“The worst possible image of what it means to be a pastor...is a person alone in their study.”
This was the powerful reminder a trusted seminary professor imparted to my M.Div.-mates and me as we prepared for ministry. And while dedicated study is clearly important, we would all do well to heed the warning this image contains about the danger of isolation: when pastors are unable to face our lives in the company of others; when we fail to share our relationships with God, others, and ourselves within a network of support.
This was a warning, but it was also an invitation—an invitation for our lives and ministries to be borne with others and shared with spiritual companions, or “alongside-helpers.” It was an invitation to live into the New Testament’s vision of discipleship as undertaken together rather than as a solo endeavor.
Spiritual companions include: Coach, Regional Pastor or Pastoral Mentor, Spiritual Director, and Counselor or Psychotherapist. While their roles are differentiated, as the Toolkit explains, each of “These companions in Christ help us in a variety of ways. They provide safe space for sharing our deepest longings, hurts, doubts, and dreams. They assist us with exploring, reflecting, discerning, and applying. They point us toward practices of grace which lead to freedom, wholeness, and joy.”
Our expectation at Pastor Church Resources is that in each kind of relationship, the Holy Spirit is a present and active participant, guiding the pastor-disciple into truth (Jn. 16.13). Opening ourselves to truthful self-reflection is vulnerable and can be uncomfortable, but when done in a relationship of trust, can lead to greater self-awareness and maturity in ministry, which increases our ability to serve our flocks in healthy ways. (Too many examples exist of pastors leaving hurt people in their wake because they did not proactively examine and attend to their own hurts and conditions.)
Many pastors have found it valuable to have a trusted colleague outside of their family and congregation or ministry setting with whom to process the ups and downs of life and ministry. This reduces the burden placed on our loved ones and gives us confidential space to unburden our hearts and minds.
Many pastors don’t need to be convinced to seek this kind of company on their journey. For many, the issue is practical: which kind of spiritual companion, or “alongside-helper” do I need? How do I choose?
The Toolkit addresses this by offering a concise breakdown of the four roles—Coach, Regional Pastor or Pastoral Mentor, Spiritual Director, and Counselor or Psychotherapist—and their respective approaches, goals, and meeting format. It also provides links to further learning about each. It does not prescribe one kind of relationship over another, but expects that our needs will change over the seasons of ministry.
Sometimes a pastor will need one kind of spiritual companion more than another; sometimes a pastor will benefit from multiple alongside-helpers at the same time. Regardless of where you find yourself in ministry, this concise toolkit is a good place to start the process of connecting with a spiritual companion.
“Meeting with a Spiritual Companion” is just one of the practices commended by the Pastors’ Spiritual Vitality Toolkit. Learn about them all at: crcna.org/pastors-spiritual-vitality-toolkit