The four-year-old who says, “I can do it by myself” has a lot in common with the typical pastor.
Pastors are notorious for their lone ranger approach to ministry. It’s what I call the number one failure of 90 percent of pastors. They prefer to go it alone.
Even Jesus needed a buddy. “He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?’” (Matthew 26:40)
Sometimes it helps to have someone nearby, praying, loving, caring, even hurting with you.
The word paracletos from John 16:7 is translated “Comforter” and “Helper” in most Bible versions. The literal meaning is “one called alongside,” the usual idea being that the Holy Spirit is our Comforting Companion, a true Friend in need. And each time that word is found in the New Testament–John 14:16,20; 15:26; 16:7; and I John 2:1–it always refers to the Lord.
However, here’s something important.
While paracletos does always refer to the Lord in those scriptures, the word parakleesis (also a noun), for comfort or consolation, may refer both to the work of the Lord in our lives as well as the effect we have upon each other.
Don’t miss that.
Here’s the Apostle Paul –
We were afflicted on every side, conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the humble, comforted us by the coming of Titus. And, not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more (II Corinthians 7:5-7).
The great apostle was hurting. He needed something which God provided by a friend, Titus. When this messenger reported to Paul how faithfully the Corinthians were serving God, when he told how they cared for Paul and grieved over him, that pumped him up.
Titus himself was elated by the work of the Corinthians, Paul says.
God made us to need the companionship of fellow disciples.
If you read the Scriptures and miss that, you have missed a great element in the Word.
“It is not good that man should be alone” was spoken of more than marriage. That is a fact of human existence.
God made us gregarious. We are social creatures. We do not do well in isolation. We are all about social networking, to use a term on everyone’s tongues today.
When we humble ourselves before God, repent of our sin, and receive Jesus Christ–that is, when we are born again–we begin the process of moving back to God’s original plan for us: to rejoin the family of man, so to speak.
The night God saved me as an 11-year-old, I found myself loving the brothers and sisters of all ages in our country church. That was a new experience for me, one which no one had mentioned to me and for which I was totally unprepared. It was a wonderful surprise.
New believers need the fellowship of other believers. There is not a preacher in the world who doubts that or preaches otherwise. We teach that, we expect new disciples to join themselves with other believers for worship and growth, and we warn them that to fail to do so endangers their growth and effectiveness in the Kingdom.
This is true on another level for God’s servants called preachers. God has made us so that we who are called to proclaim His word need the fellowship, comfort, and encouragement of others similarly called. We need the accountability, the exhortation, and occasionally the rebuke of our peers.
We need friends in the ministry.
One of the first effects of sin is to isolate us.
The roaring lion in search of supper does not take on the entire herd, but looks for stragglers–an isolated member that is sickly or elderly, too young to keep up or too headstrong to stay up. Bingo, he’s got his next meal.
Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).
He’s looking for the loner.
If I was to discover as an 11-year-old that a new relationship with Christ filled me with love for His people, in time I found the other side of the coin: when I drifted away from Him, my need for and appreciation for the Lord’s people waned also.
As the saying goes, I did not come down in the last rain. I’ve been in the ministry for a full half-century. I don’t know a lot of things, but I know some things very well, and this is one of them: The sinful heart resists fellowship.
Over these years, pastoring six churches and serving on staff of one and a half (that’s a long story), in each city I joined the fellowship of ministers. In Greenville, MS, Columbus, MS, Charlotte, NC, and New Orleans, LA, there were interdenominational fellowships as well as a conferences of Baptist ministers meeting regularly.
What I found never ceased to surprise me.
The ministers who needed the fellowship most never came.
Usually, these ministers fell into two groups: pastors of the largest churches (who gave the impression that did not require fellowship with the hoi polloi) and pastors of the smallest churches (who appeared to look with suspicion on the other ministers with their seminary degrees and larger congregations).
When I pastored the small churches, you could find me in these meetings. I thrived on the fellowship. And later, when my church was either the largest in town or one of the largest, I was there. At no time did I feel I was “beyond needing” this hanging out time with these ministers.
Unless my heart was cold toward the Lord. At those times–and yes, there were one or two such sad times–I resisted companionship with other ministers.
Sin isolates. Just as it keeps backsliding Christians home on Sundays, it locks pastors inside their homes or studies lest they should get with a brother in Christ and be healed.
Preachers need to hang out with one another.
The best thing groups of pastors do with each other is not to sit in rows and listen to someone preach. That’s the last thing they need as a rule.
What they need is to fill their coffee cups, pull their chairs into a circle, and have someone say, “Okay, what shall we talk about today?” and then wait.
In a minute, after an aborted attempt or two to get something going, someone will open his heart and take out a burden he’s been carrying and trying to handle by himself.
Okay, pastors. This is a holy moment now. He’s trusting you guys. Pay attention. Don’t fumble this.
His deacons have asked for his resignation. His wife has served him with divorce papers. His doctor has said it looks like cancer. His teenage son has been arrested.
Or maybe it’s one stage lighter than that.
His church has cut his salary and he’s going bi-vocational and wondering how he can find a job and what he can do, and whether this means he has failed.
He looks at you pastors and envies you your success and grieves that his churches have never prospered the way yours have. He has no idea that you look at other pastors and their larger churches in the same way he looks at you.
You need him and he needs you.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Pastor, do not wait for some denominational leader to organize a retreat or a regular meeting of pastors. You have a telephone? Call two or three preachers and ask them to meet you for coffee. Go outside your denomination and you will meet some of God’s choice servants.
After a couple of meetings, invite them to your church where you can meet quietly and pray privately. Put on the coffee pot.
See if your wife wants to cook breakfast for the group sometime, or–if you have skills in that direction (I emphatically do not)–cook it yourself.
Once you settle down into these informal gatherings, here are a few questions, any one of which can fill up an hour…
- “What did you preach last Sunday?”
- “What are you preaching next Sunday?”
- “What good book have you read lately?”
- “Do you use electronic books? Tell the rest of us how it works.”
- “Do you take an off day?”
- “What’s the best thing you’ve discovered in your ministry?”
- “What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you in a funeral?”
I sure wish I could be there and join in.