By Jared Musgrove
Whether you are serving on a church staff with friends, want to have better friendships with your fellow staff, or have church staff in your small group and want to know more of what that experience can be like, these thoughts are for you. The ancient Facebook adage often applies to friendships on church staff: it’s complicated.
But not impossible with God.
Vocational ministry with friends is precious. But it requires constant vigilance. This is true of all spiritual friendships but I’ve found perhaps more so with church staff friendships. They’re so intermixed, delicate, wonderful, and weird.
Church staff serve the only institution in the cosmos against which the gates of hell will not prevail. So don’t think for a moment that the enemy of God doesn’t desire to complicate and crush the hope of honest friendship among called ministers. These relationships require continual tending. The following are lessons that my own church staff friends and I have reflected upon:
- Simple and profound encouragements are better than high fives. “You’re killing it”, or “You’re a rock star” don’t really stick to the heart or soul. Tell your friend specifically how you see God using them. A sentence or two. A text. A Post-it note. Be specific to seed the friendship to grow and flourish.
- Consecrate your ministry friendships with much prayer. Jonathan and David made a covenant. Perhaps yours won’t be so formal, but make the time to pray together often. And pray over each other every time. I serve on church staff with one of the most important friends of my life. We prayer walk fairly regularly during lunch or a break. This is a simple and sometimes even mundane practice that not only knits our hearts but covers us with grace.
- No matter how painful it is, be honest about your heart with each other. This can be particularly difficult if your friend is your boss. Or you’re the boss and your friend reports to you. I’ve lived both realities more than I can count. But I’ve found that the more you think “those kind of thoughts” about your friend over a church work matter, the more likely you need to confront the issue with them. Pray and don’t worry about sounding “complainy” or chirpy. Remember that you’re not that person to your friend. Some of the most intimate moments I’ve had with friends on staff is sharing (and diffusing) small frustrations before they become big ones. Such unity comes out of honesty. Have the uncomfortable conversation before it becomes a costly one.
- Be aware of and considerate of each other’s personalities and expectations. Know where you’ll budge and where you won’t. Help guard that for each other.
- Humility and honesty are keys for both of you. You can also guard and guide each other in this way. The trust and vulnerability of the greatest gospel partnerships is earned by a thousand little moments of intentional time together.
- Stop the sarcasm. It is not a love language. If such remarks are the theme of a friendship—the thing you continually do when you talk—you need to seriously question the basis. Sarcasm won’t take the bullets fired at you in ministry. The enemy is relentless. Sarcasm doesn’t bond, it tears. It’s just not worth it. It won’t preserve or protect your friendship. It will rot it from the inside out.
- Secrecy is poison. There will be hard conversations and confidentiality required. You may not be able to share every detail every time. Trust one another. Secret knowledge lorded over each other is poison to friendship. Absolute candor is key. Seek the wisdom of what to share, as well as when and how.
- Share your frustrations with each other well. And be holy about it.
- When in doubt about what your friend may think about you, just ask. Make time to talk. Don’t stuff it down. When you stuff things down, it’s almost guaranteed to fester. Your mutual respect and love can carry the weight of addressing the issue. Check in with each other with constant grace, guidance, and guarding in your friendship. It it worth protecting the precious bond given to you by God.
- It’s great to work together at a church. It’s also good to have friends who work at other churches. They can provide perspective from another viewpoint. Like a prism, they can reveal colors of the Creator’s work that you may not be able to otherwise see. Cultivate these longer distance friendships in ministry. Even if you don’t see each other often, make the most of the holy moments that you do have together. A voicemail or text that you are praying for one another is always in season, whether you’ll see them at the office later or… who knows when.
I often remind my boys that friends are a good gift from God. I’ve found this to be deeply true in my church staff friendships. May you too be given the grace and guidance to guard one another on your shared adventure.
Dr. Jared Musgrove is the Leadership Pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX.