As pastors, one of our primary roles is helping our people establish relationships with each other that leads them to ongoing spiritual transformation. Our church members thrive when connected to each other. As effective as our efforts may be, the development of these relationships often comes at a price Scripture never suggests we pay. We will never thrive as pastors to the fullest of our callings unless we commit ourselves to this same type of relationship with other pastors. A thriving in our callings is safeguarded in relationships with other pastors. Although the calling of a shepherd includes a laying down of his life for his sheep, that calling must never include forsaking relationships with other shepherds. When this misconceived sacrifice occurs, at best we do not thrive. At worse, we experience crushing blows of tragedy that compromise our callings and our families.
This summer will mark my nine-year anniversary of serving in fulltime vocational ministry. While being a lead pastor for all nine years may be somewhat unique, the fact that the first three also included custodial duties, Sunday School teaching, youth ministry, and occasionally leading hymns (as long as the mic volume was set low enough) is not uncommon, to say the least. We all know what it’s like to carry out the rewarding responsibilities of “other duties as assigned.” Among many commonalities we share, there’s unfortunately one we wish never existed—knowing pastors who have experienced the tragedy of compromising their callings and families.
In those nine years of vocational ministry, I have personally known no fewer than one pastor for each of those years who have found themselves in this debilitating category. For some of them, it was difficult for me to imagine they could ever possess vulnerabilities in their armor. For others, their adopted paths of isolationism and self-righteous attitudes seemed to drive them toward impending demise with bells and whistles. I recognize I don’t have official data, but personal experiences have identified a common denominator too weighty for me to ignore:
Every one of these pastors lacked relationships with other pastors to foster their ongoing spiritual transformation. With their sobering realities in view, my heart breaks knowing they somehow missed a relationship with a fellow pastor that might have been available as a preventative haven. My heart also breaks when I consider whether I miscalculated my own relational capital; perhaps I had the capacity for a better relationship with one or more of these pastors.
Although the sheer volume of compromised callings is staggering, the opportunity for authentic relationships moving forward is greater. In an age when a premium has been placed on authenticity in ministry, forsaking authenticity between pastors is dangerous. A relationship with another pastor that leads to ongoing spiritual transformation is an opportunity of grace for you and for me. Each of these referenced pastors had some type of relationship with other pastors. But the specific tragedy is that every one of them lacked relationships with other pastors that fostered their own ongoing spiritual transformation. There is a great difference between relationships primarily focused on orthodoxy or orthopraxy and those purposed first toward the gracious personal transformation of lead shepherds. When experiencing ongoing spiritual transformation is the standard for relationships between pastors, growth in the knowledge and grace of our Lord and Savior becomes a rewarding reality.
It’s no accident these benefits then extend to both a pastor’s family and the local church. It’s within these relationships the sharing of burdens and the sharing of wisdom occur. It’s within these relationships opportunities exist to be candid, speak encouragement, decompress, and even learn from the experiences of others rather than wishfully waiting to see if your family and church will survive. It’s within these relationships between pastors that not only a growth in the knowledge of Jesus is experienced, but more importantly, a transformation of life by grace. It is only by the grace of Jesus I am saved. It has only been by the grace of Jesus I continue to persevere in my calling. It is also only by the grace of Jesus I have been blessed with ongoing spiritual transformation directly linked to relationships with other pastors.
These relationships work best in my own life when I connect with other pastors on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis. It’s in a once-a-week phone call with a pastor who is not on my staff that spurs me on Sunday to Sunday. Beside four to five phone calls a month, I enjoy a monthly meal with five other pastors in my area. We are pastors in covenant with one another for the sake of the gospel. Whether ministry has been somewhere in the Greater Houston Area or the Texas Big Country, this monthly connection with local pastors has been an invaluable standing appointment on my calendar for the last nine years. Monthly meals are more filling than weekly phone calls but never as refreshing as an annual retreat with other pastors.
There’s something special that takes place when a group of pastors and their wives are able to retreat for three consecutive days a year, free from the weekly grind of ministry, and yes, even free from the physical presence of their little arrows of blessings. It’s over the course of those three days, God reenergizes and recalibrates my life, my family, and my ministry for another faithful year. For the men (and their wives) who make up these three levels of connection in my own life, no expression of gratitude to God or them will ever be adequate. But that reality also serves as extra motivation and strength for staying the course. Based on the source of life they have been for me, my family, and the local church, my prayer is that God will grant you the same. Some of you may need time to prayerfully consider this, but in all sincerity, most of you likely need to simply pick up your phone and connect with some pastors you already know.