Pastors Need Friends in the Ministry

by Brandon Sutton

Just months before celebrating 10 years of pastoring, and right before received a Master of Divinity degree following 7 plus years at seminary, I was ready to quit the ministry.  My wife and I were tired, burned out, hurting and just plain done. No major event precipitated these feelings; it was more like death by a thousand paper cuts. 

Several years ago, I read a book entitled, 9 Marks of Healthy Church by Mark Dever, and it changed my life. For the first time, I understood what the church should be and look like from Scripture. I was aware for the first time that my little Baptist church, where I was a youth pastor at the time, did not resemble what Scripture prescribed for the local body of Christ to look like. In fact, our church was plagued by several unbiblical elements and, consequently, was quite unhealthy. 

But it wasn’t just my church. The Lord also began to open my eyes to churches in my area that were struggling, declining, and even closing. It turned out, this was happening all over the country. I became extremely burdened. 

It was during this time God birthed in my heart a desire to pastor a struggling congregation. My hope was to implement biblical principles back into an unhealthy church and see it thrive. So, at the end of 2012, I took the position as the lead pastor of a small, traditional, country church. 

When I arrived, the church was exactly what I wanted—a mess. It was an older congregation full of wonderful people, but the church had a lot of problems. There were leaders who didn’t believe in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, or even that Jesus is the only way of salvation. Discipleship was non-existent. Missions was more about tradition than the gospel. On top of that, the previous pastor was basically run off by the leadership. It was his decision to leave, but he felt there was no other option. Entering the pastorate, I encountered a church that didn’t trust its leaders and for good reason. 

But I knew what I was getting myself into. I felt called to the work, and it’s what I wanted. Immediately, I began preaching and teaching the Bible multiple times a week. We implemented biblical church membership and administered discipline when necessary. Faithful, godly leaders were raised up and installed. Discipleship, evangelism, and missions were re-established. The gospel was our focus. God’s glory was our goal. 

By God’s grace, the church began to flourish. People were being saved. Christians were growing and leading. Attendance nearly tripled at some points. It was an incredible time. 

However, after 8 years, it took its toll on me and my family. Like I said, by the end I was tired, hurting and truly disillusioned by the ministry. Though this particular ministry thrived, it wasn’t without hardship. No church is. It cost me a great deal to lead, and I was ready to quit. 

In the providence of God, before I submitted my resignation, I made a trip to Nashville to visit a former pastor and friend, Erik Reed. He’s been my friend and mentor since I became a Christian. He baptized me, married my wife and I and influenced my walk with Christ for more than a decade. Now, I was in his home needing more help. He knew how hard my job was. Erik cautioned me against taking the position in the first place eight years prior. He knew what could happen. 

In that conversation, Erik knew how burnt out I was. I told him that, though I was thinking about quitting, deep down I didn’t want to be done in ministry. That’s when we began talking about me coming on staff at his church. Within a few weeks, it was settled. At the beginning of 2021, I started on staff at The Journey Church (TJC) in Lebanon, Tennessee, as the Associate Pastor. I can honestly say, the last eighteen months on staff at TJC have saved my ministry and revived my family. If it weren’t for this transition, I am not sure I would be pastoring today. 

If you were to ask me what the single biggest difference between my last church and my current position, I would tell you one thing: friendship. My friends at TJC have revitalized my love for being a pastor. 

Don’t misunderstand me, I knew some wonderful people at my previous pastorate and still consider them dear friends. But my job was particularly challenging and lonely. Nearly every day, I felt like I was on an island by myself. Being at TJC, I am surrounded daily with people I can count on, turn to and trust in. 

I recently preached a sermon entitled, “Friends in the Ministry” from Colossians 4:7-18. It’s the close of the book—the part many of us pass over with little to no thought of its meaning or significance. This passage, however, has given me a whole new perspective on the Apostle Paul. I used to view Paul as a loner; a tough guy who needed nothing and no one except Jesus. But now I am starting to think I was looking at myself, not Paul. 

Paul had friends he could trust like Tychicus (4:7-8). This man traveled with Paul. At Paul’s command, he filled pulpits in Ephesus and Crete (2nd Timothy 4:12, Titus 3:12). He’s also the one who carried with him the book of Colossians and probably Ephesians to their locations (Eph. 6:21-22). Paul relied upon and trusted this man. 

Paul also had men like Onesimus in his life, a constant reminder of God’s transforming power. Onesimus was a slave, but in Christ, he’s a “faithful and beloved brother” (Colossians 4:9). 

The Apostle was surrounded by faithful men like Aristarchus, Paul’s “fellow prisoner” (Colossians 4:10) and “soldier” for Christ (Philemon 1). He too traveled with Paul. In fact, Aristarchus was in Ephesus when a riot broke out. He was arrested by the mobs just for being friends with Paul (Acts 19). But he never left the apostle’s side because he was a faithful friend. 

Paul also had Mark. He was a friend, but Mark was a bit challenging. Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas at one point. When he wanted to get back with the apostles, Paul didn’t want him, but Barnabas did. This caused a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas and ultimately, they went their separate ways. 

It appears, however, that Paul and Mark reconciled near the end. Mark’s name appears in three of Paul’s letters. Here, in Philemon 24 and then in Paul’s final letter to Timothy he says, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2nd Tim. 4:11). Sometimes those challenging friends are providential gifts of grace to help you practice patience, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Then there was “Jesus who is called Justus”, Paul’s constant source of encouragement. He, along with Mark and Aristarchus, were the only menof the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me” (V.11) Paul didn’t see a lot of Jews come to faith under his ministry, and this really bothered him. So, Justus would have been a reminder and encouragement that God is still saving Paul’s kinsmen.

Epaphras was Paul’s prayer warrior and fellow church planter (Colossians 4:12-13), and Luke was his skilled, dependable friend (V.14). 

Paul even had some heartbreaking friends like Demas. Demas appears here, in Philemon 24 and in Paul’s final letter to Timothy. Like the other men in his chapter, Demas was at one time a loyal friend and useful ministry partner to Paul. He wasn’t just another church member. He was a leader and apparently an influential person because Paul expects the Colossians to know him. 

No doubt, there was a time when Demas did much good for Paul in the ministry, but he later abandoned him. 2 Tim. 4:9-10, “Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Whether or not Demas left the faith completely, we can’t be sure. It’s possible. What we do know is that he deserted Paul during his final hours. In that letter, Paul is about to executed, and Demas left his side. Maybe he didn’t want to suffer the same fate. 

One thing I do know is that in ministry, you will have disappointments and even heartbreak. And some of the greatest pain you will experience will come by the hands of those you love. 

Time will not permit me to talk about the heartbreak my wife and I have endured from people who once called us their friends; people who invited us into their homes. We baptized and married their children, we buried their loved ones, they sat at our table…only to see them become our enemies. 

Christians, if Paul needed friendship and support, your pastor does too. He needs friends he can count on and be encouraged by. He needs friends he can trust and confide in.

 If you’re able to be that friend, then be the best friend you can possibly be. If you’re not in a position to be close to your pastor, he should receive your support through encouragement, service and prayer.

Don’t be the constant critic towards your pastor. Instead, be uplifting. There is a reason most pastors don’t make it past year 5 before quitting the ministry altogether. It’s not an easy job. 

Before arriving at TJC, my wife and I made pact. We are going to support and love and encourage our pastor no matter what happens, so long as he doesn’t commit grievous sin or teach heretical doctrine. Basically, he’s going to have to really screw up for us to not support him. We’re not going to criticize him. Instead, we will mention him and his family in our prayers. We’re not going place unrealistic or unspoken expectations on him. Rather, we will be understanding, knowing he’s a human being with limitations faults. 

At the end of the day, when Christians love and support their pastor, it only benefits them and the church. When the pastor is healthy and thriving that usually means the church is as well. 

Finally, a word to pastors. Get friends in your life. Rely upon them. If Paul needed good companions, so do you; probably even more so. 

Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the Recovery & Redemption ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.


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