Here’s a question that was sent to the simply youth ministry podcast:

[In the past,] I made the mistake of getting too close to our student leaders who was in their 20s, and the problem with this is that when it came time for me to pastor then, all they expected and wanted from me is to be a friend. This led to quite a lot of conflict……I guess the truth is that you can never really befriend anyone you pastor? Have you guys ever blurred the lines? How did you deal with it? And what can you guys recommend in this kind of situation?

Taiki, great question! You have written four people who are good friends and do ministry together.

Ultimately, I think the most important thing you can do is to really hone down on what friendship means for you. I’m talking about for you specifically, not friendship in general. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

I think most people in the world (church and beyond) would say it’s best to keep friendship and leadership separate. It definitely is easier. One leader will say, I don’t want us to be friends, because if we were, they would feel comfortable to challenge me. To that person I say, have fun wallowing in your weakness.

I think that doing ministry as friends ought to be the goal and the best way to do ministry. Doing great ministry with great friends is what makes the most sense to me. This isn’t necessarily biblical, we’re called to love one another, but I guess that doesn’t mean “close friends.”

Developing your idea of friendship is important. For me, the people whom I know best are the people I “lead” the most. I put that in quotes because what I really mean is this: the more I know someone, the more I’ll speak into their life—calling them out and encouraging them to take the next step. Friendship with me means to be challenged. The people I know very little, I challenge little.

Friendship and ministry never really clash. A good friendship knows that a ministry is simply an activity and much less important than friendship. In my opinion, there is something else entirely that is in conflict. This other thing is sometimes superficial (like a difference in opinion) and sometimes very serious (a pride or regret).

Let’s get practical: a conflict is to friendship is what confusion is to the mind: a way to get stronger. Begin by not ending the matter too quickly by running away or pretending it doesn’t exist. Work on figuring out what the REAL ISSUE truly is.

If it’s an issue only in the realm of ministry, then the leader is responsible and has the authority to make the decision. it the issue is not, then resolve it as friends. If you’ve discovered the real issue and it’s both ministry and friendship, then you didn’t look hard enough.

It is easier to keep things separate, and I know many people who do. I cannot see any joy in ministry unless I am serving with friends.