This is an article in our"Dear Pastor" series, where we provide real pastors with fictionalized scenarios and ask them to respond in a letter. This situation—while made up—represents countless pastors who experience similar struggles.
Our goal is to serve you, dear pastor.
You meet up for coffee with a young pastor. He’s pastoring at a small church out in the prairie, and he’s in town for the week for a conference. He has a heart for the Lord and his local church, and is clearly gifted in ministry. He likes to speak of his growing little congregation, and is humbled at the work the Lord is doing there.
However, there is visibly something wrong. You can tell by the sadness in his face. When you prod, he finally admits how lonely he is. He loves caring for his flock, and he loves his family, but he feels so alone. There is no one to talk to about the sermons he is preparing or the counseling he is doing. He doesn’t want to take his burdens to his wife and family, as there is no need to weigh them down with the concerns of the church, and as supportive as they are, he’s not sure they will understand the weight of pastoral ministry. And he is encouraged by his elders, but all of them have full-time jobs and are still learning what it means to be an elder. As their shepherd and mentor, he is hesitant to start needing them. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other churches around his small church in the prairie.
Sadly, your conversation was cut off by another appointment. But you couldn’t get this lonely, faithful pastor off your mind. So you sit down to write him the following letter:
Thanks for stopping by for coffee last week. It was a delight to spend that brief time together and to catch up a bit. I apologize that our conversation was cut short by another appointment, but I was especially pleased to hear that your wife and family have adjusted well and are enjoying living in rural America.
One of the things you briefly mentioned was your occasional struggle with loneliness. That is not unusual, especially when doing ministry in a small church and community. Small communities tend to be made up of tight-knit family clans, and thus it is sometimes hard to break into those circles. My wife and I experienced that early in our ministry, and I suspect you have too.
Since our visit, I have been thinking a lot about you and your situation. I thought I’d write to share a few practical ways that have helped us.
First, you mentioned that you didn’t want to weigh down your wife with this burden. I think you are wise to guard your wife and protect her. It is healthy to use caution in what and how much you share with her. But at the same time, let me encourage you to share the joys and difficulties of ministry with her. She is your closest confidant, your “helpmeet,” someone divinely chosen to walk through life and ministry alongside of you. As your wife, she is more intimately acquainted with you than anyone else, and thus will know how best to come along side you and pray for you. Don’t rob her of this opportunity to minister to you.
Let me take it a step further. If you are lonely, your wife is probably lonely too. You mentioned how the Lord has blessed your ministry; now share some of these blessings with her so she can rejoice with you. Tell her about the discoveries you’ve made in your devotional reading of the Word. Share your excitement about the sermon outline of a difficult passage you landed on—how it finally came together, and how you can’t wait to preach it on Sunday! It will bless her and encourage you.
Second, let me encourage you to reach out to others in your community. Maybe there’s another pastor in the area with whom you could have an occasional cup of coffee. He might have similar feelings of loneliness. As you begin to encourage him, you will find that he is encouraging you as well. In a similar way, I would urge you not only to build a relationship with another pastor or two, but to reach out to unbelievers as well—people whose children go to the same school as your children or whose children play in the community sports league with your kids. It is a great way to do friendship evangelism and build relationships for eternity. And, as the camaraderie grows, the loneliness will dissipate and fade away.
Thirdly, call a couple of your friends from seminary. Make it a zoom call so all of you can share with each other what you are preaching. Maybe get their insights into a knotty counseling situation you are dealing with at the moment (of course, being very careful not to divulge any confidentiality).
Lastly, invite the members of your church to your home for dinner. I know there will be certain people that you are drawn to and connect with more easily than others. Maybe they have kids the same ages as your kids, or maybe they have similar interests as you. I know that caution must prevail when developing friendships with members of your church, but that should not hold you back from extending hospitality to them.
Well, these are just a few practical ways my wife and I found helpful in the early years of ministry. In any case, ask the Lord to bring other people (whether they are lonely or not) into your life so that you might encourage them and meet some need in their lives. As you do, I believe you will find your needs being met as well.
Thanks again for stopping by last week. I’d love to do it again next time you’re in town. Until then, may the LORD bless and keep you.
Editor's Note: For more "Dear Pastor Letters," see An Open Letter to the Pastor Who is at Church More Than Home and An Open Letter to the Overcommitted Pastor.
Are you a pastor facing similar situations in ministry?
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