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Loners are Losers

May 30, 2024 -- Joe Wagner


In the pantheon of great cinematic heroes, Clint Eastwood rises near the top. Before he was a cop with a .44 magnum or a grumpy old man with a Gran Torino, Eastwood portrayed mysterious loners in classic westerns. He even played a gun-toting preacher once. He rode out of the wilderness as a singular and enigmatic hero. He wasn’t there to make friends. He was there to stand alone and save the day.

Pastor, you're not Clint Eastwood and you aren’t pastoring in a movie. You might live in a sparsely populated rural setting, but loneliness isn’t heroic. Loneliness sucks the life out of you and makes you less effective.

It’s not scripturally normative to find godly men ministering on their own. Elijah had Elisha. David had Jonathon. Moses had Aaron and then 70 more elders so he wouldn’t break under the weight of leadership. This theme of brothers standing shoulder to shoulder grows even more clear in the New Testament. One of the most explicit examples comes from Colossians 4. As Paul closed his letter from prison, he described what my ‘tween daughter would call, his “friend group.” Paul’s friend group included everyone from the seasoned and mature Luke to the newly-saved ex-felon Onesimus.

Tychicus was there as a trusted messenger. Aristarchus was there, in chains. Mark was there, his friendship restored. Justus was there. Epaphras was there, having come all the way from Ephesus. Their friendship and love for Paul made their names important enough to be listed in scripture. And of course, Demas was there, too. Later on, he deserted Paul. But still, seven out of eight friendships proving faithful is pretty good odds. 

If Paul, arguably the greatest pastor who ever lived, surrounded himself with ministry friendships, how can we not? Still, building pastoral friendships is not easy, especially in a rural setting.

It took me six years in rural ministry before I realized I was allowed to even talk to other pastors. Like a fool, I was pastoring without any pastoral friends to come alongside me. I had no brother pastors to confide in. No pastor friend was there to help me pick up the pieces when I did dumb things. No brother was there to rebuke me for ignoring my wife and newborn daughter because I spent too much time at the church. 

Back then, I was trying to be a hero. I thought being a loner was normal. Pastors can’t be friends! They are competitors! That’s a common rural church belief that needs to be destroyed. As a result of this lonely hero culture, I started off pastoring the way I was taught: lonely.

Six years into that lonely ministry, I attended a pastor’s luncheon. I walked in late. There was a single table filled with pastors my age but no chairs left open. I sat with some older brothers. To be honest, I felt like an impostor. My church was tiny. I didn’t have a seminary degree. How could I keep up in conversation with these seasoned veterans?

I had two choices: I could silently sit there, or, I could go introduce myself to the younger guys. By God’s grace, I went and introduced myself. 

That decision was life-changing. 

We didn’t all become best friends on that first day. Angels didn’t sing and spotlights didn’t shine down from heaven. It was a first step. And from there, God opened doors to build my first pastoral relationships. Some of the men I met that day have become my closest and dearest friends.

Pastor, you need friendships. And optimally, you need a network of pastor friends, whether they are your age or not. Looking back on that day, there was a third choice I could have made. Instead of trying to measure myself against them, I could have opened up to those older brothers and let them pour into me.

Don’t be a loner. You’ll lose so much that you desperately need. Seek out pastoral friendships. The benefits to you, your family and church will be life-changing.

Paul needed ministry friends. You need them, too.


Joe Wagner is a pastor at Christ Church Wellsboro. He has lived in Wellsboro his entire life and has been in ministry for the past 15 years. He attended Mansfield University, where he studied journalism, and first met his bride, Ashley. Joe has a heart for people and helps them get connected at Christ Church through membership, assimilation, and discipleship. He enjoys spending time outdoors, forging knives, and spending time with his wife and four children.

1 Comment

mark werner
mark werner
Jun 06

Thank you for the words of wisdom brother. I appreciate your honesty and your vulnerability, and I'm excited to see what God does with this ministry!

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