Pastors are leaving vocational ministry at an alarming rate. Coupled with slow church planting, the problem threatens the church’s existence. The pandemic accelerated the pain, but this is systemic and ongoing.
As we wonder what can be done, I want to spend a few weeks exploring possible solutions on this website.
This Is a Big Problem
The number one reason pastors who have left specify is that they quit due to intense feelings of isolation and loneliness.
The good news is that many who quit took jobs in supporting roles in other churches. The bad news is that many did not. Along with them, they deprived the church of their training and enthusiasm.
You can feel isolated from your own family. You come home, eat dinner, and go to bed, having spent a few precious minutes with your spouse and children. The church and incessant time demands interfere with your family life to the point that many pastors’ children abandon the church or their parents as adults. That isn’t very comforting but all too real.
Alone On a Pedestal
Perhaps the worst problem that leaders face is being put on a pedestal.
You’re being asked to live to a different standard than everybody else at church. The pedestal insulates you from the body of Christ.
Sometimes we put ourselves on a pedestal because doing so gives us a sense of control or dominance over a congregation. Many pastors are guilty of this. Humility works a lot better! And, for whatever reason you find yourself there, people will kind of back away from you because they see you as a holy man. You become an untouchable, an outcast. In that elevated position, you’ll never develop the right kind of friendships to strengthen the life of your church,
Many of us do not engage in proactive disciple-making. Again, we face ministry pretty much by ourselves.
Some of us isolate ourselves because of a need for self-protection. You may be in a church where a toxic element threatens you, or perhaps the entire church is unhealthy. Either way, you find yourself backing away while building a layer of insulation around yourself.
At Loss In a Crowd
You may feel alone in a crowd.
I can remember eating at home before attending church potlucks. I learned this early. At such events, I’d be so busy talking with people who saw their chance for a few minutes with the pastor that I’d get to the food line when there was nothing left but rice and mashed potatoes. I was alone in a crowd without any meaningful conversation with people I knew and who knew me well (I also left hungry, which is not usually a good thing).
These feelings of loneliness and isolation are not just feelings—they result from actual isolation. Some of this goes with the territory. That’s scary, but there are things we can do to overcome the problems. It’s just a part of being a pastor.
The combination can be lethal. But there is always tomorrow. And there’s the Lord who’s on our side.
One Small Step
I’ve learned to get out of bed each day, quoting a bit of scripture, “This is a day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I’ll do this despite what I believe are fiery darts from the enemy. Spiritual warfare is real, but I choose to stand firm this day. And I’ll do the same tomorrow and the day after.
I want to stand with Paul when he says he doesn’t consider himself to have arrested that for which Jesus Christ arrested him. His advice is worth following when he says he’ll forget yesterday and press on to whatever he faces, including tomorrow, next week, month after that. Along with him, I try to press for the mark of the prize of the high call God in Christ Jesus.
I’m looking for God to do good things in my life. I’m trusting Him to do good things in your life.
We need to hang in and trust the Lord while working against isolation and loneliness. Your life may feel like a prison. If it does, remember the passage in Jeremiah where God talks to the captives in ancient Babylon. A whole nation of Israelis living in captivity. They struggle and wallow in their problems. They refuse to sing the praise songs of Zion.
Rejoicing is no option for these folks, as often seems the case for many of us. The Lord promises them only good things. He adds that he has a future and hope for a people held captive by circumstance.
I believe the same holds for those of us held prisoner in what began as a bright calling. We’ll see victory if we persevere. But, perseverance isn’t the same as lying around hoping for a better tomorrow. There are practical steps out of the isolation trap. We’ll look at some in the next few weeks.
So, what have you done to overcome feelings of aloneness in pastoral ministry? We’d like to hear from you in the comments box below—remember, it’s the only way I have of knowing if this site is doing any good—I get lonely too!
Catch the video at https://youtu.be/RRp55ui73LA