I should not be writing about the importance of fellowship among pastors. In 2019 I was unexpectedly fired from my pastoral role for “philosophical differences.” In 2017 I was not offered the church planting residency that I longed for because I was not a “cultural” or “personality” fit. Similarly, I know what it feels like to be spiritually abused by my leaders, to have Scripture misused to assault my worn and weary conscience. I needed to leave my first ministry role for the sake of my own spiritual health. The pastor responded with what can only be called a tirade. A month later he resigned and moved away for ostensibly the same reasons.
I have what is generally called “church hurt”; more specifically, I have “pastor hurt.” There have been times when I look at my beloved Ann and say, “I shouldn’t still be in ministry. It’s a miracle I’m still here.” This isn’t to say, of course, that I am innocent either. I have my faults, dysfunctions, and blinds spots like the rest. It’s just to say that—all things considered—I have taken the hits commensurate with an entrenched, warzone ministry; a ministry that many others before me and many others after my time will relate to. It hurts like the dickens. It still finds its way into my dreams at times. I can shake internally when placed around similar personalities from my past. I am tempted to avoid situations that even give a hint of similarity to those I’ve mentioned. My heart walks with a limp (or two). “Pastor hurt” hurts deep and lasts long.
But God is yet undeterred in his restoration process with me. Armed with his irresistible kindnesses, the Gentle and Humble One has been leading me toward establishing and growing pastoral relationships with like-hearted men in my area. Why? Because I need it. Because the kingdom flourishes when gospel ministers support one another. Because, for my wounds to be mended, this is the process that necessitates it. Because, in sum, it’s worth it.
When I learned about the vision of Reformation Fellowship, I was stirred, but I was also somewhat unnerved. The payoff of growing in relationships with other pastors in my area—pastors I could unload burdens with, pastors I could speak confidentially with, pastors who could remind me of biblical truths, pastors who could laugh with me over relatable stories that only pastors find cheerfulness in—was enviable. The risk, of course, was (and is) intimidating. The risk of pastors who would only see me as someone to groom for their personal ends; the risk of fellowshipping with wolves unawares; the risk of being judged by the size of my church or the failings of my sheep; and the risk of getting mired in a draining relationship that I would eventually have to back out of. Yes, the risks are real and could be costly.
But what is the alternative? Do I continue to lament to the Lord about my lack of pastoral friendships yet do nothing to remedy the situation? Do I avoid all pastors because some are narcissistic tyrants? Do I act like a coward and refuse to place myself in any situation that could possibly remind me of old wounds? Clearly this is not the option for a man of God in the throes of an eternal battle. If God is for me, who can stand against? “Be strong and very courageous,” the Lord spoke to my forefather.
I have come to the personal and biblical conviction that the risk of more potential pastoral hurt is worth the risk of restoration through pastoral fellowship. I have recently met with three different pastors, from three different denominations, with three different temperaments—they were all faithful men. The conversations were nourishing in ways known and still unknown to me. It was worth it. And I trust in the grace of God that more pastoral connections in the future will continue to be.
The renewal of God’s church requires the renewal of pastoral fellowship. We need other brothers-in-arms. We all do (introverts included). It’s worth the risk. I pray for you that, like me, the Good Shepherd and Gentle Lord will guide you into redemptive relationships with like-hearted, faithful men who can help you advance God’s glorious mission from where you are to the ends of the earth.