This article appears in the Spring edition of Today’s Pastor Magazine.
By Pastor Brian Richard
As Jim sat at his desk contemplating the latest encounter with an unhappy church member, he began to wonder where he had gone wrong. He left seminary with a head full of knowledge and a passionate desire to storm the gates of hell, but soon discovered that he was on the brink of an all-out civil war in his church. He had been in his current pastorate for about five years when the small flames that had been smoldering suddenly flared up into a four-alarm fire. While Jim had advanced theological training, he lacked the leadership training needed and thought that, as the “expert,” he didn’t need any help. The result was a church split that was disastrous and caused long-term damage for all involved.
The Danger of Ministering in Isolation
The scenario above is common for pastors who minister in relative isolation and is one of the biggest factors for burnout and ministry failure. God created us to live in community, making our spiritual gifts available to others, and leaning on each other for support, wisdom, and encouragement.
For the pastor, another pastor is ideally equipped to fulfill the role of supporter and encourager. A fellow pastor is someone who can understand our struggles, can challenge us in areas of need, and hold us accountable to moral purity. He’s someone who can see our blind spots and be open and honest with us. Someone who can ask difficult soul-searching questions that cut through the façade of the pastor as an unquestioned authority figure who never needs shepherding himself. Someone who can come alongside and help us see an accurate, unbiased view of our life and ministry. That someone is a peer mentor.
When discussing this subject recently with a group of colleagues, a pastor said, “I’ve never had a mentor, but I’ve always had God, and that should be enough.” While that statement is meant to sound spiritual, it’s a deadly, prideful mistake. It’s true that our relationship with the Lord is of utmost importance and certainly critical to our spiritual health, but He has also given us the privilege of relying on other men who can speak into our lives the truth and perspective we need to hear. Proverbs 19:20 (NASB) says, “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days.”
Root Causes of the Lone Ranger Syndrome
One of the primary reasons that pastors shy away from peer mentors is the fear of divulging their weaknesses, insecurities, and shortcomings. Like Jim in the scenario above, many shepherds accept the stereotype of the rugged individualist. Others have fallen prey to a dangerous celebrity mentality, allowing themselves to be placed on a pedestal. Church members like their pastors to have all the answers, but Scripture doesn’t support the concept of the Lone Ranger pastor, and it takes conscious, deliberate effort to avoid falling into this trap. Accepting hero worship may temporarily stroke the ego, but it will ultimately lead to a downfall because it takes away our dependence on God and our willingness to accept feedback from others. The Apostle Paul used a graphic illustration to emphasize our need for one another: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you” (1 Cor. 12:21 NIV).
According to church ministry expert Thom Rainer, the average tenure of today’s pastor is between three and four years.1 The reasons range from unfulfilled expectations from both pastor and church to flaws in the pastor’s ministry that surface after a few years and fester as they are left unaddressed. Ed Stetzer, past executive director of LifeWay Research, stated, “Many seminary programs don’t even require courses on the people side — they’re focused on theology, biblical languages, and preaching, which are important, but almost half of the pastors felt unprepared for dealing with the people they were preparing in seminary to lead and serve.”2 While we live in an age of unprecedented resources, with books, conferences, and media available 24/7, we have a great need for another pastor to come alongside and love us enough to help us be the best man, the best husband and father, and the best shepherd we can be.
The Stakes Are Incredibly High
The consequences of a failed ministry aren’t limited to the pastor. They affect the pastor’s wife, children, grandchildren, friends, church members, ministry relationships and, most importantly, the testimony of Jesus Christ. When a pastor leaves the ministry because of burnout or moral failure, the effects echo through eternity, affecting multitudes of people, some of whom may not even be born yet.
All too often at the first hint of problems, a pastor will leave for greener pastures, only to discover that people are people, and they can’t be perfect either. Christ wants His church to function in harmony and fruitfulness, which requires that pastors surrender their independence and learn to trust another godly leader to help them through the trials and pressures of ministry.
A Message of Hope
The effort to create a lasting, stable ministry is worth it. Jesus Christ is worth it. His church and those He puts in our care are worth it. Our families are worth it. We owe it to the future generations of people who need a godly witness in an increasingly dark culture to be the very best shepherds of the flock we can be now.
Steps to Take
There’s no magic cure to for ministry problems, but there are steps we can take now to be the best stewards of our ministries and to prevent failure in ministry:
- Pray for God to lead you to a godly pastor whom you respect and trust to come alongside you and invest in your life and ministry. In turn, be willing to invest the time necessary to be his mentor as well.
- Be transparent and give that pastor permission to ask the difficult questions of the heart.
- Don’t delay! Find a peer mentor and immediately establish regular meetings in person, by phone, or both. It will be the most important thing you can do in your ministry to avoid a disaster.
It’s Urgent. Do It Now.
As you finish reading this article, you may well agree heartily with all that’s been said and then go on to the next task on your “to-do” list, promptly forgetting about this urgent warning. If you don’t already have a peer mentor, stop what you’re doing right now and find one. There’s nothing on your task list that’s more important. Your future and the future of your family, church, and community depend on it. Don’t become another statistic. Establish your support system right away. Years from now, you’ll thank the Lord that you did.