You are a pastor. You preach and teach, care and console. You manage and maneuver, love and lead. You pour yourself out. You “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2, ESV).
You also need a pastor.
Every pastor needs a pastor. Every pastor needs someone who does the things the pastor is doing for others—encourage, equip, coach, console, support, love and lead. Unfortunately, very few pastors have that kind of relationship, which helps to explain why so many burn out or drop out—and why many others say they would leave the ministry if they thought they could.
Few denominations and church staff systems allow or encourage the establishment and maintenance of a pastor-to-a-pastor relationship. Unless you’re in a very rare situation, the chances are good that you will have to take the initiative and do the work of filling that need in your life. But it is a need, make no mistake. It is not an option, if you plan to not just survive but also thrive in ministry.
So what can you do? Where do you go? Here are a few suggestions to help you do what (of course) you encourage your flock to do—have a caring, capable pastor in your life to lead, teach, encourage and equip you:
- Approach someone you already know. Someone who is already in your circle of relationships. It may be a retired pastor or someone in an entirely different field. It shouldn’t be someone in your church but could be someone you’ve crossed paths with. Someone who impressed you, maybe. Or someone who reached out to you. If such a person comes to mind, consider asking him or her to meet regularly with you, perhaps just as a sounding board at first. Let the relationship develop from there.
- Consult a spiritual director. Spiritual direction may be a new concept for you, but it can be a transforming experience to have someone to meet with regularly who will listen—not only to you but also to the Holy Spirit—and offer sensitive wisdom and guidance. My friend Kasey is a fine example of this kind of ministry. Christian spiritual directors in your area can be found through Spiritual Directors International.
- Find a good Christian counselor. Years ago, my church planting coach would ask me and my co-pastor every time we met, “Do you have a shrink yet?” He clearly considered it not only important but also urgent. So I started meeting regularly with a counselor, and boy was I glad I did. A good Christian counselor can often be like a pastor to a pastor; mine was to me. If the first person you consult isn’t quite a “match,” don’t give up. Keep trying. Ask others for recommendations or start here.
- Use available resources. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of an actual, on-site, flesh-and-blood person to pour into you as you are pouring into others. But in rare circumstances, that may not be possible for you. If that is the case, make sure to utilize all available resources, such as:
- “Thriving Pastor,” the ministry to pastors of Focus on the Family. They also provide a Facebook page, Twitter account and pastoral care line (844-4PASTOR).
- Podcasts. I have been fed and encouraged over the years by the podcasts of various pastors—some that provide encouragement specifically to those in ministry, and others, like Erwin McManus or James MacDonald, that podcast sermons or Bible studies. Here is a helpful listing.
- Retreats. I’ve posted previously on this blog about retreat centers and getaways that are offered specifically for pastors (here). While some hosts at such places leave you alone, others make themselves available for those who want to talk. Such encounters may lead to a more enduring relationship, magnifying the benefit of the retreat.