It is true that loneliness is one of the costs of leadership. That has always been true. However, in addition to their own personal struggle with pride and indwelling sin, there is something in the way pastoral ministry functions in our Western culture that leads to a form of isolation that is especially destructive to men called to this role, and to their families. Working toward providing a healthy remedy to this epidemic is part of Paul Tripp’s aim in his latest book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, a book that has been ministering to my heart in recent days.
Part One is entitled “Examining Pastoral Culture.” In the fourth chapter, “Joints and Ligaments,” Tripp recommends steps that church members, and their pastors, can take to work toward bringing pastors out of isolation and into healthy, life-sustaining relationships in the body of Christ. “These are written to pastors and those who care for them,” writes Tripp. Below, I list these steps and include a brief quote from each paragraph. Fuller explanation is found on pages 79-82 of Dangerous Calling.
- Require your pastor to attend a small group he doesn’t lead. “It is a simple but effective way for a small group of people to get to know their pastor, to see him in a more normal setting, and to learn the places where he needs ministry and prayer.”
- Pastor, seek out a spiritually mature person to mentor you at all times. “Seek out a mature and reliable person with whom you can share your heart. Work to build with that person a sturdy bond of trust. Refuse to live without this kind of person in your life.”
- Establish a pastors’ wives’ small group. After describing this group at his own church, Tenth Presbyterian, Tripp testifies, “This may be the most effective small group in the church. If your church is small and does not have multiple pastors, try to establish something similar between several churches.”
- Pastor, be committed to appropriate self-disclosure in your preaching. “When you do this, people quit looking at you and saying, ‘If only I could be like my pastor.’ No, they look through you and see the glory of the ever-present Christ. You quit being a painting that they gaze at, and you start being a window to the One who is your and their hope.”
- Be sure that your pastor and his family are regularly invited into the homes of families in your church. “Get them out of hiding and invite them into situations where they can relax and just be as ordinary as possible.”
- Make sure there is someone who is regularly mentoring your pastor’s wife. “Every pastor’s wife needs a ‘go to’ person that she can call spontaneously in a moment of need and be sure that a listening ear and help will be on the other end.”
- Make sure your pastor and his wife have the means to be regularly out of the house and away for weekends with one another. “Make sure that they busyness of family and the endless demands of ministry don’t combine to cause the pastor and his wife to fail to give their marriage the attention and maintenance it needs. Do everything you can to give your pastor and his wife the help, time, and resources they need to get out of the house on a regular basis and away for a weekend as frequently as is feasible.”
- Make sure counseling help is always available to the pastor, his wife, and their family. “Assure your pastor from day one that there is counseling help available whenever it is needed. Pastors, be honest about the condition of your heart and seek help quickly and willingly when needed.”
Like all believers, pastors are weak sinners in need of daily grace from God, the ministry of His Word, and transformational relationships. As under-shepherds they too are totally dependent upon the Chief Shepherd and Guardian of Souls (1 Pet 5:4; 2:25) to strengthen and sustain them. But this will not happen in isolation. Tripp’s chapter then ends with this challenge: “May fewer and fewer of those who are called to lead us live in isolation and separation from the body of Christ, and may that lead to more and more pastors who are tender and humble examples, in both their private and public lives, of both the need for and the transforming power of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”