By Brian Boyles
I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I became a senior pastor for the first time.
My mind was filled with questions that seemed to have no answers: What should I do first? How do I lead an effective staff meeting? Where do I find a vision for the church? How much community involvement should our church have?
These were important questions. But another important question every church leader should ask is: Who can give me counsel and encouragement during difficult seasons of ministry?
When I first began my ministry, I had no way of knowing about the stress that would come over the next several years.
Let’s take stock of what a church leader’s life can look like:
- You might prepare lessons each week that will be compared to the greatest preachers or Bible teachers in the nation.
- Sunday morning can become the “time of critique” for some in your congregation.
- You’ll be expected to visit everyone who goes to the hospital—especially those who tell no one they’re in the hospital.
- You might be expected to lead meetings as well as Steve Jobs, lead committees/deacons/elders in a manor as spiritually impressive as Adrian Rogers, carry out church business with the financial insight of Dave Ramsey, and lead evangelistic efforts with the results of a Billy Graham crusade.
Despite these common unrealistic expectations, we love people in our congregation.
We pray for them when they’re sick, visit them when they’re hurting, and help them when they go through difficult times in their life.
We teach them about Jesus, baptize them, perform their weddings, dedicate their children, baptize their children, attend their birthday parties and ballgames, and sing with them in worship.
We go on mission trips with them and watch them grow in the Lord for years.
And in some cases, they leave our churches with some form of this statement: God is calling us to go to the church down the street.
Then poof—they’re gone.
You pour your life into them; they tell you over coffee one morning that they are leaving. No big deal, right?
Wrong. It hurts.
You need another person in your shoes to walk with you through times like this and other difficult things you’ll encounter in ministry—things you can’t bring before friends you have within your own congregation.
Thankfully, I had friendships with other church leaders in the community. These relationships outside my congregation were vital to my personal and spiritual growth—and they gave me a soft place to land when I needed counsel.
I’m convinced that many ministries left out of frustration and disappointment could have been salvaged if the jaded, burned out leader had spent time with a solid, faithful, experienced leader from another congregation.
Speaking for myself, having men like this in my life has given me fuel to continue when times get tough. When I went through a difficult pastorate some time back, these friends were there to speak truth, life, love, and encouragement to me.
And they were willing to challenge me when they saw I needed to take the blame for a bad decision I made. These co-laborers are more valuable than gold.
If you don’t have a trusted leader/mentor from another church to speak to, lean on, and seek counsel from, you run the risk of walking away from it all.
The emotional pain can be unbearable. You may be as doctrinally sound as the Apostle Paul and you may be doing much for the Kingdom, but as you likely know, ministry is wearisome.
Find the leader who can be there for you like the ones in my life have been for me. And be the one who is there for others.
If you can’t find someone, consider starting a monthly or quarterly “round table” for other church leaders in your community. It’s a great way to connect with others who walk the same road as you—and you can help facilitate these kinds of relationships among other area leaders.
But whatever you do—as we tell the people in our church—don’t do life alone. As it says in Galatians 6:9, “In due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”
Brian is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Ga.