4 Ways to Escape the Pastor-Isolation Trap

“As my mentor has said to me in so many occasions, ‘The Enemy works in isolation; God works in community.'”

In my backpack, apart from my laptop, you’ll find three essentials: my iPad, my journal, and a book I’m reading (don’t judge me for not saying “Bible,” as that’s always accessible on my phone and/or tablet). The reasons for these three items:

From my latest read, Divine Direction by Craig Groeschel, I’m working on some things to help mentor young adults. But Chapter 6 has really hammered in me something that I find far too many pastors struggle with: connection. Groeschel says,

“Consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential: (1) a friend to challenge you and bring out your best, (2) a friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith, and (3) a friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it.”

This was a selah moment for me. Honestly, I found myself setting down my book and sending out intentional texts of encouragement to a few pastors who have been those three key relationships to me.

But please know: This was not how I started my ministry career.

Yes, I had “friends.” But allowing friends to know me on all three of those levels is another issue. I can honestly say that, in those first couple years, I only had a “version” of the  second type of friends. They were the people I ran to in the challenging times. But that was it.

It wasn’t that I didn’t possess any other type of friends. The reality was, I was guarded. My insecurities kept me from asking for too much help or, in some cases, allowing others to help. I found some semblance of satisfaction in “figuring it out myself” while longing for community and mentorship. Back then I called it “work ethic.” Twenty years later, I call it what it really was: pride.

Operating in a vacuum of isolation, unfortunately, is how a number of pastors operate in ministry. Don’t get me wrong … I can appreciate the situations that my fellow co-laborers experience.

For some, geography is a challenge. You feel so far away from friendships and denominational connections that the locational disconnect translates into relational chasms.

From Outreach Magazine  The Power of the 72

Maybe, like me, you have what I would call a genetic challenge. I term myself as a “nurtured extrovert.” By nature, I’m shy and very quiet, and thus, this became my excuse to not reach out to others. Today, my wife wonders why I have to engage in conversation with random strangers in the mall.

For others, age is a huge relational issue. I can understand being the only minister in the room from one particular generation, and you long for a peer to connect with.

Then, there are situational challenges. I totally get wanting to find someone who is in a similar place in ministry and shares either a similar place of ministry or a specific season in the life of a church. Personally, I love finding other pastors and churches who have walked similar paths and/or are tracking along with my vision for the church.

[Three additional fears that keep pastors isolated.]

But regardless of the challenges, as ministers we have to power through and intentionally engage in community. We were divinely designed to live in community. I get how busy you are. But there are times we are so busy doing “good” things that we miss out on the “best” things. And, in my limited-experiential opinion, operating in relationship as a minister is one of those “best” things we cannot ignore.

As my mentor has said to me in so many occasions, “The Enemy works in isolation; God works in community.”

If we expect our congregations to work in community, we ought to practice it first. How dare we ask people to do something we refuse to live out ourselves. Authentic relationships are a phenomenal way to have healthy ministry and longevity in ministry.

It’s time to lay down our pride. It is time to toss aside our insecurities with the local “competition” (other churches). You were not built for seclusion; you have been created to grow and live in community.

So, how can we begin doing this today? How does this practically look? These are not groundbreaking ideas, but they will position you to get out of your vacuum.

1. Practice the PBT model.

  • Find a Paul (a mentor).
  • Find a Timothy (someone to disciple).
  • Find a Barnabas (peers to encourage and be encouraged by).
From Outreach Magazine  'Walk Slowly Through the Pews'

2. Join a network.

Kfirst is part of the River Valley Network. I love that I get to interact with churches from all over the nation and develop camaraderie with pastors from a variety of church sizes and generations.

I am involved in some online Facebook groups. Though they are not a “network” per se, they have become a network of ministers with which to share ongoing discussions and constant feedback. I love hearing from people who are very much not like me but possess a similar kingdom heart.

I’m always on the hunt for other “networks” and “groups” for me and my staff to help us learn as well as pour into others. We can’t just be consumers; we need to be contributors.

3. Leverage social media.

My disclaimer: Social media doesn’t equate to deep relationships. But it can be an avenue to develop relational connections.

I have used all facets of social media to follow churches and ministers, and create connections. Peering into the world of other churches helps elevate my vision and gets me out of my little box.

4. Look outside of your denomination.

I love the Assemblies of God (AG). But the kingdom of God is bigger than our denomination … er … fellowship (#AGJokes). My move to a smaller town in mid-Michigan in the summer of 2002 really opened my eyes and my heart to embrace other ministers who were not from AG churches but were engaging the Jesus’ kingdom.

I love engaging with pastors in the Kalamazoo area. I love knowing their heart. I also love to be able to recommend other churches when someone comes to Kfirst and doesn’t feel a “fit” in our church community. And that can’t happen if you are insecure and don’t know the pastors in your city.

I know there are probably other ways to escape the pastor-isolation trap, but I wanted to challenge you and keep it simple. Craig Groeschel’s words hit me hard, and have made me sit back and re-evaluate my connections—and I think you should, too.

Do you have a “community”? Maybe a better question: Will you allow “community” to help you grow and, in turn, help others grow?

Dave Barringer (@PDBarringer) is the lead pastor at Kalamazoo First Assembly of God in Portage, Michigan. He blogs about pastoring and marriage at PDave.me.