Leadership is a long road when called to full time ministry. It’s a good road, but nonetheless a long one. Now over thirty years in ministry, I’m more convinced than ever that lifelong friendships are needed to go the distance. In fact, I might go as far as to say that it’s dangerous to attempt the journey without true friends.

(Photo by Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

When I was in my early thirties, a wise mentor told me that by the time I was forty I should know who my lifelong friends are. I didn’t take that as an exactly literal mandate, but quickly accepted the heart of the principle. I’ve made and enjoyed incredible friendships after turning forty, but had I never heard the “friends by 40” idea, I may have missed what it takes to enjoy deep and abiding friendships beginning at any age.

By the time someone’s 40 they should know who their lifelong friends are. 

There are 3 three reasons it’s challenging to develop deep and enduring relationships in full time vocational ministry:

1. Short tenures

The majority of local church pastors (and staff) change churches every five years or less. These frequent geographic transitions make forming long term friendship more difficult.

2. Confidentiality concerns

When you are the pastor of your confidants, the lines within close relationships can become blurry.

3. Boundaries

Outside the local church, it is much more acceptable to “end” a relationship that is no longer healthy or productive. Within your own church, it’s nearly impossible to do so.

It’s still worth it.

Nonetheless, meaningful and abiding relationships are not only attainable, but they are so worth the effort and the risk. Simply being aware of these three challenges and paying attention to them will make a big difference.

Some of you have been hurt in the past. I know. You are reluctant to ever let that happen again. But you need to know that if you are guarded, the walls that protect you from further hurt are the same walls that protect you from the incredible friendships you desire.

I’m blessed with dozens of amazing friendships, many of which are thirty years or longer. The following thoughts may be helpful to you, or those you coach and mentor.

Three non-negotiables for lasting friendships:

1) Intentional Investment

You can’t trump natural chemistry when it comes to long term and meaningful friendships. However, there is more to it than just chemistry. It takes intentionality. An investment of time is required. Genuine and unselfish attention to the other’s best interests, along with a healthy dose of grace is needed to go the distance.

2) Honesty and Trust

I’ve never known of a long term and meaningful friendship that lasted without honesty based on trust. Once that is violated, it is difficult to repair. Great friendships aren’t perfect, but they are built on a foundation of authenticity and truthfulness. Not every conversation is deep and lengthy, but good friends can go there whenever needed.

3) Mutually Challenging

Sometimes friends just hang out and talk. I love going to a baseball game just to chill with a friend. Some of my buddies love to sail, play golf, or play guitar. Some of my scary friends like to shoot things. That’s great! And yes, this SoCal, whale-saving, tofu-eating XP actually bought a couple guns!

Great friends know how to have great fun!!! But leaders need more. There is a passion for learning, improvement and growth that needs fueling and challenging. Iron sharpening iron is a great gift among leaders who are close friends.

A genuine friend encourages and challenges us to live our best thoughts, honor our purest motives, and achieve our most significant dreams.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

Proverbs 17:17