Very Important People

Among the VIP’S in my life are my wife, Gail, my closest personal friends, people with whom I share a common call to ministry, and a broader circle of significant people who may or may not share my view of faith. Among these people is Seth, a Jewish professor of law, who fives in our New York City apartment building.

He and I frequently walk together to the Roosevelt Island tramway.recent Supreme Court decisions, legal ethics, and the use of logic in argument. Seth stretches me because he’s a thinker. I feel as if I was never taught to be a thinker, that I’m always playing catch-up ball. Friends like Seth enjoy helping me do it. Incidentally, it helps that Seth does not share my view of God or of faith.

He accepts no empty words, no phrases I’ve used for so long that I’ve forgotten their real meaning. And he’s not worried about saying something that would offend a preacher’s ears. My agenda with Seth is simple: I like him, and I learn by tapping his mind. I just ask questions when I’m with him. One day he gave me what I consider a high compliment, coming as it did from him:

“Gordon, you ask great questions.” I enjoy having relationships with people who are quite different than me. I grew up in a system that suggested one spend time only with those who were candidates for conversion. The problem with this hit me with force one day years ago when I was conversing with my neighbor while we stood watering our lawns.

I was thinking how nice it would be to know him better. But then my childhood mechanisms kicked in. I actually found myself thinking, I’d sure like to get closer to this guy, but he’s a life-long Lutheran, and there’s no way he’d ever come to my church. So there’s no point in pursuing this relationship. I came to realize I had been groomed inadvertently to evaluate people’s worth on the basis of their potential to fit my agenda.

From that day forward I’ve worked at developing relationships for nothing more than the joy of natural friendship and seeing myself as part of the broader human community. If things naturally move beyond that to issues of faith and conviction, terrific! And that has in fact happened.

My change in thinking was one reason I struck up a friendship with Mohammed, an Iraqi from Baghdad who managed a cafe in New York City. From time to time we would sip coffee together comparing our worlds: his Islamic world and my Christian one. The day the bombs start dropping in Baghdad, I stopped by the cafe and waited for him to finish his shift.

“This has got to be an awful day for you,” I said. “Your family is over there, the bombs are falling, and you probably can’t tell anyone around here what you’re going through and expect them to understand.” “You’re right,” he said. “I can’t tell anyone that I’m from Baghdad. So I say I’m Swedish.” I made a comment about his dark eyes and his Middle Eastern complexion, and we laughed. “Well, I know where you’re from,” I said.

“And I want you to know that you’re my friend, and I’ll be praying for your family today. Let me know the first minute you hear word from them.” Mohammed wept. On days like this, I thought, it’s not hard to have a ministry when I don’t have to be anything but a cool source of water.

I’ve learned the joy of simplicity in relationships with people from all walks of life, and I’ve discovered opportunities for ministry as a serendipity. And then there are good friends, fellow learners and “growers.” I have accumulated a personal wealth in friends across North America, with whom I intersect regularly on the phone or by fax: we share book titles, interesting articles, and insightful experiences. In this cadre are three or four special friends whose worth to me cannot be estimated.

Friendship became a high priority at midlife, when I realized career achievements were worthless in contrast to being part of a network of friends who challenge each other to grow to become more useful to the kingdom. Contemporary Christian ministry can contain a cruel payoff if one is not careful. One day I found myself asking, “Now that I’ve spent the better part of three decades moving around the country at the invitation of congregations and in response to what I perceived to be the call of God, who will be there for me when I am dying?”

I realized that most of a pastor’s friendships are dovetailed into his or her role. Change the role and most of those friendships terminate. So who will be there, and where will they be, when you are no longer a pastor and you have another decade or two to be an old person? Who will share your aging years? Who will sit with you.

Very Resourceful People

Every time they enter our lives they bring a word of affirmation (or rebuke). They affirm our growth and effectiveness. And if we don’t have a couple of these, we’re missing something. When I was a boy, my father was an extremely busy man as a church leader. I admired him and wish I’d known him better, but it wasn’t possible.

Asa compensation God seems to have given me a string of men who have treated me as a significant human being. No one ever impacted my life more as a VFW than Vernon Grounds, the president emeritus of Denver Seminary, where I at-tended. He seemed to have all the personality and spiritual traits I, as a young man, wanted most to acquire. I set out to follow him and to absorb as much of his character and view of life as I could.

Hardly a day goes by now that I don’t see some dimension of Vernon Grounds’ personality in me, like the way he strikes up conversations with strangers. He will walk up to someone and say, “I’ve been looking at the smile on your face, and it’s obvious to me that you’re an extremely happy person.” Vernon gives positive energy to everyone he engages. I always wanted to be like that, and to the extent that I am like that today, I learned it from him.

In a department store recently, _I caught myself saying to a clerk, “You look to me like the vice-president for men’s shirts.” That’s a vintage Vernon comment: a gesture of affection that lifts the spirit of a minimum-wage clerk who feels insignificant most of the time. It elevates the conversation so that the other person feels like a peer and a friend. It offers light humor and a sense that this is more than a conversation about shirts.

Other VFW’s in my older years included a Presbyterian pastor, a godly track coach, a Christian counselor, and through biographies and writings, a historical figure from the nineteenth-century Church of England, Charles Simeon.
Unlike friendships, var. relationships usually end. Daniel Levinson’s book, Seasons of a Man’s Life, suggests that VRP relationships conclude with something called Doom: Becoming One’s Own Man.

Boom happens when the VRP releases the Very Trainable Person (vre, which is what I was to Vernon Grounds) to his own pathway. It can be a painful process. Usually it is the yrr who terminates the relationship because he or she becomes sure that they can make it on their own. This can be traumatic for the VRP. l have experienced that ache a few times in relationship to v-rr’s of my own.

But it can work the other way. The VRP has to get on with mentoring others. I remember having to adjust to the fact that Vernon Grounds had other we’s in his life; he couldn’t always be available for me. In fact, I suspect that several hundred men and women in this world each thought they were as close to Grounds as I did. This man has “fathered” a lot of spiritual children, and he hasn’t stopped, although he is headed north of age 75.

The disciples were going through this to some extent when Jesus told them that he was going away. They saw nothing “expedient” (as he put it) about such a Boom experience. And they had no concept of what he meant when he said, “Now you are my friends.” They were still locked into being servants who did not know what the master was doing.

Some of my own VRP relationships have turned into friend-ships. Others drifted into mere pleasant memories, and I thankfully carry those memories through my life.

Sacrificing Yourself

Not many of us will be in situations where we’re called upon to give the ultimate gift, but this doesn’t mean authentic friendship is only for soldiers in bunkers or those with quickness of mind and body to throw someone out of the path of an onrushing train. Opportunities for self-sacrifice often come in smaller doses. • The sacrifice of encouragement. Helping another person maximize his or her gifts can be costly.

As you encourage her to be all that she can be, you may be ensuring a place for yourself on the second team. As you encourage him to scale the heights, you may eventually find yourself at a lower level of recognition. Perhaps watching a friend succeed should be easy — even joyous — but it can be difficult.

The green-eyed monster often rears its ugly head with those closest to us. It’s one thing to watch the achievements of someone you don’t know; it’s another to have a best friend receive a call to a prestigious pulpit or have a book on the bestseller list or get elected to high office in the denomination. But good friends learn to delight in others’ gifts.

When he was asked to join a seminary board of trustees, I encouraged him to do it and was proud that others recognized his leadership skills. • The sacrifice of mercy. A relationship between two different individuals — even the best of friends — will inevitably suffer tensions and disagreements, perhaps outright anger.

We can rub each other the wrong way; we can hurt each other. No friendship will survive long without the gift of mercy. We grant mercy when were willing to endure the other person.

By forgiveness we commit ourselves to keeping the friendship alive regardless of the wounds it has suffered. • The sacrifice of time. Most of us would do almost anything short of selling our children into slavery for a little more time. There never seem to be enough minutes in the day to get through the to-do list in our Daytimers, never enough to do all God wants us to do.

Finding the time required to maintain a friendship isn’t easy. But when a friend calls, you make time for a conversation, even though Mrs. Anderson has just been in to say that “many members” are concerned about the lack of pastoral visitation and you have a funeral in two hours and you have no idea about what you’re preaching on Sunday even though it’s already Friday.

You talk and listen, and in a small way, you’re laying down your life for your friend. Being present for one another is the fundamental requirement of love, and it begins with listening. Lewis Smedes, professor at Fuller Seminary, has written, “Listening is the silent shape of caring. We listen to what the other person says to us. But we listen dosest when no words are spoken. We listen for the unuttered message of feeling. We listen for pain expressed in disguised sighs.

We listen for desires heard only in the language of the eyes. We listen to our own messages to learn how they were heard through the filter of the other person’s needs.” This kind of listening takes time. Sometimes friendship will demand a significant sacrifice of time, far more than an hour telephone conversation.

revealing yourself

Revealing Yourself Selecting those with whom well cultivate relationships may be the first step toward friendship, but before we can travel further down the road, we must risk transparency.

Jesus’ self-disclosure to his disciples lifted them to the status of friends, providing us with another principle from Jesus’ ministry: If you want close friends, you must open yourself to others.

The deepest friendships emerge only when the barriers have been dropped, only when the masks have been removed. A time comes, if you want the relationship to grow, when you must risk self-disclosure

. This usually happens gradually. The protective barrier we’ve erected around ourselves isn’t razed with one blast of explosive honesty; it’s taken down plank by plank. Questions may race through our minds when we’re about to reveal a hidden part of ourselves:

Will he keep this confidence? Will he reject me if he knows this about me? But eventually the wall must fall so the other person can enter our lives. This isn’t easy for pastors. We expend much psychic energy in the creation of a public persona we wear most of the time. It doesn’t
matter whether I’m shopping in a supermarket OT running along the beach or browsing in a bookstore: people stop me, introduce them-selves as members of my church, and want to talk. I moan to my wife, “I have to be good all the time.” What I’m really saying, of course, is that I have to be pastor all the time. Irs as though the persona has been fastened to me with Super Glue.

But we need to take off the mask for our close friends. Self-disclosure takes time and requires patience. It always seeks the balance between revelation and concealment. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples everything on their first day together. It took two years before he even asked them who they thought he was; it took three years before he called them friends. This is why old friends tend to be best friends.

We’ve covered some distance together; we’ve been through stormy seas and endured the boredom of windless days; we’ve run aground a few times; perhaps we’ve even stayed as faraway from each other as the ship would allow. But in sailing together, year after year, we’ve come to know each other well. Twenty years ago Woody and I were in seminary.

I was prod-ding him to learn the declensions of the Greek verbs; he was pushing me to join him in demonstrations against the war. Since then we’ve shared good times and bad, investing in each other and the relationship, and now we have a pretty fat account on which to draw. We also have enough stories to get each other run out of most of the churches in America.

But I will never tell, and neither will he. That’s why recently I didn’t think twice about calling him with a personal problem, even though it was his sermon preparation day and his secretary would need to put her life on the line to interrupt him. A relationship like this doesn’t happen overnight.

The Risks of Loneliness

Before exploring the dynamics of friendship, we do well to ponder the heavy toll that lack of friendship can take on us. Loneliness is lousy. It adds one more emotional burden to the already heavy load of a shepherd, who has to look after an unruly flock of critters who seem forever dedicated to wandering away, getting caught in wire fences, and finding themselves stranded on dangerous precipices. A shepherd needs to be as emotionally fit as possible for the rigorous tasks of ministry. Even more important, loneliness distorts reality. Sometimes
we find ourselves caught between two problems: insecurity and arrogance. We are in positions where being liked by others bears significantly on our success, and thus we inevitably worry about our approval rating. To compensate for feelings of insecurity, a pastor may project an image of faultless competence, an image of self-assured control.

And insecurity and arrogance coupled with loneliness are like sticks of dynamite ready to explode. Without friends a low self-esteem gets beaten down even lower. If !have no friends, I begin to think, I must be unfriendly.

If no one loves me, I must be unlovable. Loneliness and insecurity interact in a downward spiral of emotional death. Furthermore, without friends we don’t have the necessary counterweight to arrogance. When you’re not too sure about your-self anyway, it’s tempting to grasp eagerly at every affirmation that comes your way.

Before long you start believing it all; you really must be extraordinary if this many people think you’re hot stuff. Good friends have a way of keeping our feet on the ground. They’ve seen us throw tantrums on the tennis court; they’ve seen us snap at our kids; they know and can remind us that there’s an ordinary person living under the pulpit robe. Pastors need friends.

There may be risks whenever pastors get close to people, but we were never called to a risk free life! We were called to follow Jesus Christ. The model for our shepherding is the Great Shepherd himself. Without doubt, he had friends: Peter, James, and John in particular. According to John’s account of their last evening together, Jesus told his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

 

friend for the one at the top

with nineteenth century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer that friendship belongs in the same class as sea serpents —something conjectured but not yet proven. Having a friend who, as the Bible says, sticks closer than a brother seems about as likely as spotting the Loch Ness Monster.

There are different levels of friendship. Pastors usually have plenty of people with whom they can wade around in the shallow waters of friendship; they work together on church committees, they socialize once or twice a year, they readily refer to each other as friends. But this chapter will focus on those we call good friends or best friends, those with whom we share the adventure of sailing out into the deep waters of friendship.

Warning Signs of a Distance Problem

There’s no sitting on the edge of one’s seat to share something great God has done recently in one’s own life or in the congregation.

Furthermore, there’s no heart for doing the hard thing and no burning concern for missions or out-reach, unless the church rolls start to suffer. The void in the pastor’s heart may not even be perceived and certainly not confessed. My church members in Mississippi thought everything was tremendous — after all, we were the fastest growing church in the local Methodist conference.

Because the church was doing well, they thought I was doing well. With all the “success” surrounding me, I was tempted sometimes to ignore my inner warning signals and assume that was as good as ministry was going to get. Although this is perhaps the largest and brightest warning light we should notice, others less ominous are worthy of our attention.

• I fed depressed about my spirituality for a significant period of time. Recently I was confronted with a major decision about the course of my ministry. Although I spent extended time daily in prayer and Scripture reading, for two months I was unable to sense any direction from God. I finally got to the point where I was simply numb, unable to progress in my thinking about the decision. I knew
then that something was wrong.

• My decisions are not thought through. In this regard, my wife serves as a barometer of my relationship with God. She has an uncanny way of asking the questions that show that I’ve not given enough thought and prayer to a decision. She also shows me how I take a simple decision and complicate it, sometimes because I’m seeking to evade God’s way of doing something.

• My emotions are off base, inappropriate. I’ve discovered that the way I respond to telephone calls can be a signal. When I begin thinking, Oh no, another phone call, or start procrastinating returning calls, it’s time to stop and assess what’s going on. It’s likely that I no longer have the spiritual resources to meet the demands of my calling.

• I have a chronic problem with sleeplessness. Sometimes sleeplessness is of God. I have been awakened by God to receive some message that I haven’t received during my working day. Some of my most meaningful limes of prayer and spiritual reflection have come in the early hours of the morning. But chronic sleeplessness is often a sign that I’m not only overworked but also working on my own steam, not depending on God’s power.

One recent month was particularly hectic. I spent ten days in Russia, followed by three days at home — one of them a Sunday with full preaching responsibilities — and then two weeks in a demanding denominational meeting.

Though in the weeks following I had time to recover physically, I was still waking up in the middle of the night. That signaled that busyness had affected me spiritually.
Making the Most of the Pastoral Role Just as marriage can both enhance and detract from the romantic passion between a man and woman, so the pastoral role is both a boon and a bane to spirituality. We are wise to be alert to its possibilities. Being a pastor hinders closeness to God in several ways:

Being Close Is More than a Feeling

While serving the church in Mississippi, my spiritual rebuilding began. And years later, after walking diligently on a pilgrimage of spiritual growth, I found myself with another dilemma — and an opportunity to get closer to God. I was in California at the time, pasturing another church.

I was increasingly getting invitations from across the country to lead conferences and retreats on the subject of spirituality. Then I received two invitations, each to join a parachurch ministry, one as the leader of a retreat center and the other as a staff member of a mission organization.

I found myself extremely perplexed: should I remain in pastoral ministry or move into parachurch service? Since this occurred at a critical juncture in my career, I knew I was asking a most fundamental question: What should I do with the rest of my life?
To help with my decision, I took a retreat to pray and find direction. By this time I had made up my mind to accept a position with one of the two parachurch organizations.

I went to the moun
mountains simply to decide which one. The result was as dramatic as my conversion experience: I felt the Lord telling me to stay put, to remain a pastor. With as much confidence as I’ve had about any-thing, I refused both invitations and continued pastoring the California church. In that period, I felt as close to God and as centered in his will as I’ve ever felt. It illustrates what it means to me to be close to God: at the core, it means having an internal sense of harmony with what God wants me to do.

Early in my spiritual journey (and to some degree now), I depended on the feeling of God’s nearness. Though feelings are wonderful and beneficial, I don’t want to rely on them. Instead of considering how I feel at the moment, I try to discern how centered I am in God’s leading.

For example, in Memphis we recently elected our first black mayor. Unfortunately people voted along racial lines, Memphis being 52 percent black. To help unify our city, I felt the white community needed to show our support for our newly elected mayor. So I persuaded the pastors of some of the largest white churches in town to pay for and sign an open letter of support in the local newspaper. We took some heat for doing that.

A few members resigned from my congregation, and the mail and calls from outside were pretty tough. That dampened my emotions. Frankly, I didn’t feel particularly close to the Lord at the time. 1 knew, however, I was doing what was right. That certainty assured me that I was with God even though I did not feel close to him. Even when I don’t know God’s will, if I’m at least seeking it earnestly, that is enough. A man and woman who struggle to “get on the same page” often feel closer after they’ve worked through their difficulties.

Waiting on God does the same for me. I identify with a friend who, after being asked to consider becoming a candidate for bishop in the Methodist church, said, “I’m in the middle of that decision right now, and I’m not getting any direction, but I’m feeling close to the Lord because I’m struggling, I’m dependent.

In retrospect, I see I was running on my own power, relying on my own resources. But I didn’t know how to do otherwise. There was no question about my commitment to Christ or my call to preach. It was a matter of power, spiritual power: the inner re-sources for living with a strength not my own. Seminaries at the time didn’t offer help on spiritual formation. In short, my relation-ship with God was hardly more than a formality. Few things are as hollow as a relationship intended for pas-sion that instead is marked by mere duty.

When the heat of .1 couple’s romance and honeymoon is cooled by concerns over mortgage payments, child raising, and household chores, the relationship becomes drudgery: husband and wife don’t kiss each other at the door; they make love as if it were a mere routine; they stare past their dinner plates with nothing to talk about.

So it is in ministry. A love relationship, which is what God intends us to have with him, is necessary fora vital ministry. At the heart of ministry is the heart, a heart close to God.

All About Motivation-Base

What I began to see in those earliest days of private-world activity was that I had to be ruthless in dealing with the motivation-base for following and serving Jesus Christ. I’m not sure I’d ever given the root motivations in my life the attention they needed. My days in college and seminary, and even the first years in the pastorate ministry, had been colored with a sense of idealism, even glamour, about ministry.

The pastor’s life, I thought with a mixture of naivete and unbounded enthusiasm, would be one of changing history, building a great church, making a difference in everyone’s life, preaching with fervor to people eager

to hear, and enjoying a revered position as everyone’s spiritual director and mentor. And if that’s what the pastor’s life was, then I wanted in. But why did I want in? Few questions ascend in importance above that one. But only a sharp dose of reality — usually painful reality — will force us to look deeply at our motivations. The story of Simon the magician in Acts 8 is instructive. When this man saw Peter and others act in the power of the Holy Spirit, he was prepared to pay good money to have that ability.

I see a little of Simon’s spirit in me. While I wouldn’t be so brash as to pay money for the giftedness that makes ministry possible, at times I’ve succumbed to the temptation of paying for greater popularity and effectiveness by jeopardizing my health, sacrificing relationships, and otherwise burning myself out. I suspect that possibility exists in each of us. Peter instantly challenged Simon’s motivation-base:

 

Another story about two planes that collided above our home when I was 2 years old, showering our backyard with debris that should have killed me but didn’t. Or a third story about my near drowning at age 3 and being rescued at the last second by someone who pulled me out of the water by my hair. These stories, often retold, had a powerful effect upon my sense of direction. “God has protected you fora purpose,” was the message mediated to me. “Find out what that intention is, and don’t defy it.”

I want to be respectful about the notion of God’s special call-ing. But perhaps you can see why these experiences could become twisted into another process.

Obeying God is one thing

Trying to please a mother, or wanting a father to be proud of you, is another. These motivations can get interwoven in the soul early in life. Then they get woven into the fabric of a sense of call, and it is very difficult to separate the two.

I came to see the obvious: approval from a parent or significant other can never navigate us through the often stormy waters of ministry. If we are driven by the need to hear the “well done” from human beings, even parents, we get maneuvered into something like an addiction.

A certain amount of approval needed this year will, like a drug, need to be increased next year. We wind up needing more and more approval as time passes to keep up the same drive. And since people’s approval inevitably comes and goes, in-creases and evaporates, motivation through approval becomes a yo-yo of emotions.

What Fuels Your Growth?

It was a Saturday morning almost twenty-five years ago. and Iliad officiated in the burial of two homeless men during the past week. In both cases, I fell, they liveshadbeen momingless and wasted. I was overwhelmed with the sadness and emptiness of the experience

Combined with several nights of inadequate sleep. no recent spiritual refreshment, and lots of nonstop ministry activity, their deaths left me in a state of emotional overload.

When I came to the breakfast table that morning, I had no clue I was on the brink of a crisis. Life had not yet prepared me for the fact that everyone has a breaking point. There at the table my point came, triggered by one innocent comment.

“You haven’t spent much time with the children lately,” said my wife, Gail. She was correct. I hadn’t. She had kindly avoided noting that I hadn’t spent adequate time with her, either. And I hadn’t done any better with my heavenly Father. Add to this that work was piling up, my sermon for the next day was unprepared, and I needed to make several hospital calls. I felt like a baseball player who just bobbled the ball and the electronic scoreboard behind him begins to flash

Suddenly I was engulfed with a sense of futility, and I began to cry. I lost control and wept steadily for four hours. That had never happened before. It was one of a limited number of “breaking experiences” in my life, which — more than any of the so-called successes — have been most responsible for whatever growth to-ward quality of soul I can claim.

What happened that day forced me to face up to something I’d either ignored or wasn’t smart enough to realize: I had been engaging in ministry — supposedly in the name of Jesus — largely based on natural giftedness — my ability with words, my social skills, and my desire and energy to work for long periods of time.

That Saturday morning I saw the first unavoidable results of a soul that lacked quality. Priorities were askew; key relationships were being neglected; spiritual life was a joke; work was out of control. And — I mean no silliness — ministry had ceased to be fun.
When the tears dried and I had time to assess what had happened, I saw that if I was going to persevere in ministry, I was going to have to tap deeper motivations and wellsprings of strength. Quality of soul became the first priority. That was probably the first time I became interested in what I would later call the ordering of my private world.

Other watershed experiences have come since then — some
even more difficult to face — but this was the one that pressed me to ask the questions of motivation (what was driving me?) and maintenance (what would keep me going?). That morning at the breakfast table caused me to get serious about issues of the spirit that I’d put on the shelf for too long. In the weeks that followed, I searched my inner world.

It became a re-building effort, a reconstruction of my base for serving God in the church. But sometimes when you begin to rebuild, you have to first clear away some rubble. Habits, motives, illusions, ambitions, and forms of pride have to be named and renounced. This activity is called repentance. I suspect it’s the most powerful exercise of the inner spirit that God has given us.

It’s God’s weapon against deceit, which, in turn, is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the Evil One. I wish I could say the personal cleanup that stemmed from the Saturday morning catharsis occurred in a short time and never had to be re-addressed. But I’d speak as a fool. All that really happened was that I went on full alert to what might be the core problem of most men and women who have a heart to serve God.

It was that experience that initiated my own discipline of journaling, which I’ve maintained to this day. I began to discover the benefit of recording the thoughts and insights I felt God com-mending to my soul.

Making Time for Friends

The pastors I know feel pulled in too many directions. How can anyone fulfill the impossible job description of spiritual director, preacher, counselor, administrator, fundraiser and raconteur at women’s association teas?

There just doesn’t seem to be enough time. Something must give — and what usually gives is the pastor’s personal life. Developing a friendship almost seems, well, selfish. But if the risks in not having friends are greater than the risks in having them, we have little choice.

For the sake of personal health and for the sake of the ministry itself, I schedule occasions for friendships to develop.

Weekly breakfasts or lunches.

For years I have been committed to having breakfast with Ken Regan every Wednesday at 6:30 A.M.

We meet that early because neither of us can afford to get to our offices any later. One hour a week doesn’t seem like much, but over a period of years it adds up.

Denominational meetings.

Denominational meetings would send me into a Twilight Zone of mental aberration, making me a danger to myself and others — if it wasn’t for Woody Garvin. My mood changes the moment I see him enter the monthly Presbytery meeting.

We reward ourselves for enduring the tedium of these meetings by having dinner together. Others may think were being dubby, exclusive, but we’ve nurtured a good friendship because of it.
And the annual trip to our General Assembly becomes a rich opportunity for spending time with Woody. By rooming together, we not only save our churches’ money, we give ourselves plenty of time to talk.

Study leaves.

Study leaves can be another opportunity for scheduling time with a friend Last year Woody and I went to the Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale Divinity School. The content of the convocation was worthwhile; the best part of the week, however, was the time we spent together, the conversations and adventures shared.

Friendship with Whom?

Finding time for deeriva ter friendships may be easier than finding someone compatible for friendship. Here are the groups from which I have met Mends:

Other shepherds

Blessed is the pastor who has another pastor as a good friend. When United Airlines Hight 232 crashed just short of the landing strip in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989, 120 people were killed. Passenger Jerry Schemmel is involved with a support group organized to help the 184 survivors cope with the lingering emotional trauma.

Wire services quoted him as saying. “For me, talking to other survivors is probably the most valuable thing, as far as therapy…

You 0111 talk to counselors, your wife, your family, but when you sit down in front of another person who went through the same thing you did, you know that person relates exactly to what you’re talking about.”

Other pastors know exactly what we’re going through: they’ve had troubles with the staff, known the exhilaration of Sunday morning, and written unsent letters of resignation after board meetings. We speak the common language of shared experience.