Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Friendship Dilemma

by Erwin Raphael McManus

Can pastors and church leaders be real friends? In our multi-ethnic, multi-generational community, yes, we risk growing close.

Early on I was told it is important for a pastor to keep relational distance from the people he works with. The objectivity needed to make hard decisions must not be compromised. (After all, you can’t be friends with your boss!)

I disagree.

I have grown to a conviction that it is not enough simply to hire staff or to build a ministry team, I am committed to growing a community of leaders who serve together on a common mission.

At Mosaic our eldership of five is Japanese, Chinese, Salvadorian, and Mexican American. Our leadership team and support staff are even more ethnically diverse. In age, we range from twenties to fifties (and soon sixties). Our differences could become an easy excuse for becoming, at best, co-laborers. Yet we would miss the amazing gift God has given us of friendships that grow as we serve together.

Friendship is a vital part of New Testament ministry and leadership. In fact, I am convinced that we have been unwittingly shooting ourselves in the heart.

We call God’s people to live in biblical community, yet we model something quite different. We tell church members to love one another when we as staff only work together. We are the ones responsible for the creation of community life while we live isolated lives. I have met too many pastors and their spouses who are painfully lonely and essentially friendless.

It’s unthinkable to picture Jesus in merely a professional working relationship with his disciples. If I remember correctly, he called those guys his friends. You might even say he loved them. They lived life together: no eight-to-five relationship and then go home. Theirs was a heart connection.

Jesus was growing a leadership community serving together on a common mission. More than a common vision, their hearts were ignited together by a burning passion. While vision can be cast from a distance, passion is transferred up close. Jesus got under his disciples’ skin and into their hearts.

This only happens as we laugh together, weep together, work together, and play together. From grilling salmon on the pier, to making staff meeting a day at the cinema - our team at Mosaic shares life together. Many of us have traveled on mission trips together. (Nothing unites like communal diarrhea.) Playing hoops or just dreaming about the future, we are more than a team, we are a leadership community.

I understand the painful downside of this approach. It may require a pastor to fire someone he loves. I’ve had to do that. In spite of the pain of those moments, I am convinced this is the best way. We must return to the kind of community where we love each other enough to speak the truth in love. When we know someone well enough, we will long for them to become what God longs for them to be.

In this community, everyone has a voice - and an opinion! We have the freedom to disagree. We fight - almost always fairly. My responsibility is to insure this culture continues to flourish.

I saw we were becoming a true community when the church faced a financial challenge a while back. One by one, the team started offering their salaries with a commitment that they would continue their work as volunteer staff. The sacrifice they were willing to make told me they are not working at a job, but they are growing together with me into a genuine community of leaders.

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