You cannot be a recluse and be effective as a pastor. If you are called to a shepherding role of ministry, you must be actively engaged in healthy relationship building you want to be eternally effective. Ministry, and life for that matter, is all about relationships. In our family, in our friendships, and in our churches, we are surrounded by people who God is calling us to engage with in purposeful relationships. These relationships are to be mutually building and sharpening as stated in Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”
In the life of the Apostle Paul, we find three vital relationships that every servant of the Lord should engage in to be effective in ministry.
Relationships with Mentors
When we first see Paul as a new convert, in Acts 9, one of the first people God brought into his life was Barnabas. It was Barnabas who reached out to this new believer with a past that had been vehemently opposed to Christians. The believers at the church in Jerusalem were understandably skeptical, but Barnabas bridged the gap and built relationships not only with Paul himself, but also between Paul and the church family. Barnabas became a mentor for Paul.
Later, in Acts 11, when Barnabas was sent out to check on reports of new believers in other regions, he found a thriving group of believers in Antioch who needed shepherding and a church planted for their support and ministry. Barnabas again reached out to young Paul and asked him to come and assist in this church planting ministry.
Every servant of the Lord needs a mentor in his life. They need someone that is older than themselves in years and in ministry who can be a resource of wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Youth is great for energy, but there is little replacement for years of walking with God and learning along the way. Barnabas wisely invested his years of experience into this young man while he benefited from the energy and enthusiasm of the young, zealous, new believer. In Acts 13, we see God calling this duo of servants out of the church at Antioch to send them to mission work in the regions beyond to reproduce what God had done with them in Antioch.
Relationships with Peers
In Acts 15, we see Paul and Barnabas back in Antioch reporting to the church family about their missionary service while they had been gone. During that time, they were sent to Jerusalem to address concerns about some Jewish believers who had come to Antioch and caused some doubt among the Gentile believers in Antioch. Once those concerns were properly addressed and settled, not only did the church in Jerusalem send a letter of clarification on the church’s position, but they also sent two respected leaders as representatives of the church family to personally affirm their position and attitude toward their Gentile brothers in Christ.
Silas, also known as Silvanus, was one of those men, and he remained in Antioch to serve with the church when his traveling companion returned to Jerusalem. At the end of the chapter, Paul and Silas set out on a missions trip together.
We need people who are similar to us in our age and interests who can also sharpen us in life and in ministry. It is healthy to have people we trust and respect who understand our age and family dynamic that can keep our thoughts and attitudes in check.
Paul and Silas went through a lot together, and they helped each other get through many difficult times in the ministry together. Healthy peer relationships are valuable to everyone, because God made us relational beings. We need to spend time with people who can be a friend to us when life is going fine, so they are already in our life when life goes less than fine. Someone we can call and share our heart with who will not judge us nor condone things that are wrong, but will listen to us and try to encourage us in the right direction.
Relationships with Mentees
The third relationship we all need to be engaged in as part of our life and ministry is someone younger than ourselves. A person we can invest ourselves in for the benefit of the next generation. Barnabas did this with Paul, and in Acts 16 we see Paul beginning this relationship dynamic with young Timothy.
This was a young man who had earned the respect of his church family, and Paul saw wonderful potential in him for the future. Timothy became a part of Paul’s traveling ministry team, and God used him later on to serve in churches planted by this team.
God did not create us to isolate ourselves and live unto ourselves. He intends for us to be relational and to build meaningful relationships with others. Remember that life and ministry is all about relationships, and we will be accountable to the Lord for our stewardship of those relationships.