Recently, I had the chance to grab a coffee (or in my case a hot chocolate!) with another pastor. We’ve been friends for about 20 years but only have the opportunity to get together once or twice a year because of where we each live. The great thing is that we can immediately pick up where we left off the last time we talked. We not only share our vocation in common but both of us have kids in the same age range. We have other similar interests as well. So we always have plenty to talk about.
Having a strong, close friendship, especially one with a fellow pastor, is so incredibly encouraging. I walked away from our conversation feeling very grateful.
You see, as close as a pastor may become to people in his or her congregation, there are things a pastor can only talk about with another pastor. Because only another pastor will be able to relate to what you’re going through. You can be honest and open in ways not possible in other settings or with other people.
For this reason, pastors need pastors. Anyone who is in ministry needs to have someone else, other than their spouse (if they are married), to talk to about the deeper stuff of the heart. Like none of us would share our struggles with just anyone, so pastors can only reveal certain struggles with people who will keep their confidence and be able to resonate with what they are dealing with in life and in ministry. Every pastor needs other pastors.
Being a pastor can be a lonely calling. This is especially true if you’re a solo pastor rather than a part of a pastoral team. Pastors carry the burdens of their congregations, the burdens of their family, and their own. That weight can be heavy at times. These days the stats on pastors leaving the ministry are concerning at the very least. There are lots of stories of pastors dealing with mental health issues and burnout. If a pastor is isolated and lonely in the midst of the pressures they face and the burdens they bear, it’s a formula for spiritual decline and ministry failure.
If you are a pastor, having a friend who is also a pastor also means having someone who can be in the position of speaking up when they notice that something is up. We all need someone who can call us out on our BS, who can be honest and loving in the same moment, even if it’s hard. Here pastors are no different, except that this is sometimes a vocation where vulnerability or needing help is often viewed negatively, a sign that perhaps you’re not suited to the calling after all.
Though perhaps it may sound silly, it also helps if a pastor has a pastor friend with similar interests. Whether it’s hunting, sci-fi and fantasy movies, watching hockey, fixing up old cars, or golf, having a common interest means being able to have fun together. Imagine that! Pastors having fun? Believe me, it’s actually possible. I’ve seen it!
But it also means that you can be more fully yourself and that all of the time you’re together doesn’t consist of heavy, serious conversations. Important as that is, sometimes pastors need to let go of that stuff. We need to do things that are not about church. We can be a kind of self-serious bunch. Sometimes, strangely, those of us who are pastors simply want to be human.
Over the years even while I have been a pastor I have been blessed with friends and mentors who are also pastors. At one point earlier on in ministry, my wife and I met regularly with another pastoral couple. They were incredibly supportive and generous and gracious. It meant a great deal. I’ve also been a part of a number of pastors’ groups, some formal, others informal. I daresay that there have been times when these relationships are what have kept me afloat. And when in a difficult season such a connection is absent, I notice the difference.
Now that I have been a pastor for about 20 years, I hope and pray that I will have more opportunities in the days and years ahead to be a friend to other (maybe younger) pastors. Not only to be someone who can encourage them through prayer and conversation, but someone whose presence gives them permission to be more fully themselves, to know that ministry, while a serious calling, doesn’t preclude letting go once in a while and having some fun.