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Finding Community as a Pastor

Finding Community as a Pastor

Many pastors live a very lonely life. They are surrounded by people, but they are devoid of meaningful, life-giving relationships. Worse yet, they do not see this situation changing any time soon.

“I feel so alone.”

“I don’t have anyone I can really talk to.”

“No one understands what it’s like.”

“Every time I think I can open up with someone, I get burned.”

“I’m just exhausted at every level.”

Many pastors live a very lonely life. They are surrounded by people, but they are devoid of meaningful, life-giving relationships. Worse yet, they do not see this situation changing any time soon. They resonate with the words of Elijah in 1Kings 19:10 (NLT):

Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

Maybe you are not quite at that point, feeling like even your church is out to get you, but you definitely feel like you are alone in ministry. Recent surveys are indicating that a large number of pastors are seriously considering quitting the ministry.  They are not just thinking about leaving their church for a new ministry, they are ready to get out of ministry completely.  

While that makes me very sad, I completely understand. I have been there. I seriously wondered if continuing in ministry would actually hurt my relationship with God. I knew it was negatively impacting my relationship with my wife and kids. It was certainly impacting my spiritual, emotional, and physical health. 

Something needed to change. 

As I started my winding journey toward health (a journey I am still on and still have a long way to go!), I found several imperatives I needed to heed.  Over the next few weeks, I will explore these imperatives.

  1. Find life-giving relationships
  2. Know your “why” 
  3. Develop healthy rhythms
  4. Get an outside perspective (coaching)
  5. Seek help for your mental and emotional health (counseling)
  6. Submit to spiritual direction

Humans were created to be social beings. In his book, The Church as Movement, Dan White Jr. cites Sociologist Edward T. Hall and author Joseph Myers in identifying four kinds of spaces people experience relationally.  Pastors are no different!  Even Jesus demonstrated this pattern.  These four spaces are intimate, personal, social, and public. 

Public spaces occur when 70+ people are involved in a common experience.  For pastors, this often includes their roles as a pastor in a church. The key expectation for this space is visibility.  You can see and be seen.

Social spaces are the typical social circles one has.  This would be 20-50 people that you know and who know you.  Many pastors find this space within their church community. Generally, this space provides availability. You can connect a little deeper in this space than in the public space.

Personal space is limited to 6-12 people who know you well and whom you know well. For a pastor, this can be difficult to find within their church community because built into this space is accountability. It can be difficult for you to maintain your role as a spiritual leader when those you are leading are also holding you accountable in your spiritual journey. In an ideal world, this space would be populated with the leadership team you work with.

Intimate space is limited to 2-4 people with whom you are vulnerable. They know your flaws, your limitations, and your weaknesses, but they use this knowledge to protect and strengthen you rather than hurt you. This is a space that many pastors never allow anyone into. 

This article will focus on pastors’ friendships in the intimate and personal space, but I will not be talking about your relationship with your spouse or children. Those relationships are a categorically different type and need to be approached much differently than a pastor’s relationship with someone outside of his or her family. 

There are various perspectives on what kind of friendships a pastor can have within his or her congregation.  Some people think you should find your closest friendships within the church community you pastor.  Others say that you cannot have close friendships with anyone who calls you pastor. In all reality, the Bible really does not give a clear mandate either way in this area. As Paul writes to his young ministers in training, he assumes that they are investing relationally with the people they are caring for, but he really does not address the idea of a close friend inside or outside the ministry. Paul is focused on making sure these leaders are surrounding themselves with wise, godly people whom they are equipping to do the work of the ministry in their community. 

Paul does, however, allude to a bond that he and some of the other leaders seem to have which acts as mutual encouragement for those leaders. Paul mentions how different leaders were an encouragement to him as well as to some of the other local shepherds and leaders. He tells them to encourage and strengthen each other.  Just look at the last chapter of most of his letters!

This brings me to my central question: outside of your spouse and family, do you have any life-giving friendships in your life?  Do you have close friends in your personal or intimate space?

When I was at a critical point in my ministry and was about to throw in the towel, I went to a couple of trusted friends who were pastors in my town and opened up to them. These men were not part of my church or even my denomination.  I had developed a social friendship with them over the years but could tell that there was a depth to their life that I could trust. I invited them to meet me for breakfast where I opened up and confessed I was struggling and just needed their friendship.  I invited them into my personal space.

I remember telling them that I had lost all vision for ministry and while my faith in God was still there, it was weak.  All three of them looked at me and said that we would begin meeting every week for breakfast and that for the time being, I could borrow their vision and faith until I found my own again.  This was a David and Jonathan moment where we covenanted together to support each other in life and ministry.

That was over five years ago and we still meet weekly.  Along the way, we have laughed together, prayed together, cried together, and served together. We have sat together in silence and sadness at the news of a spouse leaving.  We celebrated as together we all performed the wedding a couple of years later for the one whose spouse had left. 

These friends were (and are) a major life-giving source in my journey. They have moved from my social space to my personal space and now into my intimate space.  It is my prayer that every pastor has a couple of friends like this in their life. 

This did not just happen.  I had to reach out and ask. I had to be vulnerable. I had to risk rejection. I had to trust. It was not easy, but it was truly worth it!

Who could you reach out to and invite into a friendship that goes deeper than simply nodding at each other as you pass in the grocery store? Are you willing to invest the time and energy needed to cultivate a meaningful relationship with someone who understands what it is like to be in ministry? 

This will take time. You cannot develop this over a round of golf or one breakfast at a local diner. 

Action Steps:

  • Begin praying that God will show you a couple of people you can trust.
  • Identify two or three people who understand the life of a pastor and you enjoy their company.
  • Reach out to them and share that you would like to talk to them about a mutually edifying friendship built on your common experience of ministry.
  • Commit to regular times together for at least six months. 
  • Be vulnerable first, but pray a lot before you open up!
  • Remember that you are a life-giving friendship for them just as much as they are for you.

Being a pastor is hard. You give of yourself constantly. You need to have others whom you can invite into your personal and intimate spaces. God will use these people to encourage you and help you become all that He has created you to be.  Don’t wait. 

If you would like more information on growing as a pastor and leader, you can contact me at



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