Pastors who feel out on a limb get help from PassionTree

Pastors who feel out on a limb get help from PassionTree

By Martha Simmons
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Robert Mullins was happy to have answered God’s call to become a lead pastor, but he was surprised at one aspect of leading a church: He missed camaraderie with other pastors. 

“When God called me in 2012 to be a lead pastor, I had been a youth pastor for over 20 years,” Mullins recalled. 

“I found that I missed the camps and retreats with other youth pastors. The Lord encouraged me to do that with lead pastors and senior pastors. There’s no risk with Jesus … so we did it.”

A few years later, the PassionTree Network, a resource for disciple-making pastors, was born.

Combating pastors’ loneliness and isolation is a key goal of PassionTree, says Mullins, who now serves as pastor at Crossroads Community Church, Elmore. 

“Pastoring can be lonely. Pastors often feel like they don’t have the network they need. Sometimes the church can be one of the most hurtful and lonely places there is, especially for a pastor.”

PassionTree brings pastors together in discipleship relationships that Mullins says is more of a movement than an organization. 

“It’s been very organic,” Mullins said. “Now it’s morphed into a network of some 150 ministers and pastors learning how to make disciples and encourage one another.”

He likens the work of PassionTree to Jesus’ efforts with His disciples: Strengthening their faith and training them to take up the cross so that they could go out into the world and make more disciples.

Lifelong relationships

“How can you make disciples if you haven’t been discipled yourself?” Mullins asked. 

That approach is what draws bivocational and full-time ministers, staff pastors and senior pastors, and pastors of churches of all sizes to the network, according to the group’s website, 

PassionTree emphasizes “doing life together,” and the group facilitates partnerships between pastors to help individuals become stronger in ministry and more accountable personally. 

Daniel Edmonds, director of the office of Sunday School and discipleship for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, strongly supports PassionTree. 

“PassionTree is a network for pastors that encourages disciple making in keeping with the Great Commission,” Edmonds said. 

“God said it was not good for man to be alone, and I think loneliness is even worse for pastors. Robert Mullins has done a critical work in combating loneliness or isolation by bringing pastors together for encouragement, relationships and accountability. It is a growing network, and I encourage pastors to reach out to Robert and be blessed by the PassionTree Network.”

Although Crossroads Community Church serves as PassionTree’s sending organization, the network extends beyond Southern Baptists. 

“It’s not necessarily Baptist,” Mullins said. “We have a lot of other folks from other denominations and non-denominational churches to come to our events.”

PassionTree links pastors to one another with events such as retreats, roundtable discussions, videoconferencing and coaching. 

“It’s all about relationships,” Mullins said. “When we go on retreats to the mountains, agendas are not allowed. When we gather, we say to ‘Rest, Renew and Relate.’ We want you to come to one of our events and leave refreshed.”

Only seven pastors took part in the first retreat in North Carolina in 2014, before the network even had a name. 

In fact it was 2016 before the network became known as PassionTree, which Mullins said grew out of a Christian music group he belonged to in college and his subsequent creative artwork of the spiritual image.

Mullins, who serves as vice president of the 2020 Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference, hopes that as more pastors are discipled through this ministry, they will in turn disciple still more pastors, thereby multiplying the effect. 

‘Go and teach’

He concedes the organization is still very young though. 

“This year was the first year we even got on social media,” he said, noting there are no grand ambitions to hit a particular numerical target. “As God grows it, that’s where we want to go.”

Similarly, PassionTree seeks to help ministers focus on their true calling, rather than membership and attendance and tithing statistics. 

“Jesus said clearly to go and make disciples. Go and teach others what I have taught you to do,” Mullins said. “We are called to be fishers of men. That should take all the pressure off the pastors out there. You don’t have to build a megachurch. You just have to make disciples.

“That’s kind of revolutionary.”

For more information about PassionTree Network, go to