For almost four months now, I have had the privilege of traveling around our state, preaching in churches and talking to groups of pastors in various associations. I’ve met and talked with easily more than 250 pastors. In each of these settings, I give out my cell number and tell the pastors to never hesitate to call me if I can ever be of help to them.
To my delight, a good number have called me. Some ask questions about the state convention or Southern Baptist Convention. Some ask for advice about a pastoral situation, and some have theological questions. But many just call to talk.
They tell me about their families and about their hopes and dreams for the church, as well as their fears and discouragements. They tell me about health issues they are facing. We talk about favorite sports teams.
I’ve always known this about pastors, but these last four months have reminded me anew that a good many pastors are lonely. A pastor certainly confides in his wife, but he may not tell her about every complaint and angry church member that calls him because of the stress and worry that puts on her.
Many pastors have difficulty making good friends within the church because of the dynamic of the pastor-parishioner relationship. Every pastor knows what it’s like to walk into a room where everyone begins to act differently or hear, “Watch what you say, the pastor just walked in!”
Many pastors are the only staff member at their church, and thus they work alone. They do not have co-workers they can confide in and with whom they can go to lunch. They are often physically and relationally isolated from others.
Even pastors who are adored by their congregation can be lonely. I’ve known a number of pastors who have essentially said to me that they have many fans, but few good friends.
Add to such isolation the fact that the pressure of pastoring a church is often overwhelming. Are attendance, baptisms and giving good? Why did that family stop coming to church? How do I make this decision regarding a complex, difficult, no-win situation? How do I respond to the church member who just said something really hurtful, unfair or not true? Take all of this into consideration, and pastors need friends. They need to talk.
I do not want to paint a negative picture of being a pastor. It is a high calling that is rewarding. But at the same time, it’s not easy being a pastor. The negative things pastors endure have a cumulative effect that builds over time and wears them down.
Pastor, you need friends, and oftentimes the best friends are fellow pastors who can relate to the struggle. Pastors are a band of brothers. None of them are your enemy or competition. Be intentional to make these friendships. And be intentional in your relationship with Christ. No one can serve as an undershepherd who is not vitally connected to the Good Shepherd.
Church member, be mindful that your pastor may be lonely. Even if you are not that person who will become a close friend, be considerate of the pressure and isolation your pastor most likely feels. Pray for and encourage him. Be sensitive to the difficulties and pressures he faces. Loneliness is a hard thing. Let’s work toward having good friends, being good friends and knowing that we can do more to advance the Gospel together than alone.