When Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote “With a Little Help from My Friends,” they did it so Ringo could sing the lead on one of the songs from the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” I don’t know if their main motivation was friendship or fairness, but the song is an iconic reminder of how friendship enriches our lives.
Friends are not the same thing as acquaintances. They’re not just people we know, or work with, or remember from high school. Friends care what’s going on in our lives, and check in periodically to find out. Friends drop what they’re doing and lend a hand — or an ear, or a hug — when they know that we need one.
If we’re facing a time of stress or sorrow, long time friends don’t really need to follow an agenda — they just show up or call, and we are comforted.
Ministers are often lacking in such friends. Some believe they have to keep a certain distance from church members lest they be accused of partiality. The commitment to follow wherever God leads can leave ministers feeling a bit rootless and hesitant to build long term friendships in a community. When stress comes, ministers can feel alone, as if there is no one they can turn to.
That’s why it’s so important for clergy folk to remember that they need friends as much as anyone else, friends who are willing to be present and go deep and love us while also keeping us accountable. Friends like that rarely drop in out of the blue sky: finding them requires us to be proactive in finding supportive colleagues, and patient in building relationships that will last.
That’s one of the reasons the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship encourages ministers to be part of Peer Learning Groups that meet regularly. Learning together is important, but the friendships that develop are even more significant.
I am incredibly grateful to be part of the “Dead Preacher’s Society,” a group of minister-friends who have been supporting each other for 25 years. From the original group of 13, six of us are left. Some moved away or dropped out for personal reasons. One of our members died. We have supported each other through church fights and ministerial moves, through the deaths of parents and children, through personal illness and marital failure. We’ve celebrated each others’ accomplishments, admired pictures of grandchildren, and watched each other grow older.
More than anything, we have shown up. Three or four times a year, when it’s time for a meeting, we show up. When one of us faces a stressful time, we show up. There is a great comfort in knowing that when we need the comfort or wisdom or presence of someone who understands us, they will show up.
We get by with a little help from our friends.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.