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Life-giving friendships are a vital part of thriving in ministry and thriving in life. Having to quarantine and distance from other people over the last few years has led many of us to be more intentional about cultivating and nurturing deeper and more authentic relationships. Vague wishes about “getting together” one day have become confirmed lunch dates on our calendars. It’s so much easier to appreciate the value of strong ties when we have spent more than two years without even shaking hands.

Pastoral leaders need at least two kinds of friends. The first group of friends usually consists of local colleagues or seminary classmates. The routines of congregational life make it difficult to bond with someone who wants to get to know you while playing golf on Sunday morning. Saturday night dinners will happen occasionally, but probably not as often as we’d like. Therefore, we are likely to gravitate toward people who share our vocation — because they can understand why we’re never available for an early Sunday brunch.

A second (and no less important) group of friends we need to cultivate is made up of people within the congregation. Temporarily set aside the age-old debate about whether pastors should be friends with members. This group of friends is made up of the kind of people Paul described in the Philippian church — our partners in the gospel (Philippians 1:5). Partners are the people you love, trust, respect and confide in as you carry out the lonely work of leading a congregation. If you’ve ever tried to lead change, you already know you need more than a vision. You need a supportive group of partners who will share the emotional and spiritual burden of the work. Your partners are people who are willing to say what the congregation needs to hear so that the pastor doesn’t always have to say it. Good partners make all the difference in the world.

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Before you go…

The pastor of my childhood church often reminds me that my dad was one of the most supportive lay leaders in our congregation. The support involved affirmation and accountability because my dad and my pastor were friends who deeply respected one another. My pastor looked to my dad and a few other trusted partners to help him guide various change initiatives. Thankfully, I’ve also been fortunate to have partners in ministry along my journey.

God knows when to send these special friends. Look around you. Who has God sent to be your partners? Pray for them and spend time with them. Whatever you do, don’t try to go it alone. Leaders need friends.

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

Partner Resource: Lilly Endowment Inc. announces expansion of Thriving Congregations

Through the Thriving Congregations Initiative 2023, Lilly Endowment seeks to support charitable organizations in the United States in developing new or strengthening existing programs that will work directly with congregations to help them assess and adapt their ministries to their changing contexts as they move toward a post-COVID-19 pandemic future.

The Endowment is especially interested in programs that help congregations to:

  • Explore and understand their rapidly changing social and cultural contexts.
  • Gain greater clarity about their values and mission.
  • Draw on practices from their theological and ecclesial traditions to adapt their ministries to the demands of their changing contexts.

The aim of the initiative is to help congregations thrive by strengthening ministries that help people deepen their relationships with God, enhance their connections with each other, and contribute to the flourishing of their communities and the world. 

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