Thursday, February 19, 2015

The loneliness of ministry

One of the stresses of ministry is the feeling that many of us have of being alone. It is a fact that much of what we do is done when we are alone. Sermon preparation is often done alone as we spend hours researching our text and preparing our message. When we counsel others we are often told things that we cannot share with other people including our spouses. We may have to make decisions based on information that others do not have. We are not always free to reveal that information to other people even when we are criticized for the decisions we made. We endure the criticism alone.

This sense of being alone can have devastating effects on us and our families. If a person believes that he or she has no one to talk to it can create enough stress in our lives to change our body chemistry and cause depression. This is known as endogenous depression and can be difficult to diagnose and treat because it may not occur until after the stressors are gone.

Loneliness can lead one to leave the ministry. One study found that feeling alone and isolated was one of the top four reasons clergy gave for leaving the ministry.

Loneliness has also been connected to sexual addictions and misconduct. A study found that 75 percent of the people who left the ministry due to misconduct indicated that they were lonely and felt isolated from others.

Anything that stresses us will also cause problems in our families. We don't walk out of the church office and flip off the STRESS switch. That stress goes home with us and impacts how we relate to family members.

What can we do to reduce the pressure of feeling alone? There are several that I discuss in my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry. One entire chapter is related to this problem, and the material in this post comes from that chapter. Here I will just list the suggestions made in the book for easing the stress of feeling alone.

  • Regardless of the size of church, every pastor needs to develop a ministry team to help share the burden of leadership.
  • Pastors need a prayer team who will meet with him or her on a regular basis to pray specifically for the pastor and the pastor's family.
  • We need to identify trusted colleagues with whom we can meet. This may be other pastors, a denominational leader, a coach, or a trained counselor the pastor sees on a regular basis.
  • There was a time when it was assumed a pastor would have a spiritual director. Few pastors have such a person in their lives now. Such a person could be a valuable ally to help us overcome our sense of loneliness.
  • We must never forget that we are never truly alone as God is always with us. A sense of being alone may indicate that we need to spend more time in prayer.
For more help with this pressure, and many others that pastors experience, I encourage you to read this book. You do not have to endure the various pressures you may feel in ministry alone. There are ways to address each of them. We may not be able to eliminate them, but we can certainly reduce the stress they cause us.

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