Pastor Aaron Duell is currently serving as a TIM associate pastor at First United Methodist Church, Columbus, Nebraska (2014-2016).
We humans were designed to be in relationship. We are really a chip off the old (Trinitarian) block. Ultimately, human meaning and purpose come from our relationships. They come from our relationship with God, our relationships with one another, and our relationship with creation.
To be a person is to be in relationship. Before the world began, our tri-personal God existed in perfect harmonious relationship. I refer of course to perichoresis, the eternal dance between God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Ever since some nasty business in a certain primordial Garden, relationships have become more complicated. Nevertheless, human beings need to be in relationship with one another. This is true for extroverts and introverts. Pastors (and by that I mean everyone in vocational ministry) are no different. Here’s a brief reflection on three different types of relationships I’ve found helpful in my first six months of ministry.
Clergy Friends- We United Methodists do a funny thing annually. All the clergy-folk plus a representative from their church gather together and confer. This conferencing is so fundamental to us, that the basic unit of the United Methodist Church is not the local church itself but the Annual Conference. Our polity proves a point. People in ministry need each other. We need to encourage one another and hold each other up in accountability. Transparency and honesty are virtues which every pastor ought to embody, and there are things one can only talk about with one’s peers. I’ve discovered that at Annual Conference, it’s good to gather with clergy peers and be intentionally transparent and honest. Having fun together is also a good idea.
As a part of the Transition into Ministry (TiM) program, I am in a covenant relationship with a small group of other TiM pastors. We can talk openly and sincerely to one another with whatever is going on in our lives. Sometimes we seek one another out for advice and ideas. At other times we request prayers of one another. This is a group of people who walk through life together. Additionally, I am also in a small group of friends from seminary. This group meets twice each month via internet video conferencing. Can you imagine what John Wesley would have done with video conferencing technology? One can only imagine.
John Wesley believed that Christian conferencing is so fundamental to human experience, he believed it to be a means by which the Holy Spirit works sanctifying grace in our lives. In other words, it’s good for us. There will come a time in each of our lives when we face what seems like our darkest hour. By the grace of God we do not have to face such an hour in isolation.
Mentor Friends- The Wesleyan tradition is one that values mentors. Wesley himself had a number of mentors throughout the course of his life. It has worked its way into the Methodist DNA. The candidacy and ordination processes require people to be in a mentor/mentee relationship. There is much to be gained from the wisdom and lives of our more experienced brothers and sisters in the Lord.
I was in Southwestern College’s Discipleship service-learning organization during my undergraduate years. There I had a designated mentor from the discipleship program, and we hit it off so well that ultimately we met nearly every week. He was the philosophy professor and I was a Philosophy & Religious studies student. He and I walked through a lot of life together. We talked about maturing/sanctifying in Christ, loving God with our minds, and he even walked me through a time when I was discerning whether or not to marry my girlfriend (now wife).
Basically, I was discipled by my mentor. hat’s a big part of what mentors and mentees do together. It would be wise for every person in the ministry to have and older and wiser mentor with whom they could regularly meet. There comes a point in the candidacy and ordination process where a mentor is no longer required but is none the less a good idea.
Non-Church Relationships- Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Christian Bubble.” It refers to the idea that one can submerge so deeply into Christian subculture that one can lose touch with the rest of the world. How can we be “in” the world but not “of” the world? Different people will tell you different things. Some will say retreat from the world into your own Christian colony and be completely counter cultural. Others say there’s the kingdom of humans and the Kingdom of God, and the two are complete bifurcated from one another. Still others say that Christians are to live in a way that works for the transformation of culture.
If one wants to transform culture, one better get acquainted with the folks in the culture. Making connections throughout the community is of vital importance. Get to know the leaders of your community, wherever they might be. It has been a goal of mine to connect with people throughout the community at least once a week. Everyone has to eat, so getting lunch together is a great excuse to get to know a person better.
Moreover, it’s good to have friends outside of the church. They offer perspective that one can miss from inside the Christian bubble. Such friendships are often built on commonality, whether it’s hobbies, ages, interests, children’s ages, etc. In having such friendships we bring Christ with us as our lives witness to who Jesus is. There is no agenda with these friendships, and there better not be. People can smell a fake a mile away. Friends care for each other and do stuff together. When Christians love their neighbor the light of Christ can’t help but shine.
If my first six months of ministry has taught me anything it is this: relationships are the key. Clergy friends, mentors, and non-church friends and connections seem to have been highlighted. Building and maintaining relationships with our neighbor builds and improves our relationship with the Lord. It’s something we all gotta do!