This post is part of a blog series on Pomomusings, discussing pastoral identity. To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.
I’m rethinking all of the boundary-keeping that seminary taught me was the pillar of a healthy pastoral identity. I’m growing convinced that being a friend to people in the church and community is more crucial to pastoral identity than maintaining clear professional and personal boundaries.
Pastors should be friends with their congregants, and pastors shouldn’t sublimate their vocations in their extra-church friendships.
There’s a member of my congregation who befriended me very quickly upon my arrival seven years ago, and, as much as I feared it, our friendship has never clouded my pastoral judgment toward him or his family. We’ve led youth work trips and camping outings together, but he and his family have also babysat my daughter. Overnight. We’ve planned youth group curriculum, and he’s invited me to join his softball team.
There was a trivia game about him at his birtday party, and I won. The initial rush of awkwardness I felt about my victory faded pretty quickly when my wife framed it like this: “You listen to him and take a personal interest in his life. Clearly you’ve failed as a pastor.”
This isn’t always rosy, of course. My daughter’s best friend is from church, and BFF’s parents are our friends. They divorced last year. I decided the location of the line between pastor and friend mattered less than their need for both.
Then there are those people in your congregation who badly, badly need a friend and receive your earnest pastoral care as gestures of sincere friendship, which, of course, it is–in a way. That’s dicey, so I’m all for the need to keep pastoral care distinct from friendship in some cases.
It’s my non-church friends, though, that have pushed my thinking in this direction the most. Like Ramak. Ramak is a photographer in town who fascinates me. He has a really interesting story that features a childhood in Iran, adolescence in Indiana, and a cross-country art project that landed him on an FBI watch list. He has me over for lunch, where he sets a table on the front porch and cooks up pasta. We talk for hours and I lose track of time, feeling slightly guilty for indulging a “personal” relationship in the middle of a work day.
Then the talk turns to faith or spirituality or art, and I remember that the day I first met him was the day he walked into the church office and asked to speak to the Pastor.
The world’s gone crazy competitive in places and sickly indifferent in others, so that peoples’ need for friends is great indeed. Pastors included. I’m learning that matters more than the personal and professional separation of roles I struggled so hard to maintain at first. Am I wrong about that?
Rocky Supinger is the Associate Pastor at Claremont Presbyterian Church. He blogs at Yorocko.Com.