Real pastors do not need anything. They are strong, independent and have all the answers. Or so I once thought. When I began my first pastorate, someone contacted me to ask if I would be part of a number of different ecumenical meetings and faith leader groups. I shunned them all. I knew that the agendas of these meetings were nothing that I wanted to participate in. I chose not to spend my time at those tables.
I also chose to paint all pastors’ fellowships with that same broad brush. I convinced myself that all pastors’ fellowships were the same and that they were not for me. In time, I learned that I was wrong on both accounts. In those early years, I found myself very much alone. It wasn’t just me. By isolating myself I also began to make an island of our church.
By God’s grace, I met Ian another local pastor who stopped by my office to introduce himself and chat. He invited me to a pastors’ fellowship that he was part of. Through that fellowship, God has shaped me into a different kind of pastor. Now I see that there are four key gifts that God has given to me through my monthly meetings with these men.
The gift of brotherhood
Toronto can be a tough city for a conservative evangelical. My first reason for joining our pastors’ fellowship was simply a desire to network with like-minded men of faith. In time, this network has become more of a brotherhood.
These men get me, they pray for me, they have gone out of their way to walk with me through hard times, and they trust me to pray with them in their own struggles. We sing together, we pray together, we consider the challenges of ministry together, and then we go for lunch. We are pastors doing the same work in overlapping neighbourhoods, but we are not competitors. We are members of one body suffering alongside those who are suffering and rejoicing with those being honoured (1 Cor. 12:26).
The gift of rest
I like to keep myself busy, and our pastors’ fellowship takes up the better part of the day. So the monthly temptation is to join the list of guys sending in their regrets for not being able to attend. I did this quite a bit at the beginning, but that quickly changed. I came to realize how refreshing it is to be in the company of faithful men called to a common service. In the same way that a good night’s rest makes us stronger for the next day’s work, I find myself returning to work with fresh eyes and new ideas. I’m inspired and challenged and eager to get back to it.
The gift of resource
One of my favourite elements within our meetings is the opportunity we take to share what we have been reading. As a rule, pastors love books, articles, and all variety of resources. This is why my inbox is inundated by the ever-growing world of church and pastoral resources.
I often find myself fighting to keep up with the classics that everyone should know, the favourites I want to revisit, and the next big thing to be released. It is inspiring and refreshing for me to get reviews, recommendations, and short discussions on this matter from men who share my convictions and who I trust to be discerning and informed.
The gift of accountability
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life are the chinks in the armour of every believer. Satan takes no greater joy than in his victory over a compromised and fallen pastor. Isolation is a dangerous thing. It provides a foothold for the temptations of the flesh. This regular fellowship has helped to pick me up when I am tempted to be lazy; it has called me to patient wisdom when I am tempted to be rash; and it has challenged me to live and work in a manner worthy of the Lord (1 Cor.1:10).
Being a follower of Christ means that we are in the sanctification process. One of the means by which God conforms his people into the image of Christ is through the accountability of Christian fellowship. Pastors often talk about the loneliness of leadership. It is difficult (and sometimes dangerous) for them to build intimate friendships with staff, ministry leaders, and the congregation. What is more dangerous, however, is trying to go it alone. Pastors need the fellowship of other pastors.
To all the pastors out there who know this kind of fellowship, I pray that you will not neglect it, but will understand what a precious and useful gift it is and that you will make use of that gift to the glory of God our Father. To those who are pastoring in isolation, I pray that you will go, look, and find a group of like-minded men who share your calling. And, if this group is not to be found, start one up yourself. Do it for your own good, for the good of your ministry, and for the good of the Kingdom.