Closer than a Brother: Why I Belong to Acts 29
Why do I belong to Acts 29? Three words: Tyler, Jason, and Chris. But I get 1000 words for this article, so I’ll explain.
On August 1, 2010 the New York Times posted an article that started like this:
The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.
While this statement is disturbing, it’s not surprising. Church leaders carry unique burdens and pressures and often find themselves isolated, without close relationships.
I was no exception.
CARING FOR PASTORS TAKES INTENTIONALITY
Seven years ago, I sat alone in a steakhouse in Dallas reflecting on my day of sessions at an Acts 29 Boot Camp. I wasn’t yet a church planter, but a staff pastor at my local church. I was there hoping God might use this time to give me wisdom for navigating the role in which I was serving.
Shortly after I sat down, a herd of men arrived. What happened next changed the course of my life.
One of the men, a speaker from the Boot Camp, recognized me from the day’s events, got up, walked over, introduced himself, and invited me to join them. For the next three hours these pastors lovingly grilled me about theology, the church I served, my family, and my soul. They were confrontational. They were encouraging. They were honest.
Sitting across from me was Tyler. His home was in North Carolina, mine in Virginia. He could have easily left dinner and our paths would never have crossed again. Instead, he cared about me and the position I was in as a pastor. The next night Tyler invited me to dinner along with a smaller herd of pastors, where again everything about life and ministry was on the table.
I left Dallas sharpened and encouraged. I left knowing I had met a brother.
Over the next two years, Tyler invited me to his church for quarterly luncheons for pastors in the region. I happily made the three hour drive. Each time, he invited me to stay for the Acts 29 pastors’ dinner and discussions. It was at these dinners that I met Jason and Chris, both Acts 29 pastors in Virginia. Both made a sincere effort to get to know me. It made no sense—I felt like the slow kid getting picked first in the pickup game. I had nothing to offer them: I wasn’t a church planter, and I didn’t even have plan for planting. But they weren’t concerned with how I might serve them or the network; they were concerned with being brothers.
CARING FOR PASTORS TAKES PERSONAL SACRIFICE
In the spring of 2007, I found myself again sitting across the table from Tyler. This time, my wife and I had made the three-hour drive to visit his church one morning. Tyler greeted us, changed his afternoon plans, and graciously invited us to lunch. You see, he wasn’t expecting us.
Ten days earlier we had buried our newborn son.
Tyler sat with us. He asked the hard questions. He listened to the hard details of his death. He grieved with us. He reminded us of God’s strength in our weakness.
Days later, Tyler, Jason, and Chris, along with their families, were meeting for a strategic planning retreat at the beach. They invited us to join, hoping the time away would bring us rest and comfort.
Now, take a second to think about that. Was this an obligatory response to our intense grief? No. These men were not obligated to care for me or my family. I wasn’t serving in their churches or their network. They had a planned working retreat for the three men and their families to connect as friends. And they invited me, my wife, and our toddler to invade it—to intrude on this precious, coveted time.
Sure, they considered that our presence, especially given our mourning, would change the dynamic of their weekend. But they considered the personal sacrifice worth it as they expressed love for their brother in need.
So, we crashed their beach house, my family met their families, and we shared meals and stories. We heard about the significant trials and suffering that had unfolded in their lives and were encouraged by their perseverance and unwavering hope in the gospel. We played on the beach, soaked in the sun, and tasted the love of God through the love of these friends.
I left the shores of North Carolina tangibly reminded that “a friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17).
Eventually, I did plant a church in the Acts 29 network. I did so with the encouragement and insight of Tyler, Jason, and Chris and other Acts 29 brothers. By God’s grace, we’re four years in, and healthy.
But I didn’t stumble into planting a healthy church. I could have easily found myself fitting into the New York Times clergy findings. It’s an obvious reality: church leaders aren’t finishing the race well. They’re sidelining themselves at an alarming rate, failing to watch their life and doctrine closely.
CHRISTIANS—ESPECIALLY PASTORS—SHOULD CARE FOR PASTORS
As Christians, our responsibility to care for pastors isn’t optional. And fellow pastors are able to do this in unique ways.
Pastors and church leaders are meant to have brothers who encourage us and help us in our work. Brothers who help us see the closely-clinging sin we can so easily overlook; brothers who encourage us to look to Jesus, the perfecter of our faith, as we run our race with endurance.
THE PRIORITY OF BROTHERHOOD IN ACTS 29
Acts 29 prioritizes brotherhood. It’s a loud drumbeat in the network. I’d need another 1000 words to adequately cover the ways in which Acts 29 works towards this end. Here are just a few things pastors benefit from:
- an expense-paid annual network retreat with their wives for rest, encouragement, and relationship-building;
- gospel coach training and strategic coaching relationships;
- and an active online community where brothers are a click away, along with years of insightful interactions, from pragmatic to personal.
Caring is hard to capture in systems descriptions; it’s more easily captured in moments. It sounds like the voice of a pastor on the other end of the phone recently telling me, “Hey Robert, there’s a pastor who just lost his son. Here’s his number. He needs to hear from a brother who’s walked through this.”
Because of our love for the church, our responsibility to care for each other as pastors isn’t optional. We need to be bold, honest, intentional and sacrificial with each other. And Acts 29 has proven to be a helpful aid in this for me and many other pastors.
BY WHATEVER MEANS, ENCOURAGE EACH OTHER
But this kind of intentional care is certainly not network- or denomination-dependent. By whatever means, we pastors must encourage one another to connect the riches of the gospel to the realities of life as a pastor. Together, by God’s grace, let’s strive finish well to the glory of God and the good of the families and churches he has called us to serve.