Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Overcoming the loneliness of leadership

These are some thoughts from a chapter in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry entitled "The Pressures of Being Alone."  Whether one is in ministry or in another position of leadership there will be those times when you are all alone.  You will have to make decisions that no one else understands because they don't have the information you have.  There are sermons to prepare, there are people who will need to share with you some of the most painful details of their lives, and there is the need to spend quiet time alone with God to prepare yourself for the work to which He has called you.  The responsibilities of leadership force us to experience many hours of being away from other people.

Such loneliness can have a negative impact on the minister, the church, and his or her family.  It is a proven fact that one cannot resolve conflict and clarify issues merely by thinking about them.  We need others to talk to in order to make the best possible decisions.  Spending too much time alone can lead to stress and depression which has caused some to leave the ministry.  Spending too much time isolated from others can lead to poor moral and ethical choices.  One study found that 75 percent of clergy who left the ministry due to sexual misconduct reported feeling alone and isolated.  Pastors and others in leadership need to intentionally develop relationships with key people to ensure they do not become isolated.

If I returned to pastoral ministry there are several teams I would want in the church I served.  One would be a leadership team.  In a larger church this team may come from the staff, but in smaller churches it would be composed primarily of lay people.  The people I would ask to be on this team would be people who were godly, spiritual people, people who were competent, and people who shared my vision for ministry.  They would help hold me accountable for the choices I made, and they would help me make better choices.  This would not be an "official" church team.  No one would vote on these people serving in this capacity, and they would not have any official duties as a part of this team.  I would select the persons I wanted to be a part of this group.

The second team I would develop would be a pastor's prayer team.  We actually had that in the church I served, and it was a tremendous blessing to me.  Several men in our church felt led to begin a pastor's prayer team, and each Sunday evening they and a few others would meet with me before our evening service to spend about one-half hour just praying for me and my wife.  I believe to this day that it turned our church around, and it helped me become a much better person and minister.

In addition to teams within the church I would want to create relationships with people outside the church.  This would include trusted colleagues who understand the challenges of ministry.  This group might include other pastors and counselors in the community.  Without my violating confidentiality this group could provide me with suggestions how I could help some of the hurting people who would come to me for advice.  I would want a coach, and I would probably require the church to pay for that before I would agree to serve there as pastor.  I have had the benefits of having a coach in the past, and I have had the privilege of coaching a number of pastors since then.  In my opinion, every pastor needs a coach to help him or her work through the challenges that come to every leader.  The congregation would receive the benefits of their minister having a coach, and they should be willing to pay for that.  Finally, I would seek out someone to serve as a spiritual director.  This person would help me maintain a growing relationship with God.  Over the years I have recognized times in my own life when that relationship was not nurtured as it should, and I have seen many other pastors struggle with that as well.  Those of us in leadership simply cannot ignore our personal spiritual development or we will soon find we have nothing to share with others.

For more information on how you can ease the stress of loneliness, and many of the other stresses church leaders face, I encourage you to read the book mentioned above.

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