Like all Christians, pastors want to hear at the end of their life, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). Faithfulness requires we develop Christian character and perseverance.
But faithfulness is hard. We pastors serve with joy but discouragement rears its ugly head. It isolates us from others, incites doubt and uncertainty, and entices us to throw in the towel. When we’re not careful, this disappointment morphs from appropriate sadness or anger to despair and cynicism. The cynical heart then protects itself from potential pain and disappointment. But it also hinders faithfulness to Christ and his people.
THE GIFT OF FRIENDSHIP
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Lord is good to us. He wants us to experience his goodness even in our biggest disappointments. So he gives us friends.
I’ve known loneliness as a pastor, both as a solo church planter in central Los Angeles and the pastor of a revitalization in Southwest L. A. County. I’ve repeatedly faced desperation, and the need for more strength than I possessed. Thankfully, God in his mercy gave me new and developing friendships with other pastors to keep my head straight as I bore the weight of divine accountability (Heb 13:17) in praying, preaching, overseeing, equipping, and modeling mature Christianity to my church family.
In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller describes four elements of friendship that speak to the four needs that every human has, including pastors. Friendship consists of intentionality since a friend “stays close” to you (Prov. 18:24). We need brothers who intentionally stay close to us, check in on us, pursue us, and desire to get an update on our lives. Second, friendship is constant, loving at all times, especially the difficult ones (Prov. 17:17). We need friends who love us at our worst—when we’ve sinned and failed, and others have turned away. Third, friendship requires transparency with open reproof and correction rather than flattery (Prov. 27:5–6). A pastor needs friends he can be vulnerable and open with, whom he can trust. Finally, good friendships have sensitivity, where they know how to empathize with our pain and rejoice in our victories (Prov. 25:20).
Pastors carry a heavy load. We need friends who are intentional, constant, transparent, and sensitive. We need fellow pastors in our church as well as pastors outside of our church who can empathize and support us. When we enjoy these friendships, we receive insight and encouragement. Furthermore, because Jesus said it is more blessed to give than receive, we find more joy in Christ when we give of ourselves to serve our pastor-friends. We need to regularly de-center ourselves by investing time into our pastor-friends—for their churches and for God’s kingdom among the nations.
DEVELOPING SUCH RELATIONSHIPS
How can pastors develop these friendships? A few things come to mind.
1. Specifically initiate a specific relationship.
Call and text someone. Schedule a meal. Send a message. Write a letter. Reach out.
2. Resource them.
Find out how you can pray for and with them—and then take the time to actually pray together. Explore how you can serve them or help them think through issues. Ask them if they need any help with preaching. Follow up with them after conversations. Like Onesiphorus to Paul, we get to refresh pastors of Christ’s church (2 Tim. 1:16-–18).
3. Receive help and support from them.
Why? Because you need their help. If you don’t think you do, it’s probably because you have subconsciously concluded you are no longer desperate, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17), and that Christ would not supply insight, value, or strength to you through your pastor friend (Rev. 3:18).
You need to feel and express your neediness to Christ first, and then to his undershepherds. Furthermore, you need to give them the opportunity to help their fellow pastor by letting them help you. I’m not saying you need to pretend to need a friend’s help the way a dad lets his 4-year-old son help him shovel dirt. When you have genuine needs (and you always do), let your pastor-friends hear it and serve you by meeting it if they can.
My main suggestion to you is this: Develop new friendships this month with other pastors—or deepen the friendships that already exist. If that seems too daunting, set aside an hour this week to ask God to give you new and deeper friendships and to help you reach out to a fellow pastor.
If you deprive yourself of God’s gift of pastor-friends, you might find yourself increasingly isolated and discouraged. You might fall into a small-mindedness that ultimately leaves you less faithful to your church family. But if you develop and deepen your pastor-friendships, your soul and your ministry will be strengthened—and your church, other churches, and God’s kingdom will be advanced.
Dear brothers, by God’s many graces in general and the pastor-friends he gives us in particular, let’s keep doing well as good and faithful servants. For soon we will enter into the joy of our master.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at the 9Marks blog and is used with permission.