A 2005 study found that feeling isolated and lonely was one of the top four reasons ministers gave for leaving the ministry. There are stresses associated with feeling alone and having no one to talk to, and sometimes these stresses can lead to depression and burnout. When this happens some ministers feel they have no choice but to leave the ministry.
Loneliness can also lead to sexual addictions and misconduct. This same study found that 75 percent of the people who left the ministry due to sexual misconduct indicated they were lonely and felt isolated from others.
The stress of feeling alone in ministry affects not only the minister but also his or her family. They can sense the stress their loved one feels and want to help, but there are many aspects of ministry that cannot be shared with family. Seeing the family's frustration with not being able to help only adds to the stress the minister feels.
So what can be done? In my book The Healthy Pastor: Easing the Pressures of Ministry I devote an entire chapter to the problem of loneliness in ministry and offer several ways to address this sense of loneliness.
Every pastor should have a prayer team who can come alongside to pray for the minister and his or her family. When I was a pastor a group of deacons approached me asking if I would agree to meet with them each Sunday evening before the service for a 30 minute time of prayer. This prayer time would focus entirely on me and my family and any needs I wanted to raise. It was a very powerful time that I looked forward to each week, and it had a great impact on my family and me as well as the church.
Ministers also need trusted colleagues they can talk to. These may be ministers from another denomination, a trained counselor, a judicatory leader, or a coach. One must be careful not to violate confidentiality, but this can be done by talking about issues and not individuals.
Those of us in ministry are called to be spiritual directors for those we serve, but how many of us have spiritual directors ourselves? Such a person would help us with our own spiritual development, and this is essential to combat the sense of loneliness as well as many of the other challenges of ministerial life.
Finally, we must not forget prayer. We are never alone. God is always with us and is eager for us to share our burdens with Him. Any time a minister feels alone it is an indication that he or she needs to stop and look at the time being spent with God.
There are too many dangers associated with feeling alone in ministry to ignore such feelings. The good news is that there are numerous ways to ensure that you are not alone. There are many ways to receive the support you need, and you should take advantage of as many of them as possible.
In the book I address 13 other pressures that ministers often face. While we may never be able to remove them entirely, there are ways to ease those pressures and make them more manageable.