Robin Dunbar, University of Oxford anthropologist and psychologist, made an accidental discovery concerning how people gather. He observed in primates there was a direct correlation between the size of their brain and the number of peers in their social group. Essentially, the bigger the brain the bigger the social group. When he applied his theory to humans, he perceived that each person has around one hundred fifty people in their social group that they would consider friends. His work since the mid-1980’s has not only refined these numbers into subgroups but the theory that each person is relationally connected to around 150 people has been consistently demonstrated in both modern times and historical records.
The question then is—in relation to pastors who regularly find themselves surrounded by people—why do seventy percent say they do not have close personal friends and no one in whom to confide?
This either means that, in accordance with Dunbar’s theories, pastors have smaller brains or something else is going on. I believe it to be the second.
Perhaps the absence of friends is the training that pastors receive. Perhaps it is the weight of pastoral ministry. Maybe it is due to the years of hurt that has been inflicted by “friends.” Or perhaps the real reason is pastors have not made friendships a priority. (There is a fourth possibility that says pastors really do have good friends, the survey is wrong and this post is wasting your time.)
In a day and age when anyone can have thousands of followers on their myriad of social networks, it is time to build friendships. The following are three of the many biblical principles to embrace and apply towards building friendships.
Friends make life sweeter.
“Oil and incense bring joy to the heart, and the sweetness of a friend is better than self-counsel” (Pr. 27:9). God created us to need other people in our lives. The need for community is ingrained within us from creation. Friendship though is more than community. Friendship is a divine gift by which the marrow of life is enjoyed. Before friendships can be grown they must first be valued. Friendships are valued when seen as a gift from the Creator to his creation.
Friends are people you choose to share your life with.
Perhaps the most recognized phrase from scripture concerning friends says “[T]here is a friend who stays closer than a brother” (Pr. 18:24). This wisdom reminds us that while family is family, friends are chosen.
Friendship is a choice. Friends stick closer than brothers because you have chosen them and they have chosen you. There are people in the various spheres of your life of which you can choose to be a friend, too. Choosing friends seems overly simplistic and extremely complicated at the exact same time.
Friends are people who speak honestly to you and you to them.
Proverbs 27:6a says, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy.” There are times in life when you need encouragement and times when you need to be confronted. Wounds are never welcomed but when they come from a true friend, wounds bring healing.
Pastor, you need friends, a few who you invite into your life so that they will know you well, care for you deeply and speak to you honestly and without fear. Friends whose single agenda is your vitality and well-being.
What is a priority is what gets accomplished. Pastor, you need to make building friendships a priority. Cultivating God-honoring friendships is a not only a privilege but a gift to receive.
You need some friends.
 For more on Dunbar and his research see “The Limits of Friendship” by Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker, October 7, 2014. http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/social-media-affect-math-dunbar-number-friendships. http://lifechristiancounseling.com/pastors/Statistics%20on%20Pastors.pdf.