by Alan*, senior advisor to Entrust CEO
“I’m dying out here.” The young Hungarian pastor, a seminary graduate, assigned to this small rural church, was desperate. “I’ve been here a year but I just don’t know what I am doing,” he told me. “I wasn’t prepared for this. The church is small and traditional, the young people are leaving, and all they want me to do is preach and give the sacraments. Could you come out and visit me once a month, no agenda? I just need someone to talk to.”
Over the years, I have observed that many pastors’ greatest need, regardless of whether they are in a city or a village, is the opportunity to discuss life and ministry with another caring pastor. This seems counterintuitive. We think of pastors as surrounded by people, their flock. But as the old saying goes, it is lonely at the top. Pastors are seen as the “go to” person to solve problems. Yet the pastor also needs a “go to” person for those times when he’s down or discouraged or runs into some real problems.
When I was still young in ministry, I lived in a city of five million people. I was part of a group organizing a city-wide evangelistic campaign. My part was to help organize and prepare 13 churches to take part. For several weeks, I visited each pastor regularly. Little did I know how important those weekly visits were to those pastors. I rarely had a conversation that didn’t last three hours, as we talked about their church and the joys and struggles of their ministry. We explored issues together, brainstormed possible solutions, prayed together and became friends.
Though all the men I worked with had attended seminary, they were not prepared for practical ministry. Neither did they have the resources—books, conferences, seminars—we in America take for granted. I realized how desperately lonely they were. Even though at that time I had not yet gone to seminary and most of those pastors were 10 to 20 years older than me, the fellowship I provided was a source of encouragement and hope.
Many years later, I taught a small group of young men from a local church in Hungary how to teach and preach. One of those young men clearly enjoyed the class and did quite well. He later attended the seminary where I taught and after graduating, was assigned to a few churches far out in the countryside.
A few years later, I decided to visit him to see how he was doing and get a better feel for the effect of the training we had given him. Like the pastor who’d told me he was “dying” in the village, this young man was very much in love with the ministry but also extremely frustrated. We spent hours together during my week-long visit, walking the village and discussing the issues he was facing. I watched him interact with his people, who clearly loved him. Much of what we talked about were things we had discussed in class years earlier, which he’d forgotten or not yet applied to his situation. By the end of the week he sounded much more positive and eager to try new ideas. Whether those ideas worked or not I can’t say, but I believe the most significant thing I gave him that week was hope.
Many pastors around the world would love to have another pastor to talk to. They aren’t necessarily looking for formal mentors, but would greatly value conversation with someone who shares their pastoral heart and training, someone from outside their context with whom to talk in confidence, someone who can empathize with what they are experiencing. They don’t necessarily need a teacher or even an advisor, but rather a colleague with whom to discuss new ideas and who might bring fresh perspectives. Most of all, pastors need encouragement and hope. To know they aren’t forgotten, that another colleague hears them, cares for them and is praying for them, goes a long way.
So, what can we do? If you have a pastor’s heart, if you’re willing to be a listening ear and friend to a pastor, realize you can serve the Lord in a unique and valuable way. Pastors’ wives also need such listeners and confidants.
You don’t need a great deal of training or even experience to come alongside a pastor or his wife. The ability to listen and encourage as a friend is the greatest qualification. Be a willing vessel. Let God use you.
*The author remains anonymous due to his ministry in restricted-access regions.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 Engage.