Years ago I was a phone counselor for Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. One of the things they trained us to recognize was the prevalence of loneliness during the times of the Crusades, which were typically around Thanksgiving or Easter. The likelihood that you would take a call or two with someone suffering from loneliness during the holidays was pretty good. I have found since that time that when yo talk to a pastor the likelihood of loneliness is even higher. A great percentage of pastors are feel isolated and alone other than with their spouse, even pastors who have churches numbering in the thousands.
What causes this kind of loneliness? According to Pastor Rick Warren on his podcast of May 14, 2007 (“How to Overcome Loneliness in Ministry”) there are a number of possible causes. One of these is simply pride. This is the sort of pride which causes a pastor to say, “If I have God, then I don’t need people.” This sounds very spiritual, but it is totally false and leads to dysfunction. Another is a reverse of that fallacy where the pastor believes they must maintain a ‘face’ in front of their flock. Essentially this is fear; fear that their people will lose faith in them if they show weakness. Some schools and professors in seminary have even taught that this is good pastoral practice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the Bible teaches us that our true strength comes when we admit our weaknesses, let God bring us strength and let others minister to us while we minister to them.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn when I was younger was that I had to let someone else minister to me once in a while. By not letting them do so, I was actually taking a blessing away from them. By allowing someone minister to me I was actually building them up, discipling them, growing them. By refusing to ‘put on a face’ I was also letting my people know I was not some ‘super-Christian’, I was a sinner saved by grace just as they were. By admitting I needed help, they were encouraged to ask for help when they found themselves in need.
Another reason for loneliness is, ironically, busyness. Many pastors get so busy they don’t take time out to be with people just as friends, with no ministerial goal in sight. Their calendars are full but their insides are hollow. Everyone needs time away from the ‘busyness’ to regenerate and revitalize themselves.
How do you deal with loneliness? First, realize that you do need people. You are not, never have been and never will be able to stand all on your own. God created us as social beings and we need others for love, encouragement and support. We are not robots.
Second you can find your way out of loneliness by not retreating from people. When you feel lonely you need to be around other people. You find friends by being friendly. Look around and see if there is someone you can meet with just for recreational purposes. Take a walk, meet at McDonald’s for coffee, get involved in a sport or a hobby.
Third, admit that you are not perfect…not simply to yourself, but to others. Show your weaknesses. Allow others to minister to you. By letting others into your life you can actually be more effective in ministry than you ever dreamed you could be. As others minister to you they will grow and become more consistent in their walk. They will become deeper disciples. Isn’t that the whole point of our ministry, to grow Christ-like disciples?
“Therefore go and make disciples…” Matthew 28:19 (NIV)