Pastor, do you have what it takes to last for the long haul?
According to one recent survey, nearly one-third of pastors have given serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry in the last year. Other data suggest 50 percent of new pastors will leave the ministry within the first five years. Shocking as these numbers are, they ring true to experience, as many of us have witnessed scores of pastors leaving the pastorate when they still had much left to give.
Though surely affected by contemporary issues, challenges to pastoral longevity are by no means a new phenomenon. When John Calvin returned to Geneva in 1541, the first 10 ministers he recruited lasted an average of only three years in ministry. One way Calvin addressed this issue was the establishment of the Company of Pastors, a regional cohort of pastors providing mutual support to one another in ministry. After its creation, the average tenure of Genevan pastors increased to 14 years.
As detailed in Scott Manetsch’s illuminating work, the Company of Pastors would gather weekly to transact the business of the local churches, discuss theological issues, sharpen one another, work through controversial doctrines, and make unified pronouncements on theological and practical matters. They recruited and sent out pastors, provided mutual accountability, and strategized for the sake of the kingdom. As a group, they maintained contact with other Reformed congregations throughout Europe and encouraged support for languishing branches of Christ’s church. They were a true ministerial fellowship wrestling together through personal, practical, doctrinal, and ecclesial issues as equals.
Forming a Modern Company of Pastors
As pastors today consider how to avoid burnout and finish well, this 16th-century model is worth emulating. Years ago, I watched a number of pastor friends and acquaintances fall into heinous sin and disqualify themselves from ministry. I knew the pressures of ministry, the temptations of sin, and the discouragement of life could just as easily bring me down. I have a wonderful wife and faith-filled elders—and I couldn’t do what I do apart from them—but I decided to take the extra step of contacting seven fellow pastors in my denomination to form our own company. Doing so has turned into one of the great blessings of my life.
As pastors today consider how to avoid burnout and finish well, Calvin’s 16th-century model is worthy of our emulation.
We can’t meet every Friday morning for three hours like Calvin’s did in 16th-century Geneva. We’re scattered far and wide from one another. So what does it look like for my company? We do three things: we meet, we pray, and we text.
1. We meet.
We meet together three times a year in person. One of those meetings takes place at our denomination’s national meeting, the second occurs at a three-day annual fellowship gathering with other pastors, and the third meeting is a three-day retreat we take together. The retreat has become crucial as we press into each other’s lives and pray intentionally for one other over the course of those days. We also meet monthly via Zoom. We talk through pastoral issues and personal issues. Every call has a topic and each call lasts for only one hour.
Our company does three things: we meet, we pray, and we text.
2. We pray.
We pray on these calls, but more important we commit to praying for one another regularly. I know I have brothers scattered throughout this country who consistently pray for me. And that knowledge makes a world of difference. When one of us has a pastoral crisis or an important elder meeting or a church member in a desperate situation, we send out a specific plea for prayer. Each of us knows that we have a company of men who are lifting us up immediately.
3. We text.
My church staff and family will tell you I’m far from being a technology guy. Yet having a text thread with this group of fellow pastors has been a game-changer for our company. Recently I was wrestling with a theological question, texted the issue out to them, and within 10 minutes I had a list of books to reference, articles to read, and some great opinions on the topic.
Find Some Men
Dear pastor, you need a group of men who serve as your company. You need a band of brothers. Having a ministerial fellowship is one of the greatest gifts you can enjoy and one of the most essential elements for not fading or falling away in ministry.
Will it require investing time you may not feel you have to give? Yes, but my friends, you can’t afford not to make the time. Calvin’s company met every week for a few hours. They made the time and everyone benefited. You can spare an hour a month and a few days away a year. You will be a better husband, father, pastor, and disciple for it.
Perhaps you don’t feel like you know enough men. Find them. To get started, you need at least three brothers who will walk alongside you. You don’t need the perfect men, you just need some men. And they need you. It’s OK, and often helpful, to have different roles and strengths. One might have deep theological insight, another unique pastoral wisdom, and another uncommon courage to ask hard questions—together, you will serve one another well.
It’s not sinful weakness but godly wisdom that seeks company in ministry. Resist the pride that says, “I’m beyond the need for such a group.” You’re not beyond the need for others to speak into your life—whether in encouragement or accountability. We all need men who will remind us of our office, our duties, and our call to holiness. This requires men who know you and will take you aside when the desire to quit arises or when you’re wandering or growing cold in your devotion to Christ or falling out of love with his people.
It’s not sinful weakness but godly wisdom that seeks company in ministry.
Brothers, the field of labor before us is great—great with potential for producing eternal fruit, but also great with trials and temptations. You were not meant to do this alone. Find a Philemon, who Paul says refreshes the saints. Find a Barnabas, who is a son of encouragement. Find men who will walk with you. Maybe it will be from one of these companies that the spark of revival is ignited and fire begins to sweep across our country or even our world. Ministerial fellowship is one of the greatest gifts a pastor can enjoy and one of the most essential elements for ministry.