Sunday, August 14, 2005

Transition no. 5: Making new friends

How long will you live in your new town, serving your new church, before you seek out and befriend other pastors in the area? Will you even refer to it as your “new church” by then?

My guess is that most pastors put this at the bottom of their priorities. After all, one group that every pastor can be certain will never join their church are other pastors in the area! And there are already so many things to do-- and so many relationships to build-- that getting to know other pastors seems like an unnecessary distraction.

In fact, it is necessary. And it is not a distraction, but a key part of your new ministry.

Let me insert a few disclaimers here. First, I am not a broad ecumenist who would insist that churches should be united and working to erase all denominational boundaries; as much as I value unity in the Kingdom, I recognize the importance of denominational distinctions and what the inherent variety offers the Church. And I am not suggesting that buddying up with other pastors is more important than shepherding the flock God has called you to serve.

But I do believe that many pastors set themselves up for burnout, in part, because they fail to prioritize the fellowship, support, and accountability that can come from other local pastors.

“But,” you counter, “I made some great friends in seminary who will be that for me!” Great, I say. (And I'll address that more fully in a later blog post.) I happen to believe, however, that there are benefits to deep friendships with local pastors that your friends from seminary can rarely fulfill. Some of them include:
  • They know the area. Ministry occurs in a context; your fellow local pastors will know and understand that context in a way that your seminary friends won't (unless they happen to also be local)-- and you won't either, at first. Early on, these friends can become a part of the process of integrating unto your community, learning how to minister within it.
  • They are easy (or easier) to meet with. How will you keep up with those friends from seminary? However you do it, it won't be as simple as a lunch appointment across town. Your new friends are just around the corner compared to anyone else.
  • They are hard to avoid. When I need accountability the most, I often also want to avoid it the most. Maybe you struggle in the same way. If so, local friends can get in your face, showing up at your office or home if necessary.
  • They present new ministry opportunities. Whether it be a pulpit exchange, a regular joint worship service (holidays like Thanksgiving offer good opportunities here), or a collaborative effort at a regular ministry, having another pastor (and therefore his church) to try out these ideas is easier if you are already friends. Ending them if they don't work out is easier, too.
My first long-term, paid ministry job emerged out of a relationship just like what I am describing. Two pastors at different churches each needed development for their youth ministries, but neither could afford staff. Their good friendship and the familiar relationship between their churches opened the door to a collaborative youth ministry that I oversaw.

Befriending other pastors is the kind of thing that is easily put off indefinitely; then, when you really need that friend, you're all alone. Start now, and make it an essential part of your transition. You might even communicate this need/desire to your Elders or Deacons, so that they can support you in it-- maybe they'll even hold you accountable for getting started.

1 comment:

Russell Smith said...

Right you are! Relationships with other pastors is vital to your own ministry -- and the reasons you list are right on. I might also add that relationships with area pastors functions as an iron sharpening iron effect -- you can challenge, encourage and equip one another.

This can also take many forms -- for instance:
I have a prayer group with 3 other evangelical pastors in my denomination
I have a theology discussion group with 5 other pastors from a broad spectrum of perspectives.
And I'm involved in quarterly pastor prayer meetings with evangelical pastors from many different denominations.

Each serves a different purpose -- and each adds to ministry (without being a mushy ecumenism).

Great post -- great to reconnect with you -- you're on my bloglines subscription list now.