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Ministers’ friends may be problem topic for members

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Church staff members are not the only people who have difficulty in making friends, Vickie Knierim readily admits.
“But any time you become a role model or a person in the public eye,” she told participants in the July 4-11 National Conference for Church Leadership, “the dynamics change. We have to be careful because people are watching us.”
Knierim, a school librarian and minister’s wife from Mount Juliet, Tenn., said church staff members and their families may face criticism for the kinds of friends they choose and the strength of those friendships.
“When you go into a church for the first time as a staff family, you are everybody else’s friend whether you know them or not.
“On your way out of church to go to lunch with another couple,” she said, “you may overhear someone observe in a critical tone, ‘They are best friends, you know.’ As difficult as it may be, you just have to ignore that kind of comment.”
The person who makes such remarks may have some special need, Knierim said. While church staff families are surrounded by people to whom they relate on a certain level of friendship, “to find someone who knows you deep down is a difficult thing.”
Ministry may not necessarily be more lonely than other occupations, she said, “but it is a different kind of loneliness.
“We are lonely sometimes because it’s difficult for people to know who we are. People may be afraid to be personal with us or they may want to keep a certain professional distance.”
Critical comments about friendships, if internalized, can make church staff family members feel defeated.
“Little things can keep us distracted from what God wants us to do,” she said. “Real friendship has to be based in God. The more we can point people to God, the better we will be in our relationships.”
Participants in the session offered observations out of their experiences in making friends at church. Among them:
— Be careful of those who close in on you the first day, wanting to be your best friends.
— People who follow you constantly have a great personal need.
— The minister before you may have had a best friend in the church and that person may feel great loss. You may not be the person to fill that role.
— Since you belong to everyone in the church, you cannot afford to be cliquish.
— Do speak first, be friendly and open, be trustworthy and set your own boundaries.
— Do not make yourself inaccessible.
— Do not be insincere, betray a confidence or have a hidden agenda.
“There is no magic formula,” Knierim said. “There will always be special dynamics related to people in your church, but ours is a rewarding and challenging role.”
The National Conference for Church Leadership was sponsored by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s church leadership services division.

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  • Charles Willis