One of the big reasons we as Christian leaders keep failing you is simply because too many have fans, not friends.
Let’s break this down with a few questions.
How did this happen?
It’s a complex set of circumstances that can cause one to build fans rather than friendships. It’s partially the posture the leader takes towards the people, partially the posture the people take towards their leader, and even current cultural expectations play into this. I don’t want to spend my time extrapolating this current complexity other than to say I believe we have made church into entertainment centers with entertainers and there are some dangerous things that have come out of this. Back to the thought at hand.
What’s the difference between a fan and a friend?
You can bring good friends in close. You can “let down” around them. Friends can push back and the relationship isn’t easily in jeopardy. Good friends help someone feel like they aren’t alone. Friendship requires that people are transparent, real, and yet still loved and safe. Friends love you, fans love what you can do. Friends love you through your hard places, fans love you until it gets hard.
Fans are different. They can sing your praise, but the praise is fragile. Fans need the object (I choose the word object on purpose) of their affection to constantly give them what they want, to always perform. If you miss a cue you could lose a fan. Everyone knows this deep down and it can cause incredible loneliness. Fans, even when they like you, don’t bring security and wholeness. Fans drain a leader because the leader needs to keep entertaining and impressing while they are around.
What does this mean for the church world?
As the church has let go of its familial roots and embraced the rock star production driven ways of the modern world, we traded the pursuit of what is transparent, real and a little messy for the pursuit of a perfectly produced show. This puts church leaders in an interesting spot. They are now primarily called to become “actors” who are relatable rather than having real relationships. Being relatable to your congregation and having a real relationship with them are two very different things.
This begs a great question…
How can you help your church leaders have friends and be a friend?
Let me ask it in a more poignant way. How do you help your leader step out of the lonely modern production machines they are becoming?
I honestly wouldn’t have been able to see this unless Trinity (the church I serve in) was filled with incredible people. Your pastor will move more into a friend based on how you respond to the ways they display their humanity. Meaning, do you leave the church when your pastor accidentally cusses, or when the worship leader misses a cue or sings off key? Can he/she be human? The more you help them see that you choose to love them and not only what they produce, the more they will feel safe enough to grow in friendship. Don’t just be a fan, be a friend. Remember, just like you need a real church, a real Jesus and real Christian community to love the real you, so do they. At Trinity I have some great friends, yet even in my church some of my biggest current fans I know I am not “safe” around. One leadership mistake and they would be gone. This brings up a great question.
What about the weight of leadership and if a spiritual leader is actually in sin?
This doesn’t mean you ignore sin. It means you help them feel loved all while you deal with it. Just like you would a real friend. I am not saying you ignore their messy parts. There are a lot of wonderful Biblically centered groups that help restore people. I could be fired from my position and I truly do think my friends here would still grab coffee and love me. Some would even help me find a job. Fans flee, friends restore. This is why I love our church, not because of the organizational growth and my fans, but because of my friends. I can be truly known and still loved by them.
What about your context?
You can’t change how your leader will respond or what is currently going on in their heart, but you can take a posture of friendship. My guess is the more you show yourself as friend and not merely a fan, the more your overly polished pseudo “perfect” leader will feel safe enough to be real in turn. It won’t happen at once. Especially if the system has taught him or her that there is no room for anything but the relatable actor. It will take time, like any friendship. Maybe in this case your leader needs you to lead them. Let me say that differently. I can almost guarantee this is an area the laity needs to lead in. Why? I have coached a number of pastors over the years and I promise many think you want the spiritual “showman” and the moment they can’t put on an amazing show, you’re gone. I can’t overemphasize the weight this assumption puts on them. Modern church families feel really fragile and divorce is not only an option but a constant threat.
I know my friends have saved my ministry multiple times over and I am grateful beyond words for ministry friends, the ones who hold me accountable and still stand by my side. It makes me want to stand by theirs too. When my ministry fans wear me out, I remember my ministry friends. I owe them more than I could ever state in a blog. Let me encourage you, as a front line lead pastor, hold your leaders accountable, speak your mind and keep standing by their side in a God honoring way. It’s those loyal people that have won my heart. It’s those people I listen closely to. It’s those people I can vent on. It’s those people who I really feel are my…friends. They know me too well to be my fans. 😉