Pastoral ministry can be lonely. Some pastors may be in a church for 20+ years, but the average tenure of an American pastor is about 6 years.
I try not to think about the fact that no matter my intentions, and no matter how close I wish to be with my church people, they have seen pastors come and go. They may love me now, but our relationship will likely only last a short time beyond my tenure.
When a pastor leaves, he needs not interfere with his departing church so the incoming pastor can take on the mantle of ministry without the shadow of his predecessor. For a pastor, relationships with church members are usually temporary things.
That’s why life-giving relationships for pastors outside the church is so important.
As someone who struggles with emotional dependency, I confess having such relationships and losing them feels unbearable. I do not want to be needy toward others. I want to be seen, known, loved, and pursued. And not because I had to ask for it.
I flit back and forth between feeling like an Enneagram 2 or 6. I am loyal to a fault, and I often look to others for affirmation to build up my feeling of self-worth. This means that I sometimes hold on to friendships longer than I should, longer than what is healthy for me.
One of my greatest supports I’ve ever had as a pastor was my friend, Brett. He was my best friend and a fellow pastor.
However, a point came in our relationship when I realized just how dependent I was on him and just how one-sided our friendship was. For my own well-being, I needed to step away from the relationship.
What follows is the lament and reflection I wrote in saying “goodbye” to our friendship.
The Last Goodbye to My Best Friend
It has been six months since I said goodbye to the man I called my brother, my best friend. He was one of the first people I told about my same-sex attraction. We were in each other’s weddings. We comforted each other when relatives passed away. We laughed and cried with each other and forgot whose jokes belong to whom.
What was the hardest part about saying goodbye? I don’t know if he even noticed I had done it.
He didn’t die. He lives eight hours away from me. He is quite well. I could pick up the phone and call him right now.
But for my own health, I cannot. Because I am the one who always has to call. And too often when I have called, the calls go unanswered; the messages, un-returned.
He used to prioritize time for us to talk.
We could catch up on life and ministry, and how we could pray for each other, and we said we’d try and talk every two weeks. One of his prayers (and one I also desired for myself) was that God would give him other local pastors with whom to partner, friends outside his church, and godly men in his church to walk alongside him.
Eventually, God answered our prayers for him, and my texts and calls began to go unanswered.
When I last saw him, I told him about some current pains in my life. That my wife and I were going through a time of uncertainty and deep pain.
I thought he would be there for me. I hoped he’d call me later. But the days stretched into weeks. And the weeks into months.
I had a good friend tell me that if only one person is doing all the reaching in a great friendship, then only one person has a great friend.
Six months ago, I got to hug him one last time as the friend I knew. I told him I loved him, and I said goodbye. I let go of the friendship we had.
I acknowledged the reality of what is, rather than clinging to what was.
And why did I let go? Because it was damaging me to expect more from him — and also unfair to him, particularly since he wasn’t doing anything out of malice. He was doing it out of ignorance.
And that’s the sad part. It had been six months. And I wonder, in moments like this, where I want nothing more than to try again . . . to pick up the phone and call again . . . has he even noticed my absence?
Because unless I heal, and unless something changes, until he reaches out to me, I have given him my last goodbye.
One reason I’m thankful for Your Other Brothers is that I can build community with people who “get it.” I was able to say goodbye to Brett, in part, because of the brothers in this community who supported me in developing healthier emotional connections.
I have some amazing friendships in this wonderful online community. And when I move to a new church someday, I won’t have to say goodbye to my other brothers.
Have you walked away from a friendship for your own health? What do you do to keep yourself from emotional dependency? How do you build community that lasts?