I have the blessing of interacting with many different pastors from all over New England. One of the things that is quickly apparent in many interactions is that a vast majority of pastors do not actually have any unbelieving people who would call them friend. This is both sad and seems like a major issue that is facing the church at large. If this is true of the pastors I interact with here in New England, I would posit that it is the same around the country, but maybe I am off on this assumption.
The problems with this are many, but let me draw out a couple.
The first issue is that as a pastor, we are called to equip our people to do the ministry of reconciliation (Eph. 4.11-12; 2 Cor. 5.16-21) to those who do not know Jesus. We are called to equip people to make disciples (Matt. 18.19), which we should be doing also. But how are we to call our people to make disciples and minister to the world around them, if we do not even know how to do it. I understand that there are many amazing books on discipleship and reaching people. But I am not so sure I would board a plan with a pilot who had never actually flown a plane, but has read all the books on it. Likewise we should not lock ourselves in our studies, learning about leading the lost to Jesus, we should go and hang out with the lost, and pray that the Spirit would lead them unto Himself!
The second issue with a pastor who doesn’t have any non-believers as friends seems to be more dangerous. If you are a pastor and do not have anyone who would call you friend outside of your church family, then you are actually unqualified to be an elder by Paul’s standards? When we look at the requirements of an overseer of the church, there are two things that directly apply to the overseer having relationships with those who do not yet know Jesus. The first is that he is to be hospitable (1 Tim. 3.2) and the second is even more apparent, it is that he is to be well thought of by outsiders (1 Tim. 3 7). Being well thought of does not mean that you don’t blow your lawn clippings on your neighbor’s lawn, or that you clean up after your kids leave their toys on their property. It means more than that. It means that people actually know you, and like you. That you would be the type of person that unbelievers would want to spend time with and invite to their kids’ birthday parties. Yes being hospitable means having believers into your house, but it also means having those who do not know Jesus in your house and serving them.
Finally, if we do not have friends who are unbelievers, we are failing at being a Christian. We are all called, pastors, mechanics, school teachers, stay-at-home moms, to be disciples of Jesus who make disciples for Jesus. If we, the leaders of the church, are not making disciples (leading people from darkness to light), then we are failing at the primary calling of the Christian life.
Pastor, let me ask you this question, do you have people in your life who do not know Jesus that you would call friend and who would call you friend? The question is not do you know people who attend your church who don’t know Jesus, but do you know people who are your friends and it has nothing to do with the fact that they are attend your service, went to a wedding you did, or know someone who is in your church family. Pastor, we need to be in and among the world if we are ever going to be effective in our pastoral ministry, and in leading your church to be people who make disciples. If your church family is not having conversions, if there are not new people coming to know and treasure Jesus, let us not look at the programs that we are lacking, but may we look at our own schedule and friends, and see if we are living lives that are intentional about building relationships with people who do not know Jesus.