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The Need for Ministry Relationships

By Cheri Stevenson
Cheri Stevenson is the associate youth pastor at Central Assembly, Springfield, Missouri.

As ministers, we often focus on investing in others to the point of ignoring our own needs.

I had an exciting day a few weeks ago. It was one of those days where everything clicked for me. I had a few big breakthroughs, and during my drive home, I could barely contain myself thinking about the day's events. Then I got home and realized no one was else was there. I paced back and forth from my kitchen to my bedroom. I was anxious and confused; something was bothering me. It took me a minute to put my finger on it, and then I realized what it was. I had no one to tell about my day.

Why is it that we have such a strong need for relationships, for people to tell about our day Scripture tells us that God's character is knit into each one of us. "You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13, NIV). At the time of our conception, there was more knit into us than our hair and eye color. At that moment, a desire for relationships was also created in us by a Creator who himself desires strong relationships with His created ones. We need for those around us to love and care for us. We desire to have friends who, when we have an exciting or a rough day, are there to hear about it. We are created with the desire to live with close family and friends.

Psalm 139 continues to say, "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful" (verse 14). Many times we forget to stop and praise God for our need for relationships that He instilled in us. It is very easy for us as strong women in ministry to neglect this need in our own lives. It is much easier for us to give and to take care of others, and even feel guilty for having the need for significant relationships ourselves.

Recently, I had an incredible and life-changing opportunity to be a part of an experience called The Cadre. The Cadre is a youth pastor mentoring program with well-known youth pastor Jeanne Mayo, founder and president of Youth Source Ministries and director of Oxygen Youth and Young Adult Outreach. Through The Cadre, I not only had the privilege to learn up-close from one of the greatest youth pastors in the nation, but I also formed friendships with other women serving in youth ministry that I will value for a lifetime.

I have known God's calling on my life since I was a senior in high school. However, I have always questioned if it was really my calling or when I get married it would become just my husband's calling. I think God knew how desperately I needed to know that it was possible for a woman to be a wife, mother, and a minister, and to do them all well. Through my experience with The Cadre, I have found the importance of having someone in my life who is a few steps ahead of me and who can help shed some light on the journey I am beginning. Before The Cadre I didn't realize how much I need women in my life who understand what it is like to be in ministry.

Relational Pitfalls of Women in Ministry

Life is relationships; the rest is just details. These eight words say it all.

As I have talked with other women in full-time ministry, I have found three common relational pitfalls that most of us can relate to.

1. Feeling isolated by the sense that no one else can relate or understand. In the past it was easy for me to isolate myself and end up with the feeling that I didn't have "true"; friends. When I first started in ministry, it felt helpful to distinguish between my two sets of friends. I had friends who were connected to my ministry and friends who were not. It felt comforting that I had friends who I wasn't "Pastor Cheri" around, but simply "Cheri." Now I've come to realize that my need for this came from the desire to be loved for who I am, and not just for what I do.

2. Constantly giving relationally to others but not receiving any relational investment from others. As women, we give so effortlessly through relationships that it seems only natural that we would also need to replenish ourselves through relationships. But as ministers, we often focus on investing in others to the point of ignoring our own needs.

3. The uneasiness of having no "true" friends; longing for friends that we feel safe enough with to be real with. I'm sure many of you, like me, have had moments that you just so desperately needed someone to understand you. I need a friend who won’t look differently at me because I'm not "perfect" or even close to perfect. Someone whom I can vent to when I need someone to listen and not react. Someone who understands why I care so much about the people to whom I pastor. Who understands how miserable it is to watch someone I've personally invested in make wrong choices in his or her life. That's why I need the friendships of other women in ministry.

Forming Friendships with Women in Ministry

But how do we avoid the pitfalls and find those relationships? You can start with the following steps.

1. Pray and determine what it is that you are looking for in a friendship. Pray that God will bring the right women into your life. Ask God to help you to discern what void you need to fill with these relationships. For me, I realized my need for peers who were involved in and passionate about my area of ministry. For you, it might be a need for friendships with women your age, or who are also balancing being a wife, a mother, and minister. Whatever your needs, begin by defining what they are and speaking to God about them.

2. Begin looking. It may be that you need to look at other churches in your town, or at churches outside your town. For a valuable relationship with another woman in ministry, it is worth an hour's drive to be able to meet for coffee and conversation. If the person you find is farther away, there are many avenues of  communication that make it possible for intimate and lasting friendships, even over long distances. For some of us, it might be as simple as rekindling an old friendship, someone you grew up or went to college with.

3. Build your friendship on authenticity and safety. Begin with the foundations of authenticity and safety in your friendships. When we feel safe, our hearts open and intimacy takes place. As women, one of our heart's desires is to be open and connected. The best way for that to take place is to form a friendship where you can be yourself. It needs to be a relationship where you are not protecting your image or trying to get people to accept and like you. It should be a friendship that makes you feel loved and accepted no matter what. We have to be willing to be real, touchable, and vulnerable.

4. Commit to staying in touch. Life is relationships; the rest is just details. These eight words say it all. If we cannot stop to care about the significant relationships in our lives, we will lose so much. We have to fight the tendency to allow all the other details and busyness in our lives to win out, and be committed to the friendships that will energize us so that we can continue to minister to others.

Conclusion

I remember as a little girl riding with my dad in the car. As he drove, I chattered on and on about my day. (I'm sure I was filling him in on every single detail). With as much love and patience as my dad could muster, he said to me, "Cheri, you know it's okay just to be quiet sometimes."

I replied, "I know, but I just have so much to tell you!" And without taking a breath, I continued telling him all about my day.

Though men may never understand, women do recognize the need for someone to really listen to the details. We need for someone to truly hear what we are experiencing. It is no different for us because we are serving in ministry. Now, the only difference is that we have to become far more strategic and committed to forming and keeping relationships with those in our lives who really listen and understand.