And He sent them out two by two. (Mark 6:7)
When the Apostle Paul gave us his list of burdens and hardships in the service of the gospel, loneliness was not one of them. 2 Corinthians 11 speaks of beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and hardships galore. At the end, he adds one more all-inclusive category: “my deep concern for all the churches.”
But not loneliness.
Paul was not lonely.
We rarely see Paul by himself. In Antioch, he was one of five leaders. On his first missionary journey, he was accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark and possibly others. On his second journey, Silas was his companion, along with Timothy, Luke, and others. The last chapter of his letter to the church at Rome lists twenty-five saints by name to whom he was sending greetings, along with “his mother and mine” and “his sister” and “all the saints who are with them.” Then, he names eight brethren who are with him at that moment: Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Tertius, Gaius, Erastus, and Quartus.
Paul was no loner. Nor was our Lord.
Jesus chose twelve “that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). (The exception, we need to add, would be Gethsemane when He said, “Could you not pray with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) )
Then, why, someone please tell us, are so many pastors loners, trying to lead the church, prepare life-changing sermons, and bear the burden of a thousand responsibilities all by themselves?
It was not meant to be this way.
Why pastors tend to be loners…
–Their role models were probably loners too.
Ask yourself for one moment whether you can think of a veteran pastor who had a cluster of pastors as close friends, who conferred with them regularly, and was part of a part group in which he was not its leader.
–Pastors are cautioned not to have close friends in their churches.
I disagree with this counsel, but I understand it. Many servants of the Lord have been betrayed by those they trusted.
Over 42 years of pastoring (and 58 years of preaching), some of my closest friends were at one time members of my churches. Others are pastors or denominational workers.
–Few young pastors are ever encouraged to seek out mentors or to befriend ministers of other churches. In fact, the model we are given most often is that of competition. The other pastors served churches that were competing with ours. (I have stories about that, but will spare you.)
Five suggestions to pastors who are trying to go this alone…
Ask the Lord to give you a friend or two or three.
Your heavenly Father is far more interested in your befriending other sons and daughters of the Kingdom than you are. So, ask Him for this. Then, as always when we ask the Father, wait on Him. Don’t rush it. Watch for His answer.
–Two. Ask an older pastor whom you highly respect for his thoughts on this subject. If you hear of another pastor who works on sermons with a group of peers, check into it. Ask denominational friends if they have such experience.
–Three. Try this: Pull together a half dozen of your sharpest leaders for an informal 30 minute meeting. Tell them a sermon series you are thinking about/praying about for the future and get their thoughts on various aspects of it. Either write it down or recruit someone who can write fast and will record the insights, burdens, suggestions. Then, a couple of weeks later, after you’ve done some work on the matter, assemble the same group and share with them the topics of the half-dozen sermons, once again seeking their insights and thoughts.
Promise them nothing. Even if someone told a great story and you think you might want to use it, don’t lock yourself into having to do it. You are not asking anyone to write your sermon. You’re looking for ways to make the message connect with people.
The next time you do this, choose different people. Let no one ever have a reason to claim they are writing your sermons for you.
–-Four. If you have met pastors of other denominations in your town or neighborhood whom you would like to get to know better, call one or two up and ask if you can get together for a cup of coffee. Meet at a neutral place. McDonald’s is always good. Just get to know each other and see if anything comes of it. (Go with two or three questions: How long have you been at this church? Tell me about your church. What did you preach last Sunday? Where did you serve before coming here? What do you like best about this town? What is your life verse?)
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must agree with the other pastors on the finer points of theology to befriend one another. You’re not discussing doctrine; you’re looking for friends in the Lord who can appreciate the work you do and the burdens you bear.
—Five. A caution: don’t talk to other people about your new friends, not even complimenting them. Not at first, anyway. I once quoted a pastor from the pulpit in a great story, only to have someone come up afterwards horrified I would consider that man a brother. “Do you know what he believes?” I responded I was not preaching his doctrine, but sharing a story. Some people, however, can not handle the finer points of that. So a friendship with another pastor is your and the Lord’s private information for a time.
My friend Jim Nalls, longtime pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention, became part of a prayer group in seminary that to this day meets annually for a few days. These men are all pastors. When I asked, he admitted that in their annual gatherings they would play a round of golf every day and go out to eat. But they talked nonstop. They prayed for each other. They had one another’s backs. I asked, “And how do the wives feel about this?”
“They didn’t understand it at first,” he admitted. “Especially when some of us were pastoring hundreds of miles apart and had to drive a long way.” But, he added, when the wives saw the difference the fellowship made in the preacher/husbands’ lives, they became supportive.
The verse for this: Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
I call that the blacksmith verse. Iron sharpening iron. In my grandfather’s blacksmith shop, I would sometimes work the bellows. There would be noise, fire, and much friction as metal clanged against metal. (I have the heavy wooden mallet he used in that shop. But don’t tell my cousins!)
Sounds a lot like the fellowship meeting of two or three good friends trying to hammer out a program or a ministry.
Give it a try.