Westminster Seminary California
Pastoring Friends and Family

One of the most challenging things in a pastor’s ministry is shepherding friends and family. I’m not talking about pastoring people in the congregation who become your friends, though that certainly has its challenges. Rather, I’m talking about the situation when a new pastor takes a call at a congregation where he has friends and family. Perhaps few pastors face this scenario as their calls take them far away to other areas of the country. But for those who are called to such a situation, there can be many challenges.

I suspect that almost always friends and family eagerly look forward to having their son and friend shepherd them. There is a certain sense of excitement and pride knowing that your son rises each Sunday morning to preach the Word of God. What parent would not beam with pride, if only discretely in his heart, at the sight of his son feeding the people of God through preaching. The same goes for old friends of the pastor. So where do the challenges lie?

Everything will go fine until there is a disagreement. After all, there is little place for conflict when everyone agrees. But what about tough decisions, perhaps even unpopular ones? What about when the pastor preaches against a particular sin because the text for the sermon calls for it but it cuts across the actions of friends and family? This is when things get difficult.

First, the pastor himself has to have the integrity to preach the text regardless of who sits in the congregation, even if it means preaching against sins with which his parents or friends might struggle. Therein lies the first hurdle—will the pastor be faithful to Christ’s word or allow the concern of offense against friends and family have him alter his preaching, soften the blow, or ignore painful but nevertheless necessary truth? On the other hand, might the preacher become over-eager in his desire to be faithful to the word, and in so doing, lower the hammer in an unsympathetic way?

Second, assuming the pastor threads the needle between infidelity and over zealous application, how do the friends and family respond? Will they heed the words or dismiss them because of the source? Will they take greater offense because the words come from a close friend or even a child? It can be very difficult for parents, who once diapered the cute little bottom of the man who now stands in the pulpit, to accept the words of rebuke without offense or easy dismissal. The friend who used to horse around, play jokes, and act like a goof ball is now the man who is saying things you don’t like! In both of these scenarios the opportunities for failure, conflict, division, and offense are great. Does this therefore mean that no pastor should shepherd close friends or family?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Rather, such a dilemma calls for wisdom. There may be some preachers who, knowing his parents or friends, should avoid such a situation altogether. The opposite may be true—shepherding one’s friends and family might bring great joy and encouragement.

But if friends and family are to succeed in sitting under the ministry of their friend or son, there is a vital truth that must be recognized. When God places a call upon a man to pursue the sacred office of pastor, and this call is recognized by the church, the congregation must always recognize, regardless if the pastor is your son or good friend, that he is Christ’s gift to the church, a man specifically and sovereignly gifted to herald the gospel and administer the sacraments (Eph 4.7-14).

Just as a father would not tap the shoulder of his surgeon-son, “Uh, son, are you sure you know what you’re doing there,” so parents should trust that their pastor knows what he is doing, even if that means that his words seek to cut out serious and cancerous sin from your lives. The same goes for those who have a good friend in the pulpit preaching the word of God. In the end, if a pastor is to succeed in shepherding friends and family, he must realize the nature of his sacred office; those who sit beneath his ministry must do the same. When we go to church, we go not to hear a good friend, son, or dynamic speaker, but instead one called to herald the prophetic gospel of Jesus Christ.