Pastors who are isolated tend to struggle.
This is a recurring theme in our work at Pastor Church Resources as we interact with pastors and congregations in conflict and transition. Isolated pastors tend to struggle. Whereas pastors with robust, intentional collegial relationships tend to thrive in their life, faith, and ministry, especially when those relationships are with mature pastors outside their immediate congregation or ministry context.
Now there may be exceptions. Some pastors can manage ministry leadership for a pretty long time without much collegial support. Most pastors who make it to ordination in the CRCNA are pretty resilient and technically competent.
But conflict and anxiety arise in every church and are thrust upon every pastor eventually. A prominent member abruptly leaves; a super-volunteer publicly questions your leadership; a local factory shuts down. Suddenly your council looks to you for answers, for decisions, for decisive action yesterday. “We have to do something!” “We can’t delay!” “What’s our plan?!”
It’s easy for leaders to get stuck when questions start flowing like this. Our human tendency is to accept the questions on the terms they’re offered and to begin to react to everyone else’s anxiety. We start grasping at any way to reduce the anxiety and fear. But our natural impulses are almost never the most helpful in the long run.
Inevitably, when we get in a reactive mode, we start acting less out of faith and more out of fear; our creativity is stifled at the moment we need it most and our former impulses toward courageous Christian love and sacrifice get stifled by the growing urgency for self-preservation. (Can all my fellow pastors with 45 rolls of toilet paper in their basement say amen?!)
Now, if somehow, you’ve managed your first three or four years in ministry without much of this conflict or anxiety, without experiencing this barrage of urgent questions, then welcome to coronavirus season!
The volume and intensity of anxiety left in the wake of COVID-19 and our responses to it are unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before as individuals, as churches, and as church leaders. The number of unknowns about the future seems to be rising as quickly as our national infection rates.
All this means is that there’s never been a better time to have one or two robust, intentional, collegial relationships with other pastors. Remember: physical distancing, not social distancing. We all need safe spaces, not just to vent, but also to confess our shortcomings, to receive encouragement, and to be redirected, ever so gently, to the gospel of true hope we’ve given our lives to advance.
By God’s grace, many pastors in our denomination have pretty good networks of collegial support: pastor’s prayer breakfasts, mentors, spiritual directors, local ministerial associations, peer learning groups, neighborhood pastor’s prayer meetings. If you haven’t yet, reach out in those networks. If you’re one of those more isolated pastors, reach out to your Classis’ Regional Pastor or a colleague at the church down the road. Don’t try to go this alone.