As a young pastor, I’ve always been drawn to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 as he comes to the end of both his ministry and life:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Turning this passage into a prayer for my own life and ministry has been of great benefit to me in these beginning years of my ministry. These words have proved even more critical over the last few years as the evangelical world has been rocked with the public fallings of pastors and leaders. While no one knows all the facts involved in these stories, they do serve as warnings. The warning is that many times, there has been a slow fade over time.
At a pastor’s conference a few years back one of the speakers said he would put the name of men who he knew personally who left the ministry because they were disqualified (i.e., moral failing or rejecting orthodox teaching) in the back of his Bible. He would also write the names of men who finished well in the front flap of his Bible. He wanted constant encouragement and warning from these lists. This can serve as a way to remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
In following these stories of fallen pastors, two recurring themes lead to this slow fade, and they are 1) a lack of community and 2) lack of accountability. Isolation in the Christian life is dangerous, which is why we need the church, and isolation for a pastor can end a ministry. While we encourage our members to get involved in small groups, accountability groups, men’s and women’s groups, Bible studies, etc. we can often neglect this critical need in our own lives. It is easy in ministry to busy doing the good and vital work of equipping the saints for the work of ministry at the expense of our own soul care.
My encouragement from one pastor to another is this, find this community and accountability from outside your church. Of course, this does not mean doing this at the neglect of community and accountability in your own church, which is most important. However, many of us know there are things significant issues in the life of the church including relational conflict, negativity, criticism, expectations, hard conversations, sin, and more that come from our sheep. Some of these things should not or cannot be shared with others in our church. When this is true, we might not have an outlet for being open or transparent in sharing our feelings, doubts, struggles, etc. If this happens for too long, we can shut down, withdraw, and try to do things in our own strength, which is never a good idea and can frequently lead to a slow fade.
Knowing this, I believe that a group for community and accountability is needed from other pastors in your community. Gathering with 1-2 other brothers in Christ who have been called to full-time ministry can play a vital role in your own spiritual growth and fruitfulness in ministry. A group like this can help to bring down some of the walls we may put up with those in our church.
Let’s look at four reasons why this is vital to your own spiritual health. This will be followed up by different questions you can ask of each other in this group.
Here are three reasons in Scripture why a partnership like this is vital to your own spiritual health.
- It’s wise.
Reflect on these passages from Proverbs:
“Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.” (13:20)
“Listen to advice and accept discipline,
and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” (19:20)
“Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (27:5-6)
“As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.” (27:17)
- It’s easier to fight battles with those in the trenches with you.
Reflect on these words in Ecclesiastes:
“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:
There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
- It provides encouragement and support in fighting sin and isolation.
Reflect on Hebrews 3:12-13
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
One warning: while a group like this is vital to spiritual health that is only if you are fighting temptation, sin, and discouragement with the gospel of Jesus Christ. These groups are not meant to be a session for venting frustrations without the remedy of the gospel or else that venting can turn into anger, bitterness, frustration, doubt, and a hardening of our hearts.
Instead, we should be asking each other questions that expose our hearts and point us to Jesus. Here are some examples of questions you can use to focus your time together.
- What is God trying to teach you through this situation?
- Are there any doubts or struggles you have right now? What are they?
- What promises of God to you need to cling to?
- Where and when are you most tempted to sin?
- How is, or can, your identity in Jesus Christ helps you through his situation?
- How are you developing your own spiritual life in Christ?
The other important thing to do in this group is to give each other permission to ask the tough questions, especially regarding ongoing sin struggles and relationships (i.e., marriage and parenting).
Start today by contacting a couple of other pastors in your community and share with them your heart for community and desire for accountability with other pastors as you seek to grow in your holiness together.
Prayer: Lord, we pray that we continue to look to you as our Savior to help us to keep the faith and finish our races!