Pastors who have long tenures generally have good friendships with other clergy members in their community. Lifeway Research found this as one of their top ten traits of a healthy long-term pastor. If you’re in ministry then you know it can be a lonely place! You know you need other pastor friends, whether you have them or not.
I’ve got a great church and amazing leaders, but there is something unique about the pastoral role. You get paid to do what most people volunteer to do. People assume your job is easy because you’re always with Christians. They assume you only work one day a week. Others might assume you work much more, but that you’re always visiting with people who are glad to see you. This all looks good on paper, but in practice Christians aren't always nice, the job is 24/7, and not everyone is glad to see you!
The weight of sins confessed and the sorrows of others we carry can sometimes be overwhelming. I remember once after calling social services and discovering the horrors they found I had to talk to someone. Who could I talk to? Not a member of the church, it would be a huge violation of privacy for the innocent victim. I needed to unload and found a pastor friend to help me carry that burden.
The dynamics of leading a staff, a church, and a board are uniquely challenging. Managers with large workforces give advice on how to run a staff. The dynamics however changer when 98% of your "workforce" is volunteer. Not only that, but "leading up" is a challenge few understand. How do you guide a board of people who are your bosses? How do you get them to enter into uncharted territory? How do you hold someone accountable who is your employer? It’s a delicate dance, but it must be done. Who else gets this? Other pastors.
Eugene Peterson shared about the pastoral need for friends in his book Pastor: A Memoir. He shared that he would brew a pot of coffee for the "Company of Pastors." They would rotate leading discussions on the coming lectionary text or another one if the leader felt led. They would then discuss how they might implement it in their own pastorate. This was a way to stay grounded in their call of word and sacrament amidst a world concerned with good "shopkeeping" pastors.
Inspired by Peterson, I found hosting a monthly book gathering works well for me. Participants each submit two titles for our calendar. One title is a book they think every pastor should read. The other title is a book they have had on their shelf for years, but haven't yet read. I then form a list to provide a balanced reading calendar (nothing too heavy or too similar back-to-back). Then each pastor leads the book discussion for their book. This standing appointment and rotation of leadership provides a regular time of meaningful interaction among friends.
The book gives structure to our conversation. I find it makes us more willing to open up about meaningful topics and struggles than simply sitting around saying, "What's going on with you?" The book in a sense is an ice breaker providing the needed prompts to go deeper.
I've also hosted clergy card nights. We called them the Eccumenical Clergy Card Gatherings (ECCG for short). These informal evenings were potluck style appetizers (think Super Bowl food) and terrible card games. I closely guarded who was invited to these as I wanted people who didn't take themselves or their cards too seriously. I would also generally only invite one person from each denomination so that everyone could share freely about their lives.
One other common way pastors connect is through local minister's associations. These gatherings of area pastors are hit and miss depending on who comes and the agenda they have. I've been in some where all anyone talked about was a lack of clergy parking spaces at the hospital. I've been in others where all they did was talk about what they should do. I've been in still others where their focus was on joint community works. Some of these groups gave more life to me than others, but I went because I wanted to meet other pastors to form friendships with them.
I have found these friendships to be life-giving and professionally helpful. On several occasions I've called local pastors to ask about new members or to network and shared resources. My church also finds this encouraging because they know I and our church are not an island, but an interconnected group of believers.
So, if you're in it to win it then take the time to invest in these collegial clergy relationships. Call up other local pastors and ask for a lunch or coffee. Stop by the office of a new pastor to welcome them and connect. You'll find that the time spent in these relationships enriches and lengthens your time in your community.