Fortress Press

Holy Friendships: Nurturing Relationships That Sustain Pastors and Leaders

Holy Friendships

Nurturing Relationships That Sustain Pastors and Leaders

Victoria Atkinson White (Author), L. Gregory Jones (Foreword by)


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Pastors and Christian institutional leaders serve more creatively, effectively, and joyfully when they feel supported and part of an intimate community of colleagues and friends who care about their personal and professional wellbeing. So attests Victoria Atkinson White in Holy Friendships: Nurturing Relationships That Sustain Pastors and Leaders.

And yet, she observes, many leaders sacrifice critical relationships, citing lack of time or competing priorities, and end up isolated, lonely, and burned out. Social media compounds this problem by distorting the meaning of "friend" and reducing it to a relationship in search of clicks, likes, and emoji-ed responses.

While we might have lots of "friends," holy friendships are mutual and sacred relationships deeply rooted in God's love. What Christian leaders need is a circle of holy friends to walk alongside them in the challenging and constantly changing work of ministry.

White gives readers permission to invest in their own resilience, sustainability, and flourishing by cultivating and nurturing their own holy friendships. By recounting the stories of meaningful holy friendships and revealing the benefits of challenging conversations over time, she offers hope, grace, and humor. She also provides examples of how holy friendships can change institutions and systems, helping pastoral leaders cultivate beloved community.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506482378
  • eBook ISBN 9781506482385
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 177
  • Publication Date March 14, 2023


"Every Christian called to leadership should read this book. In Holy Friendships, the Rev. Dr. Victoria Atkinson White invites our attention to an underexplored aspect of the walk of faith: namely, that it's more than relationship with God and relationship with a community. The intimate, tender, and sacred connections with Dear Ones who walk alongside us are vital for discipleship and leadership discernment. Her work convicted me as a leader walking too many days alone. Her words also joyfully prompted me to call close friends, express the value of our relationship, and spend time 'holding their basket' when necessary."

Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO, Children's Defense Fund and CDF Action Council, and board chair for the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and the Forum for Theological Exploration

"Victoria's heart shines through in Holy Friendships--her genuine love for pastors and leaders and her desire for their flourishing. In an age when relationships have become increasingly diluted and dispersed in many ways, she shines a light on a different possibility of friendship rooted in pragmatic simplicity. Hence, her definition, 'Holy friendships are mutual and sacred relationships deeply formed in God's love,' shows us how essential it is for holy friendships to be intentionally cultivated and engaged by individuals. She gives us tools for how to think about them. So, I'm grateful for the meaningful work she has done in these conversations and how it opens space for us to consider the serious importance of friendships, not only for our flourishment but for our very survival."

Mihee Kim-Kort, pastor and author of Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith

"The cost of critique is a better alternative than the status quo, and Victoria Atkinson White offers precisely that wisdom in this moving and inspiring book. Burnout culture among faith leaders cannot be solved by the latest productivity hack or a weeklong retreat from reality. Our path forward must begin with our most authentic connections--to self, community, and God. White offers a lifeline for all of us struggling to find balance in an increasingly off-kilter world, and she does so with grace and humor. The holy friendships she features, including several of her own, will leave you feeling inspired to go deeper with some of your own friends and see those relationships as a core part of your leadership life, not something to tend to once your 'real' work is done."

Rabbi Elan Babchuck, founder of Glean Network and executive vice president, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

"Writing with passionate advocacy, Victoria Atkinson White charts a pathway that will guide pastoral leaders toward flourishing in their vocations. Without holy friendships that call for accountability, provide support, and validate identity, none of us could continue faithfully in our callings. Life is too difficult to do it alone, White wisely perceives. She names the role that holy friends can play not only in the rough patches but in making all of life more satisfying. It is an ancient practice given new form through White's careful research and personal experience. Reading her winsome book helped me name my holy friends and seek to be a better one."

Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall, president, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities

"In the face of isolating forces such as the Covid-19 pandemic and fraying of our social fabric, our need for belonging endures. With a personal touch and an accessible style, White reminds us that God made us for community, and invites us to seek and sustain holy friendships. Far from being a waste of precious time, such relationships are essential for personal health, vocational fulfillment, and communal flourishing."

Edgardo Colón-Emeric, dean, Duke Divinity School, and author of The People Called Metodista: Renewing Doctrine, Worship, and Mission from the Margins

"This is a deeply wise and hopeful text. While Victoria Atkinson White is clear-eyed and realistic about the challenges that pastoral leaders especially face in cultivating and maintaining holy friendships, her book abounds with winsome and sage advice about how to do so and, even more valuably, embodied narratives about why these friendships are worth the investiture of intentionality. In the work of vulnerable relationality that is needed now more than ever, White's book is both guide and gift."

Robert Saler, assistant professor of theology and culture, and director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs, Christian Theological Seminary

"My life has been sustained by deep friendships that have helped and supported me in ways I can't fully express. Victoria Atkinson White has captured my experience in words and helped me appreciate the rich gift of holy friendship. If you need holy friends, have them already, or simply want to learn what difference they might make in your life, I highly recommend Holy Friendships."

Brian D. McLaren, author of Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned

"Victoria White's debut book is a sensation, and easily the most timely, most urgently needed, most soul-searching book I've read in years. Every page is laced with honesty and compassion, bolstered by research and enough biblical discussion to land Holy Friendships on the must-read list for seminarians, future preachers, and congregational leaders for years to come. But it's White's charm as a storyteller that sneaks up on you. It kept me reading until I finally realized what was happening. White isn't just describing holy friendship in these pages--she's extending it. Thanks be to God."

Kenda Creasy Dean, Mary D. Synnott Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture, Princeton Theological Seminary, and author of Innovating for Love: Joining God's Expedition through Christian Social Innovation and Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church

"Ministers are healthiest when they work in sync with the rhythmic pulse of the divine life of love. In this insightful book, Victoria Atkinson White describes the sustaining power of holy friendships that gives pastors and other leaders hope and help in a calling that requires so much personal vulnerability. The giving and receiving of holy friendships are the secret of lifelong well-being in ministry."

Rev. Dr. George A. Mason, president of Faith Commons and author of Preparing the Pastors We Need: Reclaiming the Congregation's Role in Training Clergy

"What if a joyful meal, a quiet walk, a text thread, or a difficult conversation can all be sources of grace and hope in a divided world? In this delightful book, Victoria White invites us to appreciate again the many ways that holy friendships can transform us and make us new. Through story and wit, wise insight and careful listening, this book is an ideal companion for those of us called into the often-lonely roads of leadership, teaching us that it does not have to be lonely. Friendship is not just essential. Friendship is a sacred practice and can even become a vivid reflection of God's own love."

Eric D. Barreto, Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Every reader who opens this book will immediately recognize the holy friendships in their lives, friendships that provide sustenance for the punishing work of leadership. And every leader who opens this book will immediately recognize the places in their own lives where the lack of holy friendships has left arid, wounded, and broken spaces that are so very difficult to heal. As the institutions we serve shift, this book is set to become a critically important addition to the fundamental training faith leaders need to lead well, survive that work, and thrive. Learning to identify, gather, and nurture holy friendships is, of course, an essential key to leadership with lasting impact, but when you read Dr. White's words, you will know that they are also guideposts on the journey to a healed and whole life."

Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler, founder and president, Invested Faith, and former senior minister, The Riverside Church in the City of New York

"Friendship--holy friendship--is an indispensable leadership practice. With this good news, Victoria Atkinson White invites us to a transformed experience of leadership marked by joy, companionship, and the freedom that comes from a deep sense of our belovedness before God and dear friends. Leaders seeking a flourishing way of life that can nourish them and their communities should read this book as a vital step toward receiving the life-sustaining gifts of holy friendships."

Aaron Kuecker, interim president and professor of New Testament, Trinity Christian College

"Christian leadership is too difficult to be done solo. Victoria White gives us a wonderful testimony to the joy (and necessity) of friendship. She shows how friendship is at the core of the practice of Christian faith and how friendship with Christ enables us to cultivate and sustain friendship with people who support us in our sometimes demanding vocations."

Will Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry, Duke Divinity School; retired United Methodist bishop; and author of Accidental Preacher: A Memoir

"Victoria White graciously and brilliantly invites us to cultivate our own holy friendships and encourages us to evaluate these relationships in different seasons of our life. We are drawn in by her personal stories of evolving holy friendships and a captivating collection of diverse voices sharing their own stories and reflections. Holy Friendships is a beautiful testament to the power of sacred connection, God's desire for us to have deep belonging with those we are in community with, and what it means to be loved, seen, and known beyond the surface. This book serves as a holy nudge to pastors and faith leaders that there is, in fact, life beyond work and that having deeply rooted friendships matters if we are to navigate this crazy world as healthy and whole people of God."

Rev. Dr. Aqueelah Ligonde, vice president of coaching and training, Ministry Incubators, and director of coaching, Ministry Architects

"Victoria Atkinson White hit the nail on the head. Ministry can be a lonely vocation. The artful way in which she tells stories of holy friendships is both a gift and a challenge to anyone who wants to thrive in this calling."

Rev. Prince Raney Rivers, PhD, senior pastor, Union Baptist Church, Durham, North Carolina; consulting faculty member, Duke Divinity School; and author of John, 1-3 John (Preaching the Word)

"This is a healing and insightful book about friendships that enhances our ability to thrive as we share our gifts of ministry. We are encouraged, inspired, convinced, and directed toward the nurturing of relationships as holy spaces. This is a treasure for a dimension of spiritual formation needed in our time."

Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, former pastor, professor of practical theology, and academic dean; director, Association for Hispanic Theological Education; and author of Atando Cabos: Latinx Contributions to Theological Education

"Holy Friendships offers a powerful gift to ministers today. Not only does Victoria Atkinson White establish a compelling biblical and theological foundation for unique and sacred relationships formed in God's love, but she also offers compelling testimony for how these friendships are essential to the thriving and health of pastoral leaders. This book inspires me to more deeply understand the holy friendships that have helped me thrive and to offer profound gratitude for them, while also challenging me to be still more open to being a holy friend to others."

Paul Baxley, executive coordinator, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

"Week after week, season after season, decade after decade, so many pastors (I'm preaching to myself here) pour out energy and interest, kindness and counsel, for their people. Victoria's assertion that we can't keep it up, all that emotional export, without serious damage to our own spirits and considerable risk to the very people for whom we do it, is right on time. Our mega-connectedness is all the more draining. It's no wonder that reports of inappropriate relationships by clergy are on the rise. What if we invested ourselves in healthy relationships, even these holy friendships Victoria describes? Maybe we would find our own joyful response to God's call replenished and restored. What a wonder, what an amazing grace, that would be."

Rev. Dr. Katie Hays, founder and lead evangelist, Galileo Church, Fort Worth, Texas, and author of God Gets Everything God Wants