5 Relationships Every Pastor Needs to Be Healthy

Perhaps the most important relationship a pastor has, outside of Jesus, is with his or her spouse. (Unsplash)

Be intentional about the relationships you need in your life, and you will be a stronger, more effective church leader.

Pastor, do you have the relationships you need in your life?

It's easy for us to feel a lack of friendship, because we've seen our friends leave the church or move away.

We could use more support, but people think we don't need it. We get lonely sometimes, underneath our professional, pastoral role that ministers to others.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

You need nine relationships to be supported and strong, and you can develop them if you are intentional.

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The Barna study, The State of Pastors, points to the importance of our relationships:

"In many of our studies with church leaders," Hempell says, "we tend to find that pastors are optimistic and full of hope because they are so committed to their calling to ministry. They can and will withstand great stress to their relationships, families and overall personal health, strengthened by their faith.

But over time, neglecting relationships can lead to serious consequences in their personal lives as well as impact the church.

Additionally," Hempell continues, "the correlations between job satisfaction, as well as burnout risk, and each of these relational metrics: friendship satisfaction, personal spiritual support and pastor-elder dynamics, make a compelling case for the importance of healthy relationships among pastors.

Allowing time for nurturing these relationships and emotional support (such as through counseling or coaching) to work through challenges is essential to a pastor's overall well-being and that of their family."

The 9 Relationships

Here are nine relationships you need in your life to be healthy and strong in ministry. You won't have them all in place, so as you read, mentally check if each is a strong, average or weak relationship for you.

Don't worry! This isn't going to mean a ton of heavy relational work. Some of these relationships are easy to put in place if you put in a little effort.

Use the process at the end of the article to clarify steps you can take to develop your nine relationships.

  1. You need an equal partner. Every pastor needs a supportive wife. (Or a supportive husband, if your theology supports a female senior pastor.)

On our very first date (many, many years ago) I asked Lori, "So what do you want to be when you grow up?" She responded, "Well, this is a little embarrassing to admit, but since I was a teenager, I've wanted to be a pastor's wife." I replied, "Since I was a teenager, I've felt called to be a pastor."

In every season of ministry, Lori has not only stood next to me, she's led and strengthened many of the vital departments and systems of our church.

Lori and I moved to Oceanside 14 months before we started New Song Community Church. We needed that time to raise support, get to know the city and develop a core group.

During that period, I developed a friendship with another church planter who was starting a few miles away. He launched strong (over 100 at his first service) and had all the gifts necessary to build a great church.

All except one: His wife didn't want to be a pastor's wife. She liked being a church member, but not a church leader. Two years after starting, my friend resigned and went into financial planning.

Church leadership requires commitment and long hours. If the pastor's wife isn't as committed to growing the church as he is, there will be tension and friction every step of the way.

"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband" (Prov. 12:4a).

This doesn't mean every woman of noble character should be a pastor's wife. But it does mean that a man who feels called to the pastorate should be discerning in choosing a mate.

  1. You need a hero. A hero is someone you look up to. Someone you can draw strength from when you're tired or discouraged. And someone you can draw inspiration from and want to emulate.

Bill Hybels has been that for me. (I know, he's fallen. That's been a huge hit to me and many others. I pray for him regularly.)

Every pastor has days (and seasons) of discouragement. During the dark nights of my early ministry, I would think about how Hybels was working hard and long hours to build Willow Creek. "If he can do it, I can do it!" That sustained me.

During days of dreaming, I would think about all that was being accomplished by his church and pray about how my little church might accomplish something significant as well.

Every executive knows that it's lonely at the top. Having someone to look up to makes it manageable. If that someone is a person you can admire and learn from, it makes your leadership better, and much more fun.

  1. You need a ministry partner. A ministry partner is someone who works shoulder to shoulder with the pastor, often with complementary gifts. A ministry partner is an encourager, not a competitor, with the pastor. They are friends as well as colleagues.

Over the past 27 years, I've been fortunate to have had four. I launched the church with my friend, Scott Evans, as the associate pastor. Scott was capable and willing to do anything to make the church grow. He would regularly say to me, "I believe in you." And he'd regularly say to the church, "Hal believes in you."

During our earliest days, Scott and I would work together all day; then after dinner, one of us would think of something we needed to talk about, and we'd spend two hours on the phone strategizing together.

Scott graduated to founding Outreach Inc. and served as a faithful New Song board member for 18 years. He would regularly remind me, "Cast more vision, Hal." and "People want to be led. Lead us!"

After Scott came Joseph Kennedy. Then Steve Foster. My current ministry partner is Mark Kuhn, who once was my board chairman. Because of these four, I am a better man.

  1. You need a preaching inspiration. "Good preaching is better caught than taught." Haddon Robinson (former president of Denver Seminary and professor of homiletics at Gordon-Conwell Seminary) encouraged his students to pick a preacher we admire and spend a year listen to their sermons and learning all you can. I did that with Bill Hybels, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Rick Warren and E.V. Hill. More recently, I've done it with Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, Steven Furtick and a few others.

Someone once said that we're a product of the five people we hang out with most. That holds for preaching, too. I find that when I have good models in my mind, good words flow easier in my message preparation.

  1. You need a supportive board chairman. The main role of a church board is to be a support to the pastor. Yes, they should be a sounding board, hold you accountable, be fervent in prayer, be personally involved in ministry, be significant donors and be the primary participants in any church discipline processes.

But the most important role of a board is to support the pastor.

Barna, again:

"All these data indicate that a strong, mutually supportive relationship between a pastor and the governing team is integral to church health and to the pastor's health. Relational harmony in this area lowers a leader's risk of burning out and lengthens his or her tenure in ministry."

When a pastor has a supportive board chairman, that chairman lends his or her voice to the decisions that are made and the direction that is set. A pastor has one type of authority; a board chairman has another. Combining these two voices gives confidence and directional momentum to the church.

How do you find a supportive board chairman? Prayerfully and carefully.

One of my most important jobs is recommending potential Board members to our nominating team and shepherding them through the congregational election process. I want board members who are global-thinking problem-solvers. They must be serving somewhere in the church, tithing and fulfill the character qualities of 1 Timothy 3.

At least as important as all of this, I have to have an affinity with every board member. I nominate people I like—people I am friends with or want to be friends with.

Every year, when board officers are voted on, I jump in and nominate the candidate I think is most qualified. Every year, I cultivate friendships with each of my board members, and especially the chairman.

As with ministry partners, I've been fortunate to have had four fantastically supportive chairmen. In fact, there has never been a year when I haven't had a board chairman like this.

Tune in Tuesday for part 2 of this article.

Hal Seed is the founding and lead pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, California. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at pastormentor.com.

For the original article, visit pastormentor.com.

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