How to Overcome Ministry Loneliness
Do you isolate yourself because you’re a pastor? When we talk about ministry loneliness, I am directly challenging the false assumption that we should. I am a Christian serving in vocational ministry. I refer to this subject from the vantage point of “we” and “us.” I have learned to overcome ministry loneliness after years of loneliness, isolation, burnout, lack of accountability and simply hiding from others, and I want YOU to as well! For the sake and length of this post, I’ll spare you that story for now. If you are interested in hearing more about my story, I’d love to share it at another time (message me or share in comments if you’d like me to write about that).
The Relational Soul – You Have GOT to Read This Book!
Former pastors Richard Plass and James Cofield write: “We were born with a relentless longing to participate in the lives of others. Fundamentally, we are relational souls.” Hey Pastor, you’ve GOT to read their book, “The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection.” Have your spouse read it. Read it for your family’s sake.
Is God My Friend?
I first encountered the idea that God is a Friend of certain humans while relatively young in my faith. As for Abraham and Moses, God had a close relationship with them. Close enough for God to make it known these two men were His friends:
Exodus 33:11, NIV “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.”
James 2:23, ESV “And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God.”
Wow… could I possibly be a friend of God? Since Abraham and Moses were luminaries in the Biblical story, you could almost expect that God would befriend them. But are there other Biblical characters who received this kind of special status with God?
John 15:13, 15 ESV “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Yes. God the Son called His disciples His friends. Ok, that almost sounds generic that He would call all His human followers a friend. With this logic, we could say because I’m a follower of Christ, I could be His friend too. What kind of friend is Jesus Christ to you?
What kind of Friend is Jesus Christ?
He is our Advocate: “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.” (1 John 2:1, NLT)
He gives Rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, ESV)
He Loves Even During Hard times: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17 ESV)
He is Always Available: “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, ESV)
He Can Totally Relate: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV)
He is my advocate, He gives rest to my restless soul, He loves even during hard times, He is always available, and He can totally relate to me in everything. He is my Friend.
If I want to overcome ministry loneliness, I need to remember and mentally alert myself to these truths. My friendship with Jesus Christ is the foundation for how I overcome ministry loneliness. If I, as a Christian in vocational ministry, don’t remember that Jesus is my Friend, then I’m a total idiot.
When it comes to overcoming ministry loneliness, I understand that we need others as well. While I would never say that Jesus alone is not enough for friendship, I do affirm what God said to Adam when He created him, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
We need friends–human ones we can touch, talk to, hear from, receive encouragement, feedback and accountability. Oh how we await that Day when we will be with Him our Perfect Friend forever.
Look at this LifeWay Research graphic. You’ll see that 55% of pastors polled are favorable to this idea that “Pastoral ministry makes me feel lonely at times.”
Yes, pastors need friends.
A valued social connection is priceless, and a natural desire.
How to Find Friends as a Pastor
Here are some ideas for finding those people that are vital for your well-being as a Pastor seeking to overcome ministry loneliness.
1. Attitude is everything. Attracting others depends on you, and not just your looks. A smiling person who laughs a lot draws admirers and friends.
2. Take initiative to get out of the house (or the office). Keep your hook in the water, so to speak. Meet with church members you respect and try to talk about life other than ministry “business.”
3. Involve yourself in a community that promotes areas of interest or passion. We all know church isn’t always the easiest place for its leaders to find friends. Go to the gym, Trail Life USA, sports clubs, investor’s groups, or some other organization in the community where people of similar interests congregate. You can always go to Meetup.com for ideas.
4. Brush up on your communication skills. Brian Tracy has a great program on developing this called “Effective Communication.” Try it! You may simply need to brush up on social skills. Many of us Type-A men leaders have a hard time talking about lighter subjects than Dispensationalism or defending Creationism to agnostics.
Learning to Engage in Friendship
Learning how to overcome ministry loneliness is an art where you will have to learn how to be a friend. We need friends. One consequence of loneliness is that a person becomes more sensitive to, and will be on the lookout for rejection and hostile encounters. We become guarded and wary in social settings, which inhibits building new friendships.
Try to be positive in your assumptions about others that you don’t yet know.
Be patient and consistent in dealing with your unmet social expectations. Balancing individual strength with the value of relationships is a war waged for a lifetime.
Overcoming ministry loneliness is something we all strive for. We exist for you. Remember Jesus is your Friend.
Come to the campfire. Sit. Listen. Engage. Encourage. We need each other, my friend!