Pastor or Friend?
Several weeks ago, I attended a conference that was led by a couple who were Christian Psychologists and Pastors. The conference was fascinating as they talked about what it meant to be an emotionally healthy and spiritually vigorous congregation. They had a wonderfully holistic approach towards people that was refreshing and inspiring.
One of the most difficult things that they taught was in regards to pastoral boundaries. They demonstrated that different relationships have different types of responsibilities and accountabilities. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Husbands and wives obviously know and respond to one another differently than do friends or co-workers. A professional relationship has different boundaries than a personal relationship, etc, etc...
The difficulty comes with the unique position of being a pastor. One of the statements that was made is that "Pastors must choose whether they are in a pastoral relationship (professional) or a personal relationship. Once a relationship becomes personal (friendship), you loose the ability to pastor that person." This is true. For example, if your physician began to share his problems with you and call you whenever he or she was having a crisis, then they have abdicated their professional relationship for a personal relationship. The net effect is a loss of their role as professional in your life. I believe that pastors are faced with this choice every day. There are lots of people who need a friend, Life is fragmented and lonely for most of us, so friendship is foundational. However, when the Pastor chooses to become a friend (not friendly, but a friend with reciprical sharing, vulnerability, and transparency), he or she loses the ability to approach that person/family in a pastoral manner.
This does not mean that a pastor must keep everyone an arms length away, but that they must realize that in order to be an effective pastor, you can not be friends with everyone. There are some people that I chose to be friends with, knowing that I am gaining a friend but losing the pastoral impact that I may have otherwise had.
In retrospect, I realize that many of my pastoral "mistakes" were due to a failure to discern the appropriate boundary between professional and personal relationships. This does not mean that I was inappropriate in conduct, but that sometimes people I want to befriend, actually need a pastor to give spiritual guidance and direction, over and against spiritual witness and presence. This has more to do with my internal processes of self-awareness and social awareness (think emotional intelligence) than the needs of others.
I pray that pastors or spiritual leaders who are reading this may have wisdom and grace in discerning which relationships are professional and which are personal. I pray that those who are seeking guidance from pastors and spiritual leaders will understand the limitations and strengths of such relationships, and proceed wisely.
Let me know what you think about this,
May God bless you!
Pastor Michael Traylor