By Dan Hyun
A right understanding of relationships is critical to pastoral ministry. Yet, for as much time as pastors spend around people, I frequently hear how lonely and isolated they feel.
Just because we work closely with people doesn’t mean we’ll have the closeness our souls need. A relationship can’t be forced, and there needs to be a certain organic sense of development in our closest friendships.
At the same time, I’ve found it beneficial for my growth as a person and as a pastor to bringing intentionality to the subject of whom I spend time with. In light of that, here are three kinds of relationships that can benefit pastors:
1. Relationships with those who are ahead of us
Some pastors are privileged to have been trained for ministry in seminary and other similar settings. Those pastors may fondly recall sweet seasons of being poured into by wise mentors.
Once we enter ministry, however, some of us experience that, aside from God, there’s no one at our church to follow other than ourselves.
Though some self-leadership is critical to our growth, an important relationship to have is with someone who’s walked the road of ministry longer than we have.
From a biblical perspective, this looks like Joshua having Moses. Joshua had a significant role in God’s work, but much of his journey was spent learning from his mentor and seeing how God worked in and through Moses.
How powerful must it have been for Joshua to hear God tell him, “I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or abandon you” (Joshua 1:5b)?
In addition to providing wisdom, those who are further along than us in ministry remind us even in the hardest moments, things will be OK.
It can be empowering to know those who’ve been through the wars and who bear the scars have learned the faithfulness of our great God. Just like how experienced parents can ease the anxiety of the parents of newborns, the things that overwhelm you may not overwhelm those who are seasoned in the work of ministry.
Their words of encouragement can be a salve during some of the harder seasons of ministry. Their fresh eyes can bring relief when everything seems foggy.
2. Relationships with those who follow us
As you have someone invest in you, I also encourage you to seek out someone in whom you can invest. This person may be someone in your church or outside of it, but one of the greatest things you can do for the advancement of God’s kingdom is to share your life with someone behind you on the path of pastoral ministry.
In the Scriptures, this looks like Paul having Timothy, his beloved son in the ministry (Philippians 2:22).
The wisdom we can invest in others is significant in these relationships. Don’t underestimate what you have to share. I’m increasingly seeing how these kind of relationships don’t just exist for the mentee. God also uses them to do work in my life as a mentor.
The most accurate picture of who you are often reveals itself in how you interact with those you lead. I consider those I mentor a great gift. Loving them is wonderful, but it also helps excavate deeper wounds and dysfunction in my soul.
One example is learning how to empower those who process life and ministry differently than I do. It’s easy for pride to consume my heart, but God reminds me His leaders exist to serve.
In a culture that seems to celebrate narcissistic leadership, investing in others is God’s sanctifying work in our lives. It’s been painfully humbling at times, but God has deeply grown my character through these kind of relationships.
3. Relationships with those who walk alongside us
By this, I’m talking about friends. Hopefully, the relationships described above are with people we’d consider friends. But what I mean here are people where the primary purpose of the relationship is just to be with them.
This is like the close brotherhood seen between Jonathan and David, or Paul and Silas—those who’ll pray and sing with you in the darkest moments.
Pastors often struggle with our identities, and if we serve long enough, it can be easy to lose ourselves in the process. We need the kind of friendships where we’re not “the pastor” but can just be ourselves.
These are people who remind us what it means to be a human “being,” not just a human “doing.” These are the kind of friends where nothing we say can shock them.
These are the kind of relationships where we can disclose the inner workings of our lives. The kind of people who aren’t impressed by us and will call our bluff. These friends remind us they’re with us to the end.
Be these things for others
You may have read this article and felt disheartened at the lack of one or more of these relationships in your own life. In a world that loves “organic,” a healthy step for you may be to proactively seek out the kind of people you need in your life.
But as we long for such relationships, one of the best things we can do is to also consider how we can provide these relationships to other pastors.
In the process of providing these relationships to others, God often surprises us by granting the treasure of rich friendships.
DAN HYUN (@villagedanhyun) is the husband to Judie, father of two precious girls, and lead pastor of The Village Church in Baltimore, Maryland.