Companions for the Journey

I was hooked. I was watching previews for upcoming films and a preview of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy flashed on the screen. I would have to wait until the following Christmas, but this was my kind of movie.

I had never read the series, but I determined that I would do so by the time they released the first movie. I devoured the books. And while the films deviated in a few places from what Tolkien had written (thoroughly upsetting some purists), I loved them.

There are innumerable memorable bits of dialogue and some very unforgettable characters in The Lord of the Rings. And there are many great themes in the series. To me, one that stands out in particular is the friendship between Frodo and Sam. And by the way – if you don’t know the story, it’s a great read!

I’m writing this early on a Sunday morning, and this morning’s routine was the same as most other Sundays. I get my cereal and tea, check the Phillies’ score (alas! – last night was painful), and text two of my closest friends. One is preaching for the other who is enjoying the first Sunday of his sabbatical. I pray for both of them throughout the week, but especially on Sunday. And I know they pray for me.

For well over a decade, we have been meeting monthly for lunch. We’ve sometimes rescheduled, but we’ve rarely missed a month. Each of us has gone through both good times and hard times, but we’ve been able to rejoice together and encourage each other. Along with two or three others these men have laughed with me and cried with me, counseled and challenged me. I have friends outside of ministry, and I am grateful for them. But having friends who understand my world has meant much to me.

The two most significant traits among my ministry companions are their confidentiality and their lack of a competitive spirit. I know that I can bare my soul to these men and not fear that it will come back to haunt me. And there was never a sense that our church’s size made any difference, or that one of us had to have the upper hand.

We find ministry friends throughout the Bible. Paul had a bunch of them. Read the closing paragraphs of his letters and you’ll find them being singled out time and time again. And I can’t help but think Jesus’ disciples were more than a group of guys he was shaping into future leaders. We do an injustice to our Lord’s humanity if we imagine that he had no need for human companionship.

No doubt you have friends. But do you have ministry friends? Do you have men in your life who do what you do, who understand the challenges and the joys of pastoral work? If not, let me encourage you to reach out to some other pastors in your area. Have lunch, talk, and ask God to help you discerningly build one or more friendships that will enable you to encourage each other along the way.

Have you benefitted from these kinds of relationships? Or has it been a struggle to develop ministry friendships? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

About Expectations

He was between jobs, and as he sat across from me in my office he was pondering his future. “I wish I could be a pastor so that I could study the Bible all day.”

It wasn’t the first time someone said that. Hey, I might have thought that way myself when I was in Bible College (back in the antediluvian period). I don’t recall what my expectations were. But I learned fast that pastors did more than “study the Bible all day.” So I told my friend something that has often been true. I said, “To be honest, I often have to fight for the time to study.”

Has that been true for you? While preaching and teaching is likely the primary responsibility of most of us, it’s not our only responsibility. I’m sure you know that already. But has that knowledge affected the way you plan your time? And has it affected your availability to people? Because people are probably the biggest “interruption” we face in our preparation. Let me encourage you to welcome those interruptions.

When I first started in ministry, a church near us had called a new pastor. Shortly after he came, a young woman in the church went through a very painful broken engagement. Her dad, wanting to get her some pastoral counsel, took her to see the pastor. Instead of welcoming the opportunity to minister, the new pastor said, “I did not come here to wipe your noses.”

News of that encounter quickly got around the area. He didn’t last long. No surprise there.

It can be frustrating to have a drop-in visitor or take a phone call when you’re deep in study. But spending time with people is rarely a waste of time. In fact, how we handle people’s interruptions can enhance or diminish our effectiveness as preachers and teachers.

Let me offer some suggestions:

First, if you work in an office environment, keep your office door open as often as you can. People will stop into the church office for a variety of reasons and often they will pop in. Sometimes it’s just to say hello. Other times those visits will lead to spiritual discussions and opportunities to pray with and for our people. Those are good times. Christ is present in those moments.

Second, recruit your secretary to help you. I was blessed with three different secretaries who were great at this. Generally, I wanted to be available if any of our church people dropped by. When I closed my office door, they knew what I was doing, so they knew if they could interrupt me or not. Occasionally a missionary would stop by to drop off literature as they sought support. In most cases, our budget prohibited us from taking on more missions commitments. But support raising can discourage, and I wanted to hear about them and pray with them whenever I could.

On other occasions someone would stop by to see me wanting to sell me something. My secretaries handled those drop-ins so well. They would take literature and promise that I would call the salesman if I was interested in the latest video that would double our church attendance and/or turn people into mature believers in 12 weeks. My sarcasm may reveal the fact that I rarely, if ever, returned those kinds of calls.

Third, don’t cram so much into your weekly plan that you have no time for people. If your church members see you rushing around, it will communicate that you are too busy for them. Slow down. Not every project has to be finished in a day. Spread your sermon prep over a couple of days so that if a day goes haywire, you aren’t up all night on Saturday night trying to cobble a sermon together.

Finally, consider taking your study off premises. I’m going to write about this at some other time, but if you find the office environment to be too full of interruptions – or even a source of temptation to draw you away from your work – get out of there!

When you spend time with your people, you are letting them know that you care for them. You are telling them you are interested in their lives, even in what might seem mundane. And you are telling them you are glad to be their pastor.

If your expectation was that you came to preach and teach, you’re right. But you also came to “wipe noses.” Ministry is about people. Expect them to “interrupt” your day and welcome the opportunities those interruptions provide.

Is ministry what you expected? How have you done at adjusting your expectations? Leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!