Do wide open spaces freak you out? Or, to be more specific, does the idea of being stuck in desolate places unnerve you? If the answer is “no”, you should probably go back and join your robot people because whenever I watch a movie where the protagonist finds themselves trudging through a never-ending desert, or stuck on an uninhabited island, or (here’s the ultimate) alone in space facing disaster, it evokes a feeling in me best described as dread.
Being alone in a hostile environment is about as far away from God’s good design for us as you can get. We were meant to be in perfect relationship with God and one another in a garden with every good thing in it (Gen 1:31). Deep in our bones is the desire for this peace again. While we all long to not be isolated, if we were alone in a lovely place, coping would be much easier than in a desolate, hostile place.
A Hostile Loneliness
If you’ve made it this far in this post, more than likely you know where I’m going here: loneliness in ministry is an epidemic that affects so many faithful ministers and pastors and is, more often than not, lived out in a place of hostility.
If you feel isolated, alone, and unsafe in your ministry role, I am so deeply sorry. Your experience is not the way it’s supposed to be. I don’t know your exact situation, whether it be: a backbiting leadership team, a gossip-driven congregation, a conniving staff team, or a contrarian elder, but I do know the stress it places on you and your family to step out again and again into the fray.
I don’t know why you stay, but for a glorious and powerful sense of calling and conviction from the Lord, you decided to stick it out in your current position. For that it takes courage and there is much honor due for your faithfulness to the Lord. However, many of you feel there is a clock ticking, where even with a deep sense of conviction, you question how you can keep living in ministry this way. The short answer is you can’t. Something needs to change and you, by the grace of God, can be what changes. You may need to ruffle some feathers, but doing so helps right what is so wrong about your current situation and bring life back to the hostile loneliness you feel as you live in ministry.
Here are some practical steps to help you live in ministry through hostile loneliness:
Join a church network or denomination – If you’re not aligned with a like-minded organization, this is a great way to break the feelings of isolation. Press into all they offer and seek to serve others in the network too. If you’re already part of a network, reach out and ask for help.
Find a regional or local pastor’s group – Pastors get together for coffee and a chat all the time throughout your city. Reach out to a few of them, introduce yourself, and ask to be included in their next gathering. It might take this level of boldness to help you enjoy ministry again.
Find a cohort or para-church ministry that provides support for pastors and their wives – It might sound weird, but there are para-church ministries that offer support groups for pastors and their wives. Find a pastor’s retreat and go to it. Meet other pastors and ministers who are dealing with the same things you are — you’re not alone.
Participate in social media communities – I’d put this one as a last resort, but if nothing else works out, find or start a group on social media where ministry leaders interact and support one another. It’ll need to be tightly moderated, but could help in the short-term.
Breaking Free From Hostile Loneliness
Loneliness is not meant to be the norm. If you’re going to live in ministry, you must find a community of support to help you work through the ups and downs of ministry life. Living in ministry is more than just surviving; it’s living as God intended: in community with him and others for our good, joy, happiness, and God’s glory.
I pray loneliness never becomes the norm for you as you live out your calling in ministry.