It’s easy for a pastor to become an island. It could be the many hours that he spends doing ministry that nobody else really sees and recognizes, or the congregational programs or initiatives that he knows are important but nobody else is interested in. It could be the messy counseling case that leaves him doubting every single word he shared and didn’t share. It could be the particular strengths for ministry that God has placed in him that nobody else seems to care about or the pet sin that people would never suspect of their pastor, yet he is all too aware. It could be the nagging idea in his mind that he is just not cut out to keep serving as a pastor. Or maybe it’s the weight of knowing that he is doing the work of Jesus, so all his mistakes and failures feel a million pounds heavier than they might in some other vocation.
How easy it is for a pastor to let these issues turn him into an island! Alone. Isolated. Misunderstood. Unsung. Bitter. Mediocre. Ineffective. Adrift.
There is a lie that Satan likes to breathe into the atmosphere of pastors: “These big issues that threaten to make you an island have been experienced only by you.” Here’s the truth: It just may be that every pastor has experienced every one of these issues, even that pastor in the conference or circuit who seems to have it all figured out. In fact, right now, he may be struggling with one or more of these things. How is he getting through all of that and still proclaiming God’s good news to souls that need it? It’s just like what Jesus said to the apostle: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That pastor is persevering because God’s grace is immensely more powerful than any issue he will face. That pastor is letting God’s grace bring all the power to persevere. That pastor is accepting God’s help and holding out that same help—God’s grace—to others.
For the first three years of my ministry, the Pastor Partners program of the seminary provided Stephen for me, a fellow pastor to serve as my mentor. Yet it’s difficult for me to use a title as technical-sounding as “mentor” to describe what Stephen did for me.
Stephen was (and still is!) a friend, a confidante, and a source of encouragement. He was (and still is!) a reminder that my weaknesses are not unique, my struggles not exclusively mine, my failures not unparalleled, and my—even my—sins not somehow left off the cross of Jesus.
If you are going into the pastoral ministry or just thinking about that path for your life, make it your vision never to be an island. Avoid thinking you’re so strong that you can do this on your own. Be a recipient of all the many gifts of grace that God has made available to you. Build a bridge with someone like Stephen, so that you can escape the lie and be refreshed by the truth.
And let all God’s people continue to pray for and support the spiritual leaders the risen Savior has provided for them.
Garrett Alford serves as pastor at Christ, Eden Prairie, Minnesota. This article first appeared the 2020 issue of Preach the Gospel.