For the last several years, I have been a member of a group of seven other men—all PCA pastors—who get together monthly (via gotomeeting.com) to talk about life and ministry, to share our struggles and concerns, to encourage one another, and to pray for one another. And it’s made all the difference in the world.
If you have not yet faced discouragement in ministry, just wait. It will happen. Ministry and discouragement go together like the sun and sunburn—the longer you’re in the sun, the more likely you are to get burned. I say this not to be flippant or overly pessimistic, but to point out a ministerial reality. Now, ministry isn’t always discouraging. Praise God that there are times of great encouragement, seasons when we see the Lord blessing our labors and using the means of grace to save and sanctify his people. But through all of these seasons, one constant remains: discouragement. And that is why, as I have argued elsewhere, that ministry is discouragement.
And ministry is isolating. Maybe it’s because people share their deepest, darkest struggles with their minister and being around him makes them feel uncomfortable. Or maybe it’s because many are intimidated by their minister (for whatever reason) and that keeps them from reaching out. Or maybe it’s because of the ongoing demands of ministry (indeed, there’s always far more to do than there are hours in the day!) and that makes people feel like that cannot or should not disturb us. Whatever the reasons might be, the end result is still the same: loneliness and isolation. And this means that we typically endure the discouragements of ministry alone. It means that we generally do not have close friends or brothers that we can talk to, be real with, or be challenged and encouraged by.
Moreover, ministry is almost always sacrificial. Yes, we are called to lead sacrificial lives. But even with the great rewards that go along with pouring ourselves out for others, we can experience the unhealthy burden brought by giving our time and emotional and mental energies to put others’ needs ahead of our own. Ministry often requires us to be available whenever and wherever we are needed, not just between the hours of 8am and 5pm. Life is messy, and investing ourselves in the lives of others will, therefore, be unavoidably messy and time-consuming. And this daily sacrifice can have unhealthy consequences.
If we’re not careful, these three—discouragement, isolation, and sacrifice—can be a recipe for disaster. They can easily lead to breakdown or burnout, to difficulties in marriage and with children, or to adopting unhealthy addictions in order to deal with the stresses and strains of ministry. If we’re honest, we’ve seen signs of these in our lives from time to time. We’ve even seen them destroy the lives of some of our friends and fellow ministers within the Reformed community.
The Company of Pastors
So what can we do to help protect ourselves, our families, and the people in our churches from the burden of discouragement, the loneliness of isolation, and the difficult side effects of a sacrificial ministry?
Although there may be many ways to answer this question, I have found one to be particularly helpful in my own life and ministry. For the last several years, I have been a member of a group of seven other men—all PCA pastors—who get together monthly (via gotomeeting.com) to talk about life and ministry, to share our struggles and concerns, to encourage one another, and to pray for one another. And it’s made all the difference in the world. We call ourselves a “band of brothers,” because we really are engaged in war. But it could also be called a “company of pastors,” in honor of the great debt we owe to John Calvin. The important thing is not what we call it but that we do it. Let me tell you why I have found my group so helpful.
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