I have had two favorite professors in my doctoral program. The first is the director herself. The second is a man named Craig Barnes.
“Professor” Barnes is also “Rev. Dr.” Barnes — a pastor at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and one of the most gifted preachers I have ever heard. He’s thoughtful. He despises clichés and easy answers. He’s a great teacher, both in the pulpit and in the classroom.
He wrote an article titled Pastor, Not Friend which begins like this:
Jack Anderson is every pastor’s dream elder. He’s a physician who is known for being ethical and compassionate. He reads theology and practices the spiritual disciplines, and I can always hear echoes of the Holy Spirit in his wise counsel. No one in the church, including Jack, can remember all that he has done for the congregation over the years—he’s exactly what the Reformers had in mind when writing about the priesthood of all believers.
Jack stood beside me in more than one foxhole when the leadership of the church was introducing a change that caused conflict within the congregation. There was only one thing he expected in return for all of this service—he wanted to be my friend.
When the time came for me to leave the church, Jack was devastated. He was hurt that I hadn’t included him in my discernment process—and livid that I would “so easily” abandon the relationship we had developed over the last ten years because “friends don’t treat each other like that.” He is right about friends, but I was not his friend. I was his pastor.
Rev. Dr. Barnes is leaving his position at the church and the seminary.1
This isn’t a complaint. My classwork is done, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take any more classes from him.
He’s leaving for a good reason… possibly a great reason:
he’s going to be the next president of Princeton Theological Seminary.
(He’s going from one “PTS” — Pittsburgh Theological Seminary — to another.)
It’s a great opportunity for him, and (I hope) a great match for the seminary. Princeton is where I went for my M.Div.2 and I think he could make a great seminary president.3
But it means that he’s going to leave not only a big empty space in the D.Min. program, but he’s also leaving the church he served as pastor.
I have excerpted from his newest article Pastor, Not Friend above. At first I thought it wouldn’t be of interest to anyone who isn’t a pastor, but then I realized that it might be of interest to people who know pastors.
Then it occurred to me that it might be of interest to people who know me.
There is effectively nowhere I can go in the town where I live where I am not the pastor of a church. I’ve met people for the first time who have known who I was by my name. Perils of a small town, I guess.
That’s one reason why the Internet has been a good place for me to make friends.
My primary relationship with the people in my congregation is — and should be — as pastor not “friend.”
Since hard-working pastors devote most of their energy to the church, they inevitably become close to the lay leaders who work beside them. After a long committee meeting or Bible study an elder always hangs out around the table with me to talk. We start with the elder’s concerns, but he or she will then ask, “And how are you doing, Craig?” Over the years we become deeply invested in our anxieties about our children or worrisome medical reports. We laugh as we clumsily rebuild a roof on a mission trip. And we have many lunches together. It sure sounds like friendship. But it can’t be.
When I knelt to receive the laying on of hands before I was ordained, the elders of the congregation were being led by the Holy Spirit to push me away from them. They were essentially saying, “We are setting you apart to serve us. So you can’t be just one of the gang anymore. Now you have to love us enough to no longer expect mutuality.” It wasn’t long after I stood up from the ordination prayer that I discovered this. But the elders have a hard time understanding the holy distance they created by their decision to make me their pastor.
I’m not sure what the appropriate word is for the relationship I have with some members of the congregation. There are many who certainly consider me a friend, and I would certainly never say they were not my friends.
But it’s… different.
That’s not a complaint. It’s how it should be.
Chances are good, however, that there is at least one “Jack Anderson” in my congregation who won’t understand when the time eventually comes for me to move on.
Anyway, recommended reading. If you’re interested in that sort of thing.