Pastors Need Pastors by David Dunham
Pastors still need pastored. The number of men who leave the pastorate every year due to immorality is a startling reminder (according to some research upwards of 40%). In addition to that, pastors across America confess to being burnt out, having terrible personal spirituality, terrible marriages, serious health issues, and struggling with a host of personal sins – including pornography and alcoholism. If you are serving in pastoral ministry you are not the exception. Without someone to continue discipling you, you won’t make it in healthy ministry either. Pastors need discipleship.
We need each other to help us grow. That’s the way God has designed it. So the Bible frequently uses the language of “one-anothering” to call Christians to take a vested interest in the spiritual growth of one another. We are told to “love one another,” “pray for one another,” “instruct one another,” and “bear one another’s burdens,” among other things. Paul in particular expects that Christians will disciple Christians. The pastor is not above this most basic need. As a growing Christian he needs others to challenge him, pray for him, bear his burdens, and yes even instruct him. By isolating himself from the discipling relationship he is limiting the kind of growth he can experience. Sanctification is a community project, and that means I have to, even as a pastor, invite people to speak into my life. I need them as much as they need me.
I suspect that many pastors will agree that they continue to need discipleship. There are, however, some immediate red flags that pastors have been taught to raise in regards to this need. After all, how do we handle the sensitive nature of pastoral confessions? Some congregations have not been sufficiently prepared to handle the weight of their pastor’s confession. Some people have unrealistic expectations regarding their elders – i.e. they’re supposed to be perfect. One reason some pastors don’t have healthy discipling relationships is precisely because they feel like it would ruin their church to confess their struggles. To confess this struggle, to be honest about this sin, to ask for help in this area of my life would cost me my job, they say. I would lose the respect of my people, others worry. Many pastors simply feel alone. It’s important for us, then, to slowly build a culture of confession and mutual care. For the health of your church you need to work at this, brothers.
Maybe your congregation is not ready to hear your confession right now, but there are some steps you can take to move them in that direction. For starters use the pulpit to remind the congregation in general ways that you are imperfect. Be honest about the fact that you are imperfect. Don’t always use abstract examples in your preaching. It’s okay to use yourself to illustrate that poor response, that bad attitude, that lack of faith. The pulpit isn’t the place to confess your darkest secret, but it is the place to remind your people that you are just like them and that they in turn can be just like you. Paul expects that pastors will be models for their congregations (1 Cor. 11:1). Remind them that you are not a “super Christian.” You struggle like they do. Prepare them for more serious confessions by being honest about your general fallenness.
Beyond this it’s important to involve a select few people into the more private areas of your life. Begin training up other leaders who know the importance of honest confession. Train them to look for genuine repentance, and to ask probing questions. In so doing you will prepare them to pastor you. Give them freedom to talk to you about issues they are concerned with and then – and here’s the tough part – listen to them. The value of a team of elders, or a leadership team, cannot be overstated! The goal is to have people who know how to receive confessions and give Biblical counsel. I was so thankful at our last elders’ retreat when I could ask for counsel and prayer in an area of my own life. That’s what I need. That’s what you need. So train up people who can serve that role in your life.
Finally, find a pastor beyond your fellowship. There are some areas of our lives that need to be discussed with someone more objective. This is not someone who doesn’t know you, nor someone who doesn’t care about you, but just someone who is not immediately impacted by the events going on in your world. Disagreements in the church, marital problems, destructive sin habits may sometimes need the counsel and support of those not immediately impacted. These aren’t things to hide from your elders, but they may be things you need another pastor beyond your fellowship to help you work through. I am blessed to have such men in my life who regularly keep me honest, who have the freedom to call my pastoral staff and check up on me, and who can give me more objective advice in tough situations. I am also blessed to serve in this role for other pastors. Seek counsel always, brothers, and sometimes you may need to seek it from friends beyond your church.
Who is your pastor, pastor? Who is discipling you, mentoring you, holding you accountable? If you go walk the Christian life, and do ministry alone you won’t grow beyond your own limits, and you will risk much. Pastors need pastors. Who is yours?
David Dunham is an associate pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He is a graduate of Ohio University (BA) and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).