Being a church planter is difficult. There is an emotional, spiritual, and physical toll that it takes on your mind, body, and soul that is difficult to articulate. This is our reality. But, this is not a reality that we should escape. Instead, this is a reality that has a weight that should be distributed across several key relationships.
After experiencing the negative effects of not identifying and developing these types of relationships through the first five years of my church planting journey, here are five relationships I would recommend.
This is someone who doesn't attend your church. This is someone who doesn't see you as their pastor. This is someone who you don't feel like you need to "pour into" and they don't need you to "pour into" them. This is someone who you can spend a significant amount of time with and not feel like you have to bring up anything having to do with your church.
This is a childhood friend. This is a high school or college buddy. This is someone who you can talk to about the people in your church or on your staff and they would have an unbiased opinion about who you're talking about. This is someone who you feel comfortable being the most "unfiltered" with. This is some who feels comfortable with being "unfiltered" with you. The outsider is a friend.
This is someone who does attend your church. This is someone who does see you as their pastor. But, they are life-giving to you; not life-draining. They love you. They support you. They believe in the vision God has given you almost as strongly as you do. They give to the vision. They sacrifice for the vision. And you have fun bringing the vision to reality with them.
This can be an elder. This can be (maybe controversially so) a staff member. This can be someone you've discipled. Or, this can be a particular member of the church who you "click" well with. This is someone who you can be "unfiltered" with as it relates to what is going on in the ministry, but they have the spiritual maturity to keep what you say confidential and not allow it to negatively impact their view of you as their pastor. The insider is a co-laborer.
THE CHURCH PLANTER
This is someone who is doing what you're doing, somewhere else. Preferably, this is someone who has either planted a church one or two years ahead of you or after you. This is someone who gets the troubles and triumphs you are currently experiencing because they are currently experiencing very similar things. This is someone you can celebrate and commiserate with! This is someone who you don't feel like you're competing against, but instead someone you feel like you're accomplishing with.
This can be a church planter in your context. This can be a church planter outside of your context. This can be a church planter inside or outside of your denomination or network. This can be a church planter with a similar philosophy of ministry or a different philosophy of ministry, but it has to be a church planter who you have a high respect for how they do ministry. If you are too closely related to someone who violates the non-negotiable principles you have for effective ministry, that can be more frustrating to you than fruitful for you. The church planter is a peer.
This is someone who has done what you're doing. This is someone who has gone where you're going. This is someone who defines ministry success the same way you define it. This is someone who has had the type of faithfulness and fruitfulness that you desire to have, and they are invested in your success. This is someone who you can be completely honest with and someone who has permission to be completely honest with you. No questions are off limits.
This can be a pastor for a more established church in your city. This can be the pastor from your sending church. This can be a more seasoned pastor from your denomination or network. If you are "Timothy," this is your "Paul." This is someone who is not only interested in the success of your ministry, but they are also interested in the health of your soul. The mentor is a guide.
This is a professional. This is someone with a degree. This is someone who gets paid to listen and to provide psychological support and feedback for ministry struggles and non-ministry related issues. This is someone who should be a first resort for spiritual and emotional health rather than a last resort after "burn out." This is someone who you should see consistently proactively rather than inconsistently reactively.
This can be a Christian. This can be a non-Christian. But, the more this person is familiar and experienced with counseling pastors the better. You can see this person at whatever frequency is most comfortable for you, but I would recommend no less than twice a year. Sometimes, this is someone who will find it necessary to help you unpack issues in your past so you can healthily navigate though issues in your present and future. The counselor is a specialist.
The common theme with these relationships is that none of them necessarily require you to be a pastor, instead, they require you to be a human. And interestingly enough, I've found that the more human I'm required to be, the more faithful and healthy of a pastor I am!
What do you think? Are these relationships that you have? Are these relationships that you need? Am I missing anyone? (Note: for those of you thinking, "How about Jesus? How about your wife and kids?" I'm assuming you already know that to be true!)