Articles

Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing Onpressing-on-05-15-1

I was between the last thing and the next. With a short window of free time, I checked voicemails that had been lining up during the course of the morning. Rushing through each one, I jotted notes and deleted messages as I went. The third or fourth voicemail caught me off guard. I nearly deleted it without listening because the first few seconds were sheer silence. With my finger on the delet button, I heard a sigh. Then I waited until I heard sniffles. Eventually, I listened to a breaking voice. It was Justin. His words were not clear, but I clearly understood. He was lonely and hurting.

Justin (not his real name) is a fellow pastor on the district. We first met several years ago at a district event. I recall him coming before my subcommittee on the board of ministry. Several weeks later, I joined my brothers and sisters as we reached out and laid hands on Justin at his ordination. After that, we regularly bumped into one another at assemblies, retreats, and trainings. Each time, we would stop, smile, and chat. We even wished aloud that we had time to get together for lunch or coffee. I never realized that something was happening in Justin beneath the surface.

The work of pastoral ministry is highly relational, yet, ironically, pastoral ministry can be a lonely life. In recent decades, there have been multiple surveys and studies that chart the level of loneliness felt by pastors. Many cite feelings of isolation as the single greatest predictor of burnout and early exit from vocational ministry. Pastors certainly are not the only persons who experience feelings of isolation. Loneliness is an equal opportunity enemy; a force that plagues people across various vocations and walks of life. Loneliness is a symptom of a sin-sick world.

The first chapter of Genesis tells the story of God as an artist. With each instance of creation, the Creator stepped back and evaluated His work. Each time he pronounced it "good." Over and over, we see the pattern of God creating and pronouncing it good. Then, in Genesis 2:18 we find the first "not good." The first not good in the Bible is “It is not good for the man to be alone.” While the particular truth is about the relationship between the man and the woman, there is a larger reality and a greater truth: alone is simply and clearly not good.

Most pastors I know have authentic relationships with God that sustain them. Most pastors I know have loving families who support them. Most pastors I know have devoted lay leaders who surround them. But the greatest need of most pastors I know is authentic friendship with fellow pastors. We are starved for such relationships. While pastors can and should be friends with parishioners, there are aspects of the clergy life that can only understood by other pastors.

Throughout the course of ministry, I have come to appreciate friendships with fellow pastors. Such bonds are more than a stress-release valve, and they are more than a commodity for my consumption. Friendships with fellow pastors are a means of grace in my life. When I practice vulnerability and authenticity with others who understand the peculiar nature of my calling, I open myself to God’s sustaining, strengthening, and sanctifying grace. And I become a channel for such grace in the lives of my brothers and sisters.

Justin is fine. We talked over coffee. He desperately needed to connect, and I needed it more than I realized. Justin got me to thinking about how we are faithful and obedient when we lay hands on one another in the sacred moments of ordination. But what about the many moments that follow that event? How often are we faithful and obedient in reaching our hands out to one another?

The pastoral life is chaotic. I continually find myself between the last thing and next thing, but I am learning that my next thing often needs to be an outstretched hand toward another pastor.

 

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.

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