lonliness_lonely_ministry_leadership

3 Ways to Fight the Loneliness of Ministry Leadership

A few years ago, I looked around and noticed something unsettling. I saw a whole lot of eyes.

As a ministry leader, I saw a whole lot of people watching me.

Some were watching me because they are in authority over me—think elders and senior level staff. Others were watching me because I am their leader and pastor. It was a whole lot of eyes. No wonder I constantly felt like I had to be “on.” No wonder I constantly felt like I had have it all together. I’m guessing you’ve had this feeling too.

Like it or not, this is what ministry leadership feels like. We’re on the stage and we’re setting the example. It’s very honoring and humbling but also incredibly isolating and lonely. It’s hard to find people to be real with. There just aren’t people with whom we can drop our guard and reveal what’s really going on. We always have to be on. We have to have it all together. We’re the pastors. We’re the leaders.

It’s tempting to say:

“That’s just ministry. It’s just the way it is.”

But, lonely is a bad place to be. In fact, it’s a dangerous place to be.

Let’s be honest about something: Lonely people do dumb things. When I think about times when I’ve made poor decisions and engaged in destructive behavior, it’s often because I’m relationally disconnected — when I’m lonely.

Lonely people do dumb things.

There is a biblical concept behind this reality. We are created in God’s image. God exists in community — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were created to reflect this reality. We will never be the people God designed us to be without meaningful community. In fact, we can’t be the ministry leaders God is calling us to be when we are lonely.

I think we all know this to be true. My darkest seasons in ministry were all seasons of relational isolation. On the flip side, seasons of joy and fruitfulness have all been seasons in which I was relationally connected in meaningful community. I had an inner circle of trusted friends and we were truly supporting each other through honest conversation, accountability and prayer.

Ok fine. We’re all feeling adequately guilty but what can we do about it? We’re still isolated. Where can we find people with who we can live in community? How do we find an inner circle? Here are a few ideas.

START SMALL

Ideally, we would all belong to a community of five or six people where we can be completely authentic, where we can share what we’re really struggling with and where we can be accountable—our inner circle. We all need this. Realistically though, not many of us have an inner circle.

Where do you even start? Well, you start small. Maybe you have one person in your life where you can be real. Start with that person. Maybe for now your inner circle is one person. Develop that relationship. Perhaps you can add others in time.

Or, maybe start with a small group of people who could become your inner circle. But, understand that it takes time to develop the kind of vulnerability you need. Be patient and let it grow. The important thing is to move in the right direction.

Maybe you don’t have an inner circle right now and maybe you shouldn’t expect to have an inner circle next week but if you move in that direction, you just may have an inner circle in a few months.

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GO OUTSIDE

An inner circle has to be safe. In my experience, the people you work with are probably the wrong choice for this sort of relationship. I can’t be honest about what I’m really struggling with if there is potential for what I share to impact my job.

Because of this, I would suggest that the kind of inner circle community that you need as a ministry leader should come from outside the walls of your church. You need a place where you don’t have to be “on,” where you don’t have to have it all together and where you can drop your guard.

In addition, I would suggest that a diversity of people will provide you with helpful perspective. My inner circle is made up of a CEO, a counselor, a real estate agent, a financial advisor and a senior pastor from a different church. Their combined perspective has helped me look at the challenges in my life and ministry from different angles. I have found this to be incredibly helpful.

As you seek to develop an inner circle, consider that these people may need to come from outside the walls of your church. Also, they don’t have to be other ministry leaders. Sometimes it can be helpful to hear other perspectives.

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GO BACK IN TIME

For some of us, the options simply aren’t there. Perhaps you are new in your ministry position and in a new city. In a situation like this, fighting isolation by creating an inner circle can be very challenging.

In cases like this, I would suggest going back in time. Call up Doc Brown and he’ll hook you up!

Ok, seriously, what I mean by going back in time is that you may need to reconnect with previous members of your inner circle. For my first ministry position, I moved to an unfamiliar city where I knew very few people. At that time, I relied on close friends from college to be my inner circle. Sometimes going back to people you have relied on in the past is where you can find the kind of community you need.

My senior pastor has a standing Monday phone call with a pastor friend from another part of the country. They have been calling each other on Mondays for something like 20 years. In this weekly conversation they talk through their Sunday sermons, ask each other about their marriages and other “inner circle” type questions. For my senior pastor, this weekly phone call is one of the ways he pursues relational connectedness in the midst of the isolation and loneliness of ministry.

Let me close with this: You and I were created to live in community.

We will never be the ministry leaders we ought to be unless we are living in close community with others. Yes, ministry is isolating and lonely but lonely is a dangerous place to live. We simply cannot stay there.

I would plead with you to fight for community. Find a small group of people with whom you can develop an inner circle. In my experience, there is nothing like a supportive and honest inner circle to keep me out of trouble and keep me running toward the calling God has placed on my life.

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