Yesterday, one of my staff, who has worked in full-time vocational ministry for the last year, asked, “Is it normal to be lonely in ministry?
I know the statistics on this subject are dismal, with many pastors feeling isolated and unsupported. I know the question was posed from the experiences of fellow ministers and their struggles with loneliness. But I also know ministry wasn’t meant to be done alone.
The Lord appointed seventy-two disciples and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus sent his disciples to share the good news of his Kingdom in an inefficient manner. Seriously, Jesus could have doubled their reach if he’d just sent his disciples out alone. He definitely won’t be invited onto the Effective Evangelism Conference circuit with such archaic methods. But, Jesus sends his disciples out two by two with great intentionality. Could it be that Jesus, by example, was helping us see something more important than our version of effectiveness in ministry? Of all the reasons the disciples would go about their mission “two by two”, could one of the primary ones be simply for companionship and friendship?
It’s not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18) extends past the need for procreation and to God’s design for his world. If we are going to serve the Lord, we must capture this reality in how we live in ministry. Isolation can’t be par for the ministry course. We need companionship and friendship in our ministry if we hope to last for the long run.
When Structure Isolates
Sadly, I know many church structures and cultures that are designed to pit their paid staff against their governing bodies in some foolish idea that somehow it will keep everyone focused on the mission, but that never happens.
The pastor versus the elder/deacon board or staffing structure battle raging in many churches doesn’t lead to a feeling of being “in the trenches together”, but to isolation and fear. This makes an already hard job even more difficult.
If you’re reading this and your experience of loneliness is reflected in the polity or structure of your church, I challenge you: even if you feel downright disrespected by your governing board or leaders, share your loneliness and sense of isolation with them and invite them into helping change your reality. It could go poorly, but let’s face it, it’s already going poorly. It may just be the catalyst for change that helps you stay in ministry.
Isolation is Dangerous
A lonely ministry leader is a ministry leader in danger. Isolation is not something we can handle for long. We’re simply not designed to work alone. The churches we serve and lead in must understand this. If we hope to last in ministry, we must find companionship and friendship in them as well.