Pastors who want thriving and strong ministries in their communities must cultivate close friendships with local pastors.
By Jacob Lewis
When others think about the active and deeply interpersonal nature of pastoral ministry, it can be hard for them to believe pastors—of all people—would experience loneliness. Even so, according to Lifeway Research’s Greatest Needs of Pastors study, more than 1 in 4 pastors (28%) say loneliness or lack of friendship is a mental challenge they face in their ministries. Many others acknowledge the significance of having close relationships with others. More than 2 in 3 pastors say relationships with other pastors (64%) and friendship and fellowship with others (69%) are important spiritual needs to invest in.More than 1 in 4 pastors (28%) say loneliness or lack of friendships is a mental challenge they face in their ministries. Click To Tweet
I am blessed to have a supportive congregation with whom I’ve been able to develop close friendships. But God has also placed me in an area where I’ve been able to cultivate close friendships with local pastors. This is so important to a thriving and strong ministry in any community.
Why is it hard to build friendships with other pastors?
As I consider these statistics and my own experiences with cultivating friendships in ministry, I believe we must ask the question: “Why are pastors experiencing isolation to such a degree that loneliness and lack of friendships are mental challenges in their ministries?”
There are many reasons for this, and I believe they all have their roots in our spiritual enemy’s design to discourage those in ministry. However, I want to consider three pitfalls to avoid as we cultivate meaningful friendships in ministry.
James wrote, “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1, CSB). This is a strong reminder of the high level of responsibility every pastor accepts when ministering to the flock. Scripture is clear ministers are held to higher standards both in this life and the next. In my experience, this weight of responsibility can make it difficult to open up to others and let down my guard. There’s a broad misconception that pastors are, by default, perfect and sinless. I believe this misconception perpetuates a culture of silent struggle among those in ministry.
Every pastor has struggled with the temptation of competition—especially here in the “Bible Belt,” where each neighborhood has several churches in close proximity. It can be easy to look at our neighbor’s flock and wonder if the grass is greener. One can quickly fall into this type of thinking that leads to covetousness.A competition mindset can be embittering and bring both pastors and churches to places of isolation—both personally and in community outreach. — Jacob Lewis Click To Tweet
We compare congregation size, effective outreach, and popularity. And before we’re even aware, resentment has taken root in our hearts. This mindset can be embittering and bring both pastors and churches to places of isolation—both personally and in community outreach.
3. Time management
A pastor’s work schedule varies from day to day. Emergency room visits, church maintenance, sermons, and lesson preparation all accumulate into a schedule that can quickly become overwhelming. While working to maintain all these aspects of ministry, a pastor must also set aside time for family life and personal growth.
Many pastors find themselves overwhelmed by the work requirements of ministry. With such busy schedules, many pastors simply don’t have time to devote to cultivating close friendships in ministry. There are only so many hours in a day. Something must go on the chopping block. And oftentimes, pastors sacrifice their own needs for the sake of a healthy family and a healthy church.
Why is it necessary to build friendships with other pastors?
While these issues are significant, they’re not insurmountable. There are good reasons for us to swallow our pride, humble ourselves, and make time for developing crucial friendships in ministry. Here are three scriptural directives we’re given regarding friendship with other believers.
1. Exhortation and guidance
A rolling stone gathers no moss. It can be easy for pastors in isolation to find themselves set in negative mindsets or spiritual rights that can be difficult to climb out of alone. A benefit of having friends in ministry is that we can challenge and sharpen one another as the Spirit leads us together.It can be easy for pastors in isolation to find themselves set in negative mindsets or spiritual rights that can be difficult to climb out of alone. — Jacob Lewis Click To Tweet
There are times I’ve been discouraged with a particular sermon or aspect of church ministry, and simply by talking to other pastors, I’ve found solutions and direction. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another” (CSB). What a privilege it is to have fellow ministers who are willing to sharpen our spirits when we feel dull and worn out by the world.
While pastors have many people within their own congregations who will pray for them and serve them, pastors often feel some burdens (such as seasons of spiritual doubt and discouragement or struggles with sin and shame) are inappropriate to share with others in their churches. But in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Paul calls us to relationships of accountability, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing” (CSB).
It’s important that pastors have other friends in ministry, outside of their congregations, with whom they can speak frankly about their struggles and draw spiritual strength from in times of weakness.
3. Fellowship and encouragement
In Psalm 133:1 David writes, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” It should be a joyous occasion when we find ourselves in the company of other believers! Pastors, find someone whom you can laugh with.
So much of our work is defined by our serious and somber attention to things of the Spirit. It’s important we have time to enjoy fellowship with one another and simply share the joy of the Lord together. It’s always a blessing to see pastors laughing together and sharing in the triumphs of ministry.
Jacob serves as the Pastor of Haw Bluff Baptist Church in Kelly, N.C. Jacob holds an M.Div in Apologetics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves on the Board of Directors’ Mission Catalyst Committee for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.