Be intentional about the relationships you need in your life, and you will be a stronger, more effective church leader.
Pastor, do you have the relationships you need in your life?
- It’s easy for us to feel a lack of friendship, because we’ve seen our friends leave the church or move away.
- We could use more support, but people think we don’t need it.
- We get lonely sometimes, underneath our professional, pastoral role that ministers to others.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You need 9 relationships to be supported and strong, and you can develop them if you are intentional.
The Barna study, the State of Pastors, points to the importance of our relationships:
“In many of our studies with church leaders,” Hempell says, “we tend to find that pastors are optimistic and full of hope because they are so committed to their calling to ministry. They can and will withstand great stress to their relationships, families and overall personal health, strengthened by their faith.
But over time, neglecting relationships can lead to serious consequences in their personal lives as well as impact the church.
Additionally,” Hempell continues, “the correlations between job satisfaction, as well as burnout risk, and each of these relational metrics: friendship satisfaction, personal spiritual support and pastor-elder dynamics, make a compelling case for the importance of healthy relationships among pastors.
Allowing time for nurturing these relationships and emotional support (such as through counseling or coaching) to work through challenges is essential to a pastor’s overall well-being and that of their family.”
9 Relationships Every Pastor Needs to be Healthy
Here are 9 relationships that you need in your life to be healthy and strong in ministry. You won’t have them all in place, so as you read, mentally check if each is a strong, average, or weak relationship for you.
Don’t worry! This isn’t going to mean a ton of heavy relational work. Some of these relationships are easy to put in place if you put in a little effort.
Use the process at the end of the article to clarify steps you can take to develop your 9 relationships.
1. You need an Equal Partner.
Every pastor needs a supportive wife. (Or a supportive husband, if your theology supports a female senior pastor.)
On our very first date (many, many years ago) I asked Lori, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” She responded, “Well, this is a little embarrassing to admit, but since I was a teenager I’ve wanted to be a pastor’s wife.” I replied, “Since I was a teenager, I’ve felt called to be a pastor.”
In every season of ministry, Lori has not only stood next to me, she’s led and strengthened many of the vital departments and systems of our church.
Lori and I moved to Oceanside fourteen months before we started New Song Community Church. We needed that time to raise support, get to know the city, and develop a core group.
During that period, I developed a friendship with another church planter who was starting a few miles away. He launched strong (over 100 at his first service), and had all the gifts necessary to build a great church.
All accept one: his wife didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife. She liked being a church member, but not a church leader. Two years after starting, my friend resigned and went into financial planning.
Church leadership requires commitment and long hours. If the pastor’s wife isn’t as committed to growing the church as he is, there will be tension and friction every step of the way.
A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown. – Proverbs 12:4
This doesn’t mean that every woman of noble character should be a pastor’s wife. But it does mean that a man who feels called to the pastorate should be discerning in choosing a mate.
2. You need a Hero.
A hero is someone you look up to. Someone you can draw strength from when you’re tired or discouraged. And someone you can draw inspiration from and want to emulate.
Bill Hybels has been that for me. (I know, he’s fallen. That’s been a huge hit to me and many others. I pray for him regularly.)
Every pastor has days (and seasons) of discouragement. During the dark nights of my early ministry, I would think about how Hybels was working hard and long hours to build Willow Creek. “If he can do it, I can do it!” That sustained me.
During days of dreaming, I would think about all that was being accomplished by his church and pray about how my little church might accomplish something significant as well.
Every executive knows that it’s lonely at the top. Having someone to look up to makes it manageable. If that someone is a person you can admire and learn from, it makes your leadership better, and much more fun.
3. You need a Ministry Partner.
A ministry partner is someone who works shoulder to shoulder with the pastor, often with complimentary gifts. A ministry partner is an encourager, not a competitor, with the pastor. They are friends as well as colleagues.
Over the past 27 years, I’ve been fortunate to have had four. I launched the church with my friend, Scott Evans, as the Associate Pastor. Scott was capable and willing to do anything to make the church grow. He would regularly say to me, “I believe in you.” And he’d regularly say to the church, “Hal believes in you.”
During our earliest days, Scott and I would work together all day, then after dinner, one of us would think of something we needed to talk about, and we’d spend two hours on the phone strategizing together.
Scott graduated to founding Outreach, Inc. and served as a faithful New Song Board Member for eighteen years. He would regularly remind me, “Cast more vision, Hal.” and “People want to be led. Lead us!”
After Scott came Joseph Kennedy. Then Steve Foster. My current ministry partner is Mark Kuhn, who once was my Board Chairman. Because of these four, I am a better man.
4. You need a Preaching Inspiration.
“Good preaching is better caught than taught.” Haddon Robinson (former president of Denver Seminary and professor of homiletics at Gordon-Conwell Seminary) encouraged his students to pick a preacher we admire and spend a year listen to their sermons and learning all you can. I did that with Bill Hybels, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Rick Warren and E.V. Hill. More recently, I’ve done it with Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, Steven Furtick, and a few others.
Someone once said that we’re a product of the five people we hang out with most. That holds for preaching, too. I find that when I have good models in my mind, good words flow easier in my message preparation.
5. You need a supportive Board Chairman.
The main role of a church board is to be a support to the pastor. Yes, they should be a sounding board, and hold you accountable, and be fervent in prayer, and be personally involved in ministry, and be significant donors, and be the primary participants in any church discipline processes.
But the most important role of a Board is to support the pastor.
All these data indicate that a strong, mutually supportive relationship between a pastor and the governing team is integral to church health and to the pastor’s health. Relational harmony in this area lowers a leader’s risk of burning out and lengthens his or her tenure in ministry.
When a pastor has a supportive Board Chairman, that Chairman lends his or her voice to the decisions that are made and the direction that is set. A pastor has one type of authority; a Board Chairman has another. Combining these two voices gives confidence and directional momentum to the church.
How do you find a supportive Board Chairman? Prayerfully and carefully.
One of my most important jobs is recommending potential Board members to our Nominating Team and shepherding them through the congregational election process. I want Board members who are global-thinking problem-solvers. They must be serving somewhere in the church, tithing, and fulfill the character qualities of 1 Timothy 3.
At least as important as all of this, I have to have an affinity with every Board member. I nominate people I like – people I am friends with, or want to be friends with.
Every year, when Board officers are voted on, I jump in and nominate the candidate I think is most qualified. Every year, I cultivate friendships with each of my Board members, and especially the Chairman.
As with ministry partners, I’ve been fortunate to have had four fantastically supportive Chairman. In fact, there has never been a year when I haven’t had a Board Chairman like this.
6. You need a Prayer Warrior.
Every pastor should have at least one faithful prayer warrior. That person should have the spiritual gift of intercession, and be committed to the pastor’s life and ministry.
During the pre-launch phase of New Song, I recruited seventy-seven prayer warriors and organized them so that eleven people were praying for me each day of the week. I released that team three years after we launched the church and began to develop dynamic pray-ers from within New Song.
Virgil Leffler grew up in a pastor’s home. As an adult, he developed the habit of becoming personal friends with the pastor of every church he attended. Fortunately for me, Virg felt called to New Song in our first year of ministry. He has been with me for twenty-seven years.
About a decade ago, Virg approached me and said, “I’d like to stand by you and pray for anything you want me to.” Every Saturday morning he emails me and says, “How was your week? And how can I pray for you?”
I type out a list of requests and send them back to him.
At the end of every year, I set personal goals and church goals. I share them with the whole church, but I share them personally with Virgil. Several times a year, he’ll ask me how we’re doing on the goals we’ve set.
Peter Wagner’s Prayer Shield describes the invisible but vital role intercessors play in the building of the church. Read this book and work on developing your prayer warriors.
7. You need a Friend.
Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and brother is born for difficult times.” Everyone needs a friend like this.
A friend has to be someone you like, someone who you enjoy being with, someone you trust, someone who can keep a confidence, and usually, someone of your educational and socio-economic level.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t easy for us to find.
There’s an adage that says, “It takes a friend to have a friend.” This can be a challenge for a pastor, who is required to develop relationships with as many members of the church as possible.
Since my life is pretty much consumed with New Song, most of my personal friends have been members of the church. I live in a transient area, so many people move out of the area after two or three years. We’re still friends, but long-distance friends are different from close personal friends.
I recently invited a new couple to join our Life Group. He has a lot in common with me, and she has a lot in common with Lori. I’m going to pursue a new friendship.
8. You need a Mentor.
Like a preaching inspiration, we need to learn from different people, so I have made it a habit to find a new mentor every year.
A mentor is someone who has been where you want to go and is willing to help you get there.
A few times I’ve hired professional mentors (guys like me, who develop programs for mentoring other pastors). One year I hired a pastor from a church much larger than ours. Another year I hired a friend who trains church planters like I do. One year I went back and re-hired a former mentor. I had reached a new season of life and needed someone I knew and trusted to walk with me through it.
This fall I hired a mentor from the corporate world. He’s never led a church, though he is a strong Christian. I’m looking forward to what he has to teach me.
9. You need a Mentee.
Moses had Joshua. Peter had Mark. Barnabas had Paul. Paul had Timothy.
When the link is broken between a leader and a movement, it’s hard to restart. Don’t let the link die. Find a Timothy and give him or her what you have to offer.
A mentor is not required to pass on things they don’t know. Your only obligation is to pass on what you have learned.
Ideally, this mentoring process will span four generations: What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Share with me and I might drop it. But if I share with another what you have taught me, it’s likely that learning will continue forward. If I share with someone who shares with someone, that’s enough depth that there is every likelihood that your legacy will live on for many generations.
Use this process to strengthen your 9 relationships:
- Pray, asking God to lead you as you think and plan.
- List the 9 relationships down the side of a sheet of paper or in a new document on your computer.
- Assess whether you are Weak, Average, or Strong in each relationship, and write it down. Add names, thoughts, or descriptive words.
- In your strong relationships, which one brings you the most strength?
- Of your weak relationships, which would be the easiest to make strong?
- Which of the 9 relationships are you most exciting about making stronger?
- Make a list of 3 top action items to build your 9 relationships.
- Put an hour or two on your calendar this week to work on your action items.
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Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.