The Best Part of Conferences
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
There is a scene in the television show, The West Wing, where the President’s chief of staff, Leo McGarry, tells a story to one of his staff who is struggling personally. “This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor walks by and the guy shouts out, ‘Hey you! Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes him a prescription drops it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey Joe, it’s me. Can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
Some may wonder whether conferences are needed for pastors and other servants in the church. There is the question of the topic (How relevant or interesting is it?). Then there are the presenters (Are there presenters engaging or even helpful?). Then there is the time (There are already so many things that fill one’s schedule!). Then there is the expense (Can the congregation afford this expense with everything else?).
The reason why we have conferences is because we need each other.
More important than the topic or the presenters is the mutual consolation and conversation of the brethren that takes places at a pastors’ conference. We need one another. Veteran pastors all can recall the many times when they have spent time at past conferences encouraging a brother pastor who was overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of the office. That is why we have conferences and that is why we go– because we need one another.
Pastoral ministry can be lonely. A pastor can have an amazing group of supportive elders and leaders, but they do not fully understand the burdens of the office. That is why it is a great blessing to find encouragement and support from others, who have borne the burden of the office. Pastoral Conferences involve times for worship, study, and prayer, but also a time for a friend to jump down into the hole for a brother in the ministry who feels trapped and alone.
The burdens that pastors feel are real and at times can feel overwhelming. However, the conversations with classmates, friends, colleagues and brothers in ministry can be such a great blessing to hear the Word of the Lord spoken directly to one’s weakness and frailty. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Mutual help in ministry is taken for granted. But we need more; we need another to care for our soul. Everyone who cares for the soul needs a person who will care for his or her soul. Only one who has been under spiritual care is able to exercise spiritual care…Whoever takes the office seriously must cry out under the burden…Where can a pastor find rest and recollection for all this work? We have to recognize that there are mortal dangers for the office and for those who exercise it. Even the responsible, serious, and faithful pastor may be driven to external or internal perplexity. This can be a pure lack of faith. In the end, perplexity leads to insensitivity. The load is too heavy to bear alone. We need someone who will help us use our powers in ministry correctly, someone who will defend us against our own lack of faith…If the pastor has no one to offer him spiritual care, then he will have to seek someone out.” (Spiritual Care, p. 66-67).
My prayer is that none of our pastors or church workers find themselves isolated, but that they would see those God has placed around them as His instruments are care for their soul. We are our brothers’ keepers and caregivers. May our pastors and church workers continue to look for those around them in need and jump down in the hole to help so that we know we’re not alone, but God has sent someone to help. And finally, when our pastors and church workers fall into the holes, may the Holy Spirit lead them to cry out to others for that help!
Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, During Your earthly ministry, You called around You a community of disciples to serve and support one another. Bless those who serve as Your Servants in these dark and latter days the comfort and strength of others to walk alongside them that we might be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses as we run the race marked out for us; in Your holy name. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan