The Value of Friendships in Ministry
I spent the first few days of the week in Alexandria, LA for the E4 Preaching Conference. I had the privilege of presenting a workshop at this conference hosted by FBC Pineville and their pastor Stewart Holloway. Why travel halfway across the country to participate in a Preaching Conference? (My three year old had a particular problem with dad being gone for three days!) First, I love to help preachers hone their craft and I believe it is a part of the call God has placed on my life. Second, because a friend called and asked.
My friendship with Stewart developed when we both took graduate classes in communication at a secular university to prepare for doctoral work in preaching. We had taken classes together at seminary but not had many opportunities for interaction. I was pastoring a church and when I arrived on campus I enjoyed a few moments removed from the social spotlight. Consequently, I rarely went out of my way to develop relationships. However, when two seminary students showed up at a secular (and fairly liberal) university, we quickly discovered that there was strength in numbers. The class discussions typically took the form of political and moral debates and needless to say, we rarely had much support in our opinions.
Beyond the solidarity of like-minded beliefs, Stewart and I discovered that we were both actively seeking new ministry opportunities. Stewart had been an associate pastor for several years and was eager to move into pastoral ministry. I had been serving as a pastor in a wonderful country church for four years but I sensed that God was preparing me for something new. We spent several hours after those night classes talking about the joys and frustrations of following God’s call. We encouraged one another, prayed for one another and bonded with one another. In those post-class sessions, I discovered something that I largely missed in my MDiv training. I discovered the value of friends in ministry!
In answer to our prayers, God led me to a new church closer to seminary. Before I left, I went to the leadership of the church and told them that they didn’t need a search team. I told they needed to hire Stewart Holloway as their next pastor. The leadership heeded my advice. In one of the shortest search processes in Baptist history, they hired Stewart. He started within months and led the church effectively for years. (He became the longest tenured pastor in the church’s history!)
During that time we maintained our friendship as peers in the PhD program and occasional collaborators on sermon series. We provided sounding boards for one another. Most importantly, we listened to one another and encouraged one another. The journey of ministry can be quite challenging. It is even more challenging when we choose to make the journey alone. The journey of ministry is best traveled with friends!
Now Stewart is the pastor at FBC Pineville and I have the privilege of teaching at Anderson University. We don’t get to see each other as often as we like and busy schedules and growing families make phone calls and emails scarce. That is why I will travel to Louisiana to talk about preaching. I have a friend in Louisiana and friends in ministry are as valuable as gold.
Where are your friends in ministry? Don’t make the mistake I made in my MDiv days at seminary. Don’t overlook the people sitting around you. You never know when you might need a friend!