Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

To Love but not Befriend

I don’t know if there is another human relationship like that a minister needs to build with their congregants. Or even the relationship a minister needs to build with the congregation as a whole. As I have been building my relationship with the members of the congregation in Midland Michigan, an old ministerial adage has come back to me several times… “You Shall Love them, but not Befriend them.”

It is a particular kind of love, and one not found in most of our current culture. Call it “Agape” for lack of a term in our modern English that denotes different kinds of love. I’m not sure Agape fits, however, for that form of love from the Axial age seemed to include the option of friendship.

I hesitate to use the word “love” in describing ministerial relationships, because our society has conflated so many different emotions under the banner of that one word. We cannot seem to think of love without it coming to mean romantic love. That conflation has gotten more than one minister into trouble. But ministerial love is not romantic love… the “embodiment” movement of the ‘70’s aside, ministerial love has little or nothing to do with the body. It is about being in-love with humanity, and seeing that humanity in the people you are called to serve.

It would be easy for me to befriend the members of the congregation I am serving. They are good people! I remember driving home one day in August and turning to my wife and saying “This is a good generic imitrex brands board!”, but it is more than this. It would be so easy to become their friend.

However, our world abounds with friends. We friend each other on facebook, we make friends at work, we find friends at the bowling alley. A minister who is a friend to their congregation seems to me to be missing the unique role we are called to play in the lives of those around us. A minister is called to love the humanity in each and every person they are called to serve, even when the person themselves cannot see it. Especially then…

It is also a protection for the minister, not to befriend their congregants. All ministries are temporary. No matter if it is an interim minister or a settled minister, a healthy ministry begins contemplating when is the right time to leave on the first day. A minister needs the space to challenge without betrayal, to name something that is uncomfortable, to ask for something that is not convenient. These are not always friendly things, but they are in-tune with loving someone’s humanity.

Part of the role of the minister is teaching this different kind of relationship, teaching this different kind of love to their congregations. Failure to do so can lead to all of the complications that come from a society that has tried to combine all the different “love” emotions into that one word. For, as a minister, I am called to love the humanity within each of my congregants, but not to become their friend.

Yours in faith,

Rev. David

3 Thoughts on “To Love but not Befriend

  1. Blessings on your ministry my friend. Thanks for this posting.

  2. D H Lawrence called himself a priest of love. That speaks to me as does an account in THE AQUARIAN GOSPEL OF JESUS THE CHRIST where one of the final temptations prior to the onset of his ministry was by a woman seeking marriage to him. I believe if one lives the creed of universal love, there is less chance of getting overly involved with one single individual. I believe one of the definitions of schizoid is someone who avoids close relationships, but that practice may have its. merits. I enjoy my solitude and do not anticipate ever marrying again. I was married once, from 1973 to 1984 and currently primarily identify with asexual polyamory.

  3. To a certain extent it’s like being a parent.

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