Wow…Who Gives Their Time That Freely?

I was sitting there in my local coffee shop, preparing Sunday’s message, when a stranger approached.

“Are you a pastor”? he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, having no idea where this was going.  He was a little older than me, dressed casually, and spoke kindly.

“Could I have a minute to tell you about the ministry I’m involved in?”

Now, my most recent experience with a stranger in a coffee shop involved a homeless guy wanting to tell me all about his mission to save the earth from an apocalyptic collision with Planet X. With that in mind, I reluctantly agreed.

“It’s called Standing Stone,” he said, “And what we do is shepherd the shepherds. We provide safe, confidential care to pastors and their families.”  I recognized the expression on this man’s face: it only comes from living through hardship and wanting to comfort others who are going through it now.

Someone to shepherd my soul? It would be nice if it was true. But even if it was, how much would it cost? Would it really be confidential? Those were a few of the questions racing through my mind.  I was going through the most discouraging season of my 27 years of ministry, but could I trust this man’s offer?

“What that means,” he continued, “is I’ll go to my grave with anything you tell me. And there is never any charge for my time. I won’t even let you buy your own coffee when we meet. I have a team of people who support me so I can come alongside pastors like you.”

Even my questions were beginning to find answers, I still wasn’t quite ready to open up. Could I be honest about the fear, pressure, and confusion I felt? Would he be a gracious, gentle shepherd? I said a quick prayer for wisdom, took a deep breath, then took the plunge.

“How much time have you got?” I asked, hopeful he didn’t have anywhere to be any time soon.

“I’m good,” he said, “You want to talk now?”

Wow, I thought, who gives their time that freely?  Maybe this was going to be even better for me than I hoped.

We made our way out to an outdoor table, and I began to tell him my story. He didn’t say a lot. He mostly just listened, related to what I had gone through, and spoke words of encouragement. And he thanked me. He thanked me for enduring the hardship of ministry for Jesus’ sake.

After we were done, he offered to meet with me again soon. We did. Then his wife met with my wife. And for the next year, they walked with us through one of our darkest ministry seasons until we came out on the other side. We were so thankful

Eventually, after a time of transition and a year of prayer, my wife and I answered God’s call to serve as Standing Stone Shepherds.  We’re part of a team of two hundred former pastors and ministry leaders who give their lives and time to strengthen God’s Kingdom by caring for its leaders.

Who knows, I just might show up at your pastor’s coffee shop today.

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