close friends with church members. Here are three reasons why:
1. You are, in fact, close to the people in your church.
Whether or not you acknowledge it, the people of your local church are closer to you than almost anyone else. They are parts of the same body (1 Cor. 12), branches on the same tree (John 15), stones in the same building (Eph. 2). They are fellow-heirs of the kingdom, fellow-workers in the gospel, and fellow-citizens of heaven. Together, you are joined to Christ—both now and for eternity.
And the people in your church are the people with whom you engage in life’s most intimate activity. These are the people with whom you worship. We are most truly ourselves when we are offering worship before our God, and—week after week—it is the people in our church who alongside us lay themselves bare in prayer and song, in receiving the Word read and preached, in meeting together with God.
Friends outside the church are a blessing. But it’s the people who worship with me—who notice when my shoulders are slumped and my voice is weak, who share my tears and hear my “Amen”s, who are equally accountable to practice the Word we all heard preached—who are my dearest friends.
“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18). And he says to the pastor’s wife: I have chosen these particular people for my glory and your good. Here, right in these pews, are your friends.
2. Constraints are an incentive, rather than a hindrance, to true friendship.
I have written before, quoting Anne of Green Gables, about how the pastor’s wife can act as an “extra conscience” for the people in the church. But church members are also an extra conscience for the pastor’s wife. And this is a gift of the Spirit.
Too often, I fear that the reason we think we can’t be friends with the people in our church is that we misunderstand the nature of true friendship. If our friendships are based on the freedom to gossip about others, or to complain about our spouses and kids, or to worry aloud about our tight finances, or to find fault with Christ’s church, then we will not find those kind of friendships in our local body. But, of course, we should not seek those kinds of friendships anywhere.
Friendship with church members will necessarily be walled off from gossip and malice and foolishness. And if we are prevented from sin, we are freed to righteousness. With church members, we can rejoice in the Lord, seek his face, and pray to him. We can talk about his Word, savor the goodness of his creation, and thank him together for our blessings.
Our blessed contraints free us to delight together in the mutual Friend who first befriended us. What better friendship could we have?
3. Our friendships in the church encourage other friendships in the church.
Every pastor’s family I know would say that they desire the people in their church to form close friendships with one another—mutually encouraging and exhorting one another, caring for one another’s needs, seeking to love one another in their daily lives.
And yet pastors and their wives too often hold back from the very relationships they want others to have. If we do this, we fail to set an example for—and provide much-needed encouragement to—the body.
Friendship makes us vulnerable. Pastors’ wives know this, and I believe this is often the fear which underlies our failure to form friendships in the church. If you become close friends with church members, you might be misunderstood. You might be abandoned. You might be mistreated, accused, slandered, or manipulated. You might get hurt. Friendship requires that we—like our Christ before us—venture everything knowing that we may be rejected and despised.
But our willingness will be a blessing to our church. Every person in the church—pastor’s wife or six-year-old or single mom or elderly widow—must face the fear of rejection and form friendships anyway. And if the pastor’s wife will go ahead and point the way, if the pastor’s wife will reach out rather than holding back, if the pastor’s wife will lay herself open and lay herself down, others may find courage to do the same.
A few months ago, we moved to a new church. I’m not yet sure who my close friends will be, but I know they are there, chosen by my God, sitting in these pews, ready to grow up into Christ together with me.
Other Ministry Myths:
Your Children Will Reject the Church
You Must Know All, See All
Your Husband is Married to Your Church
You Must Have Musical Talent or Teaching Gifts