“I was appointed as my denomination’s pastoral counselor,” the clergy conference speaker said. “My job is to counsel pastors. The job is demanding, filling my schedule several weeks ahead. I have been doing this for over three years and I have yet to counsel a single pastor of my own denomination. They are all from other denominations.”
I looked at the pastors around me. No surprised looks. A few wry grins. Most quietly nodded their heads in silent understanding. The speaker went on to review what his audience already knew: no pastor dares to bare his soul with a representative from his denomination for fear it gets back to the administration.
Lack of Trust
Several pastors commented on my column What Every Man Needs, But Few Get, saying they have made good deep-level friendships with other pastors, though not from their denomination. That’s why some pastors form good friendships with retired non-denominational missionaries.
Lack of trust blocks men from making deep friendships. One non-Wycliffe correspondent put it well, “The competition for promotion, for power, for funding, all work against men forming deep relationships. These traits and behaviors were part of my team experience in every assignment. I found it very unwise to ever let my hair down, to express my deeper thoughts and emotions, because the superficial things I did share I found used against me. I learned to keep quiet.”
He concluded, “Perfect love has yet to be realized in the local church (1 John 4:18), so the fear of what we share with another being used against us remains. Vulnerability is thus sacrificed on the altar of self-preservation, and loneliness becomes our way of life.”
Three Relationship Circles
Every man has three concentric circles of relationships. The large Fellowship circle is made up of the dozens of men he knows. The much smaller Friends circle is comprised of people he knows well, his colleagues, his neighbours, etc. Then there is a very small Freedom circle in which are the trusted men from whom he does not need to hide anything. For most men the Freedom circle is empty.
One friend commented on my admission “I cried my heart out with longing” when I heard about the deep friendships of the Billy Graham team at the Amsterdam conference. He and I were both at that conference and often talked with each other. He wrote, “Jack, the sad irony of your story is that I . . . had no idea of what was going on in your heart. I wonder how often this happens with men?” True, I hurt terribly inside, but didn’t share it with this brother. Loneliness had become my way of life.
Pastors making special friendships with men in their congregation run the risk of being accused of favoritism. Nor can he discuss pastoral issues with a member of the congregation. Missionaries too struggle with conflict of interest issues. They are life-long fundraisers for their ministries, their projects and, in the case of “faith missionaries”, their salaries. I have felt it myself. As I tried to develop a deep level friendship on furlough, I also had the thought, “I wonder if he might like to support us financially?” Maybe the potential friend was thinking something similar, “I wonder if Jack is developing this friendship with the hope of getting me to support him?”
Several leaders wrote to say they felt isolated in their leadership position. Yes! I was the CEO of Wycliffe Canada for six years and of Wycliffe Caribbean for three years. Leadership is a lonely calling. Even my wife, Jo, disliked the role of CEO’s wife. Although she oozes friendliness and is the soul of discretion, she felt that her friends were not as close as they had been before.
(By the way, although my focus is on men, from the growing number of emails from women I gather they too find it hard to develop Freedom circle friendships.) So what’s a man to do?
Six Things We Men Must Do
- Recognize that God created us and other human beings to be relational. God is relational: He is a Community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God made us “in His image” which includes the need for relating to others on an intimate level.
- We need to be absolutely convinced that having an intimate, deep-level Freedom circle friendship with another man is God’s will for us.
- Knowing that God wants us to have a close, deep level friend, we set developing one as a top priority in our life, asking for God’s help daily.
- We must always stay within our gender. Men develop friendships with men, women with women.
- To avoid conflicts of interests, or competition, we may need to make intimate friends with someone outside of our workplace or workgroup. Pastors may need to go outside the church, and leaders outside their organization to find and develop a mutually satisfying friendship.
- We must continue the relationship even while we are apart by using the phone, email, Skype, or other technology to keep in touch. This may not grow the friendship, but at least will maintain it.
Those of you who already have trusted Freedom circle friends with whom you are mutually accountable tell me, “It’s worth the time and effort. Just do it!” Please pray for the rest of us so we will persevere in asking, seeking and knocking, trusting that we will receive, find, and see an open door. Luke 11:9.