May Pastors Have Special Friends in the Congregation?

3888805992_ea38e68690_mPastors are not supposed to have favorites in the congregation. It’s a universal rule, but not always easy to follow.

When pastors break this rule, the effect is similar to that produced when the parents of four children regularly show special favor to one of them, or the schoolteacher shows such favor to one student that class members call that student “the teacher’s pet”.

The rule is broken when pastor and spouse single out one particular couple for special time and attention. They may be at one another’s home often, eat together frequently, or even go camping together in the summer time.

Though some members may not care, this special closeness doesn’t sit well with other members of the congregation. It makes some who are not chosen for this favor feel like second-class citizens, as if they don’t rate at the same level.

Those who disapprove of such chumminess may be called immature or jealous and may be ignored. Their opponents might ask, don’t pastors have a right to have friends too?

But there is a legitimate and crucial pastoral principle violated by such selective closeness. It is that he or she must be seen as pastor of all the people at all times. Some members may be more likeable than others but all members are equally deserving of the pastor’s love and pastoral care.

The rule doesn’t mean pastors must dole out attention with precision, like a pharmacist counting out pills. When a family has a crisis — a member is hospitalized with a serious illness, someone loses a job, a wayward child is causing distress — that family will naturally receive special pastoral attention to see them through their particular crisis.

The pastor may even give special attention for a time to newcomers to the congregation or to new converts. Mature members will understand the reason for this attention.

It’s the special attention meted out for nothing other than socially personal reasons that needs to be seen as inappropriate for wholesome pastoral care. Pastoral tenure at a church has sometimes been shortened by pastors’ lack of awareness in this regard.

Still, you may say, this kind of constraint is unfair because pastors need close friendships, just like anyone else.

Many years ago I heard the late Rev. Robert Fine address this question in a minister’s gathering. He proposed that pastoral couples with need for closeness with special friends might develop a friendship with another denomination’s pastoral couple in the community. Even then, the association should be discreet, not time consuming.

Although this counsel may seem severe, remember that it is a pastoral gift to project love and interest toward the whole flock without favoritism, and to sense needs and be motivated to serve them equally across the congregation.

The rule to work with is clear, and any pastor can measure himself or herself against it: “Am I equally pastoral to all of the people, all of the time?” If the answer is yes, love for the Lord and wisdom in caring for the whole flock will take it from there.

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Photo credit: James Emery (via


2 thoughts on “May Pastors Have Special Friends in the Congregation?

  1. I hadn’t thought about this question before I came across it in ‘The Pastors First Love’ 2013.After thought I saw how important it was then.nd am reminded again now.s

    In chapter 28 of ‘The Pastors First Love’ are listed 10 important bullet points re monisterial ethics.

    Point 6 says

    ”SHOW REGARD FOR EVERYONE IN THE FLOCK.Have no favourites .Always see yourself as the the pastor of the whole flock Respect those who oppose you or disagree with you.”

    We know from the Bible that Christ came to save ALL .And so it is that the pastor of a congregation is called by our Lord to shepherd and serve the whole flock.

    Also ,on the night before He died ,Jesus called us all to Christian unity.We must be united as Christians and each local flock must be united ..We are one because we all drink the same wine and eat the same bread at Lord’s Supper.We are one body because we share in one bread,the body of Christ.We are made one in Christ.

    If the shepherd treated some sheep with favouritism,resentment and disunity would be sown.

    Of course a recently bereaved or sick congregant or a congregant worried for a sick child,may need special counselling and consoling.A married couple in the congreagation may be going through a period when their marriage is on the rocks and they may need special guidance. Or a congregant who has lost his way may need special guidance.

    I think the congregation would understand these folk need special pastoral care.In any case congregants should trust their pastor whose job is know the special pastoral needs of each congregant..There must be trust in leadership.

    Special attention according to need is different from favouritism.It’s special care and attention for special challenging circumstances.

    I note ,Pastor that you mention a pastor and spouse.I think this is very important because the spouse of a pastor plays a crucial part in that pastors ministry.They are a team,beneficial in so many Christian parishes or communities.

    A pastor is a shepherd of the congregation or flock.I think that’s where the word pastor comes from.An image of a shepherd tending his flock is conjured.Jesus Himself is portrayed in painting and sculpture as the supreme shepherd,a lamb in his arms ,with a shepherd’s crook.I saw such a statue only last week,on a visit to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul,Sheffield,England.

    One can’t have a shepherd who only tends some sheep.Or the flock would lose it’s unity.

    Your question ,Pastor,is a vital one for every Pastor.

    “Am I equally pastoral to all of the people, all of the time?’’

    This s a question every pastor must be able to answer yes to.

    Pastor,if your counsel seems severe to some Protestant pastors.just think of the poor Roman Catholic pastor .He ( and the Roman pastor is always a he up to now) may not even marry and have a ministerial helpmate and soulmate.Now that makes Christian life harder for both shepherd and flock!

    • Francis, I always enjoy your comments in response to my blogs. They are like ping-backs, always fresh and thoughtful. It pleases me to know that you read with such attention and depth. Keep it up. Don

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