categories: swerve lab
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February 27th, 2008

by Bobby Gruenewald

21 comments (+ Add)

swerve lab: Staff Friendships

Thanks to everybody who continues to respond and help those who have submitted questions to the swerve lab. If you have a question that you would like for the readers of this blog to respond to, please send it to and put “Swerve Lab” in the subject line.

An anonymous reader asks,

How do you walk the fine line between being friends with those on your staff and being their boss/pastor?  Is there a certain amount of keeping at arm’s length that must take place?  Do you find that being chums with your staff makes it more difficult to make the tough calls or bring correction when needed?

Please share your thoughts!

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  1. 1tony
    Feb 27, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    amazing that no LC staffers / bosses have responded to this one!

  2. Feb 27, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    I have a really good relationship with my ministry assistant. She (and her husband and my wife) and I have been good friends for a long time. Before she and I were on staff together actually. At times it is hard to correct where correction is needed. I have to be really careful of some things I say, because there are some things she just doesn’t need to be privy to.

    On the other hand, I know her very well, and I know what works with her and what doesn’t. I know things I can say that will crush her spirit immediately. Therefore, I avoid those things at all costs. If only others on staff she reports to would learn the same things, we’d all be much better off.

    So, friendships are good and bad. At times, some things are easier. It makes some things harder. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t the longer you work together. Friendships aren’t bad at all, as long as you know the limitations of that particular friendship. It takes time, and lots of failure to figure out where the line is.

  3. Feb 27, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    I think character & integrity establish their own lines and demand respect regardless of rank or role…

  4. 4BrandonP
    Feb 27, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    As the lower man on the totem pole I do not have any experience as the boss/pastor. I have found this problem most easily fixed when the subordinate reminds themselves to give their opinion and contribute to the discussion, but to recognize when the decision is made and follow orders. Sadly, not everyone keeps this in mind.

  5. Feb 27, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    I really desire to be as transparent as i can with my staff and practice speaking the truth in love. So i’ve never had much of a struggle bringing correction. I do try to be open to receiving it too from everyone. I mean if they are right about an area of my life that is out of line, i need to deal with it, regardless of who it comes from.

    Sometimes it has been difficult to let someone go because i like them so much but again, if they know that i genuinely care for their well-being it helps. For me it’s all about trying to create a healthy working environment. Modeling integrity and character or at least people realizing you’re trying to do that.

  6. Feb 27, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I think that a major part of being a Pastor is protecting your people. I can think of a few pastors/bosses who I have considered friends. Part of that relationship was protecting me from some of the things that I did not need to know, or that I was unprepared to handle (church politics, etc.). This would not be keeping people at arms length, but guarding them. After all, love protects. Respect for the person is key…not based on their role, but because they are a child of God. That goes both ways. I think that friendly relationships between boss/pastor and staff is entirely possible. Like in any relationship, there must be balance, respect, discretion, and humility.

  7. Feb 27, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    This is a good question. We hire 99% of our staff from within the church (which is a good thing) but it also creates additional relationship dynamics to think through.

    As a lead pastor I have several relationships to think through…

    1) My relationship with the staff person as a member of the church

    2) My relationship with the staff person as an employee of the church

    3) My relationship/responsibility to the church body to provide committed, effective staff members.

    I don’t know if I have answers to the reader’s question, but some experience in balancing this. Here are a couple observations.

    1) If push comes to shove, and a staff member is unable to meet the needs of our church body, it has to be addressed. Our mission as a church is more important than financially supporting an individual. The church deserves a senior leader who will make the tough call when needed with staff.

    2) Some of my closest friends in the church have been staff members, some times it works out great, sometimes if definately changes the relationship. That’s a cost to be counted before hiring someone who is a friend.

    3) The viewer asked the question “Do you find that being chums with your staff makes it more difficult to make the tough calls or bring correction when needed?” I think “being chums” makes it harder and easier to make tough calls, some of the guys on my staff I have strong relationships with, I can be more to the point - because of the relational equity. In some cases, it’s the people I relate to the least that make it hard to relationally navigate the tough calls.

  8. Feb 27, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    I am very young, both in age and my time at LifeChurch, so my relationships with my “bosses” tend to be that of a mentor or adviser more than a friend but I really value that additional value in our relationship. I know that I can, and do, ask lots of questions about things that don’t just have to do with just LifeChurch, or LifeChurch at all.

    I think that working at LifeChurch isn’t just my job, it’s something more. So my relationship with my “boss” shouldn’t just be him/her being my boss. There is a line that shouldn’t be crossed but there are also some traditional boss/worker relationship lines that should be crossed.

  9. 9Joe Louthan
    Feb 28, 2008 at 12:02 am

    Few responses but incredible insight. Thanks.

  10. Feb 28, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Well… I pursue friendships with my staff, although I’m admittedly not the greatest. I have 6 small children so there’s no ‘hang-out’ time. Still, I pursue authenticity and transparency with my staff and readily admit when I’ve messed up. They follow my lead on this, it seems.

    So I’m always just Neil first, a friend, a brother. When I have to be the Senior Pastor I will tell my friend/staff member that I’m putting that ‘hat’ on so that there’s clarity. That has really helped! The few times that I forgot to make that clear it has been painful.

    I’d say that the pros of being close to people out-weight the difficult times that it will bring. Having a brother/friend for a Worship Pastor, for instance, is so great because we can hash stuff out knowing that the issues of ministry won’t touch our friendship. And when they do (because we go out-a-whack), we have the relationship established to heal up an move forward… together.

  11. Feb 28, 2008 at 7:57 am

    This is what you would call a “dual relationship” and not a great idea. A pastor is a pastor and can’t be a friend and a pastor. When you put friendship relationships in place of pastoral or counseling roles, then personal feelings get involved which would make having to be a pastor or a counselor nearly impossible. It would probably destroy the relationship (friendship side of it).

    When I say friend, I mean more than an acquaintance. There is a level of confrontation and accountability, also honesty sometimes that may ruin a normal friendship, because you would have to “weigh your words.”

  12. 12Josh
    Feb 28, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I believe wisdom and discretion needs to be used on a case by case basis. For instance I have received correction from a pastor recently, who I consider a great friend. I took it well and still value our friendship. Not everyone is able to distinguish between these roles, I am able to do this through what I call the Godfather principal: (There’s buisness and there is personal; this is buisness). In all reality, in most cases if correction is required there is a always more to the story. There needs to be a clear line between buisness and personal. I have drawn this line many times and I usually come right out and say: this is a buisness lunch, or this is personal advise, ect. Don’t try to manipulate people, this will only destroy trust and hurt them in the long run. Be honest from the jump and provide clear lines.

  13. Feb 28, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I personally have always worked best in ministry with those whom I consider friends. In my case, it is a lot easier to give and receive criticism from people whom I care about and whom care about me on a personal level.

    One of the primary reasons is that if I let them down or they let me down, I don’t approach correction or correcting with fear. I’m reminded of John 4:18.

  14. Feb 28, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    I heard Bill Hybels say once that in order to have friendships with staff members you have to know when to take the friend hat off and put the employer hat on. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out when that is. But he also said he would rather struggle with that from time to time and have close staff relationships than to just keep things on an employer/employee basis.

    Me too!

  15. Feb 28, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    This is a great topic…my boss/pastor and I consider each other best friends.

    All I can say is, it’s all about the hats.

    Know when to wear them, know which one to wear, and make sure that each of you know which hat you’re wearing if you need to switch hats. In one meeting, we probably each wear a few different hats and it’s good.

    It’s also good to have your staff allow you to switch hats when needed.

  16. Feb 29, 2008 at 9:36 am

    We love our staff so much. They make us look a LOT better than we really are! We have regular (about 3 times a year) gatherings with the whole staff just to show how much we appreciate them. About every 6-12 weeks My husband and I have some key leaders and some staff over to our house for a BBQ or potluck just to connect them to each other.

    That being said, we put the responsibility on our staff to know how to flow in and out of relationship with us. We expect that they understand how to relate to us when. If we are hanging out having dinner, it’s all fun and games and laughing. But when it’s time to get down to work — well, it’s down to work, and it’s on them to flow. The ones who master this well spend a lot more time with us then the ones who don’t. I know that might sound harsh, but we are all here to move the church forward and that is the level of emotional health and spiritual maturity that is required. This level of expectation is well understood by our staff –and you kow what? They respond to it beautifully!

  17. Feb 29, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    The issue is not friendship - it is one of Biblical relationships. The mutual submission discussed in Ephesians 5 does not exclude those of us on church staff. Friendships should, when Biblical principals are applied, not matter in the work place. My experience is that my former teammates were some of my best friends and we had some of the most heated arguments I remember. Yet at the end of the day we would look at each other and know that we love each other in Christ and are working for the same goals - the great commandments and commission. Regretfully when executive leadership believes it is the fount of all knowledge and wisdom subordinates are confused and their friendships and trust often come back and bite them in the rear.

  18. Feb 29, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    so many of you would really benefit from reading two books by Patrick Lencioni: ”5 dysfunctions of a team” & ”3 signs of a miserable job”.

    it seems that the question is already off on the wrong foot… Why wouldn’t you want to have strong friendships on your team? Isn’t the trust that is established much more valuable than maintaining your ‘’senior” status? I mean seriously… Did someone really suggest a pastor not be friends w/ his staff?!?! isn’t Christ the head of our churches? & aren’t we all just brothers & sisters w/ different roles in the body?

    it sounds like we are trying to protect a position that need not be protected. We should of course let down our gaurds… Be completely vulnerable… And develop meaningful relationship within our staffs… If not on a church staff than on what staff?!?!

    read those two books… Maybe they will help. Good dialogue though. :-)

  19. Mar 2, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Chris said, “so many of you would really benefit from reading two books by Patrick Lencioni: ”5 dysfunctions of a team” & ”3 signs of a miserable job.” I agree - Lencioni is awesome and the hard reality of the 5 truths book may sober many of us!

  20. Mar 26, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    [...] You can also read our last swerve lab on boundaries for staff friendships. [...]

  21. Mar 27, 2008 at 9:20 am

    This is kind of a funny question… since I’ve only been in ministry for 1.5 years after 15 years in the business world, it’s a neat reminder that maybe the church has forgotten something…

    In the business world, I’ve never experienced a working relationship where we had to intentionally keep people from becoming too close to me. Every boss I’ve had in that career was someone who I considered a friend. I number of them I still keep in touch with even those I haven’t worked with them in over 10 years!

    So why is it in the church we seem to have these crazy notion that because I’m a pastor, I’m not supposed to let the other pastors on my staff know me very well??? I don’t see Jesus doing his ministry like this. He laughed and partied with his “staff”. He asked his “staff” to pray for him in his darkest hour of need. And should we pastors be closed off and keep the staff at a distance because we’ve “been hurt before”??? Well, again, Jesus’ “staff” ditched him and probably hurt him worse then anything thing we’ve been through…

    Anyways, all this rambling to say this, how can we expect our congregations to live out authentic Christian community when our pastors are too afraid to live it with each other?? If we’re too concerned with letting our staff get too close to us then we’d probably be better off shutting our doors. Why bother trying to reach a community for Christ simply to then teach them to lock themselves back up and don’t let anyone get close to you. That just seems way too opposite of what Jesus calls us to do.