I was hooked. I was watching previews for upcoming films and a preview of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy flashed on the screen. I would have to wait until the following Christmas, but this was my kind of movie.

I had never read the series, but I determined that I would do so by the time they released the first movie. I devoured the books. And while the films deviated in a few places from what Tolkien had written (thoroughly upsetting some purists), I loved them.

There are innumerable memorable bits of dialogue and some very unforgettable characters in The Lord of the Rings. And there are many great themes in the series. To me, one that stands out in particular is the friendship between Frodo and Sam. And by the way – if you don’t know the story, it’s a great read!

I’m writing this early on a Sunday morning, and this morning’s routine was the same as most other Sundays. I get my cereal and tea, check the Phillies’ score (alas! – last night was painful), and text two of my closest friends. One is preaching for the other who is enjoying the first Sunday of his sabbatical. I pray for both of them throughout the week, but especially on Sunday. And I know they pray for me.

For well over a decade, we have been meeting monthly for lunch. We’ve sometimes rescheduled, but we’ve rarely missed a month. Each of us has gone through both good times and hard times, but we’ve been able to rejoice together and encourage each other. Along with two or three others these men have laughed with me and cried with me, counseled and challenged me. I have friends outside of ministry, and I am grateful for them. But having friends who understand my world has meant much to me.

The two most significant traits among my ministry companions are their confidentiality and their lack of a competitive spirit. I know that I can bare my soul to these men and not fear that it will come back to haunt me. And there was never a sense that our church’s size made any difference, or that one of us had to have the upper hand.

We find ministry friends throughout the Bible. Paul had a bunch of them. Read the closing paragraphs of his letters and you’ll find them being singled out time and time again. And I can’t help but think Jesus’ disciples were more than a group of guys he was shaping into future leaders. We do an injustice to our Lord’s humanity if we imagine that he had no need for human companionship.

No doubt you have friends. But do you have ministry friends? Do you have men in your life who do what you do, who understand the challenges and the joys of pastoral work? If not, let me encourage you to reach out to some other pastors in your area. Have lunch, talk, and ask God to help you discerningly build one or more friendships that will enable you to encourage each other along the way.

Have you benefitted from these kinds of relationships? Or has it been a struggle to develop ministry friendships? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

8 Comments

  1. As a pastor for 35 years, I fully grasp and affirm the wisdom of these words. We recognize our calling and know that at the end of the day often that is the only reality we have and hold tightly on. However, having ministry friends has been my oasis to help me through the storms. Thankfully, they are not friends like Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar. Well said my fellow ministry slave of Jesus Christ.

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  2. I moved to North Dakota to pastor a medium size church. One day I was walking through the mall and noticed a small storefront church with a literature table out front. The material was solid so I determined to meet the pastor. I took him out to lunch and over the intervening years, we spoke almost daily. When the matriarch of the church desired to drive him out I was there to encourage him and was able to hire him on staff.

    He walked with me through debilitating depression and I shared with him the depths of my struggles I had never revealed in detail to another person. He encouraged me to go to counseling and sat with me in many counseling sessions. A few years later he took a position at a church in Illinois but we kept in contact. When my family decided to move on and take a sabbatical his town was the natural location to move. I am working at another church in town but we still get together on Monday nights and text or talk throughout the week.

    I wonder in those darkest of days if I would have committed suicide had he not been there to walk beside me? This was his first pastoral assignment after seminary. Would he still be in ministry had I not been there every day to hear him cry and vent at his situation and financial struggle? We took from savings and cut our vacation short to help pay several months mortgage and buy them groceries during the lean times. We care for each other, confess our sins to one another, and encourage each other’s hearts. We are better Christians, husbands, fathers, and men because of the friendship we’ve forged over the years!

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing this, David. These relationships are so important. I hope someone is encouraged by what you’ve shared to build a friendship with another pastor or two.

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