The headcount of pastors leaving ministry roles is staggering sometimes. You most likely know of a pastor who has left full-time ministry or is thinking about it. And when asked about the reason behind this, the most common responses include:
- Moral failing
- Family difficulties
These are the commonly cited issues deterring pastors from continuing on in their ministry roles. And there are many others as well. But what if we have missed a core reason for these pastors’ departures? What if there was a deeper reason lurking under the surface?
As surprising as it may sound, many pastors actually leave ministry for one reason: Loneliness. Loneliness isn’t as understandable though. It almost seems selfish to say “ministry is lonely.” After all, if there is one job in the world where you are often around people, wouldn’t ministry be that job?
But it could be argued that there is no other job in the world where you can be so lonely, all while constantly being around people. The pulpit is a lonely place. Pastoral leadership is a lonely place. Anytime we are lonely, we are susceptible to extreme discouragement. The rising pressures of leading a church bring additional stress and the potential for loneliness as well.
In the midst of loneliness and discouragement, it’s easy to lose sight of our calling. You may find a lack of support from certain people. You may find discouragement when you consider various team members. But what does God say about our role? About your calling? His voice matters most.
We’d like to offer four helpful ways you can make sure loneliness doesn’t rob you from the joy of ministry….
Find strength in the Saints
Through stories of past saints, we can find fulfillment and encouragement knowing that they too dealt with loneliness. David, in his isolation and loneliness, was led to remember God’s faithfulness. You can read his personal responses and reflections all throughout the Psalms. Elijah, in his discouragement and defeat, was met with a practical need from God–food! Your feelings of loneliness and discouragement are valid, but the invitation here is to see how God wants to meet you and reconcile. Time and time again in Scripture, God shows up for the lonely. And their reward is greater than any momentary feelings of despair.
Find substance in Scripture
Scripture is what sustains us. In it we find the beautiful reminder that we never walk alone. Verse after verse gives us the assurance that we have a God named Emmanuel (God with us). If He is always with us, then we are never alone.
Find safety in servants
There are other servants who you can look to for safety. Many of these servants would be honored to walk alongside you in your loneliness. In fact, other people in ministry are often the safest people to open up to. They’ve experienced your struggles. They know the trap of loneliness. In ministry, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Find satisfaction in serving
It continues to be true that one of the best ways to get “out of a rut” is to simply serve. Sometimes ministry jobs are all about serving, so we fail to serve out of the overflow of our hearts. Perhaps you should evaluate where you are serving that doesn’t have anything to do with your job expectations. Press into it. Not to just be more busy, but to be busy doing the right things.
Loneliness has done more damage than perhaps any other weapon formed against pastors. Knowing that, it’s time to evaluate your loneliness. And then step into action correcting the problem. You’ll be so glad you did!