Ministry is busy, isn’t it? And it is so easy to get wrapped up in the work of ministry within your church – in many ways, rightly so – that it is almost impossible to do anything else. As a pastor, my life essentially revolves around the church. It provides structure to my week, most the people I know in the local area come to my church, a lot of the outreach I do centres around the church and how I interact with people in my town usually circles back round to church one way or the other.
Worse, since lockdown began, things have become even more insular. We haven’t been able to go anywhere. We haven’t been able to see almost anyone. Even now things have lifted, many of the places we would have seen people haven’t really gotten back to normal. Either people aren’t coming back or the places aren’t really operating as freely as they might like. It’s all gotten worse.
Which is why I was really pleased that some pals of mine came over for a jolly yesterday. Also pastors, but friends nonetheless. And we didn’t meet for specific ministry reasons. It wasn’t a fraternal or anything like that. Nobody preached (though we spoke about the Lord and the Word a lot) and nobody presented a paper or owt like that. We just spent some time together and I really enjoyed it.
Why am I telling you this? Because we often hear about the need for pastors to have friends in ministry. But more often than not, when people feel isolated, we try to resolve that problem for them with more formal stuff to attend. Get along to a conference, go to a fraternal, whatever. But formal stuff to plug into where you might, maybe, meet some people to be friends with.
But in my experience, that is rarely how those things work. The formal atmosphere of them is exactly that; formal. It might be nice to hear somebody preach or present a paper or whatever, but you’re rarely making friends when that is happening. And when those things come with the pressure of making friends, but the time is loaded with content and the extent of the opportunity is sitting on some tables over lunch for a 15 minute chat with a stranger, it isn’t that surprising that these places (much as there is to like about them for other reasons) don’t lead to that. To be honest, I have always enjoyed conferences much more when I already have friends who are going and I can spend my time hanging out with them.
For me, it is much easier to make friends apart from those things. And building genuine friendships takes times. My mates came over yesterday and spent all day with me. We chewed over ministry and stuff, but mainly in the way mates would do. We talked about other stuff too. But those friendships haven’t sprung up from nowhere, they are the product of our spending time together at other times, usually not in any formal meetings or whatever.
But so often we think of this as a waste of time. We think its frivolous to just hang out with mates when we should be busy about the work of ministry, or whatever. But we then often wonder why ministers don’t have any mates and end up isolated! We can’t expect our pastors to have friends if we don’t allow them the freedom to spend time making friends. And it does take time. Unless we actually carve out large chunks of time to be with people, we won’t get to know them and if we don’t know them, we won’t be friends with them. It is as simple as that.
So, if you are in ministry, carve out time to sit with people. Set up meetings with people. Block out whole afternoons – even whole days – to meet up. You might not wind up being friends with everyone you meet – and that’s okay – but you can be sure if you don’t, you probably won’t be friends with anyone. And that is the fast track to isolation, discouragement and probably burn out. So, make the time to meet with people, give your pastor the freedom to do it, so that he can serve your church over the long haul.