Whether you’re starting a church, beginning a new pastoring role, or stepping in to lead a ministry, no one usually introduces the position as a lonely one. We focus on the ministry potential, the congregation needing a shepherd, and the ways God will miraculously move to better His kingdom. And yet, a recent Barna survey shows 43% of pastors checking the box for “feeling lonely or isolated” as they consider quitting.
Once the initial adrenaline wears off from your exciting ministry role, you’re left with a sobering reality…this gig is kind of lonely.
If it makes you feel any better, you’re not alone in your loneliness. Many pastors experience this–like the 43% in the Barna survey. The good news is, we don’t have to settle for those stats.
What causes this pastoral loneliness?
Typical reasons for the loneliness pastors experience tend to stem from the following. Do you resonate with any of these?
- People tend to treat you differently, or they themselves act differently once you answer the question, “What do you do for a living?”
- You always have to be “on” when you’re around people, feeling the need to take on a leadership role.
- Everyone assumes you already have friends, so you’re often left out of invitations.
- With a spiritual leadership role, it’s difficult to open up to people with authenticity about what you’re going through.
- It’s too hard to let people in when they come and go from your church.
3 reminders for lonely pastors
If you’re experiencing one or all of those feelings, there is good news! You can take steps to move past the loneliness. Are you ready to be intentional and put in the effort to get there? Here are three reminders for you as you begin:
Reminder #1: You don’t always have to be “on” as a leader.
Let’s just throw that assumption out the window right here and now. Because the need to lead from a safe distance at all times can actually hinder your ability to connect with people personally. You know the difference between your stage voice and your real conversation voice. You know the difference between your polished answers versus your vulnerable honesty. Sometimes you need to shake off the stage pastor and open up to those around you. And this might mean taking more of a back seat when you’re used to leading the show or naturally commanding attention from a group.
Make it a practice to refrain from commanding the room at all times.
Reminder #2: People will disappoint you.
If you say “I told you so” and give up every time someone lets you down, you’ll never move past the lonely stage. The reality is, people will disappoint you. And something we don’t always acknowledge is…you will disappoint people too. It happens. We’re human. Incorporate a healthy dose of forgiveness into your relational diet, continue initiating, and see how God can still use messy people in your life. God will fill the relational holes in your life that are too big for others to fill anyway.
Don’t place God-sized expectations on people.
Reminder #3: It’s worth it to cultivate friendship.
Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it confusing at times? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely, yes. The quick answer for why it’s worth it is because God created us for community, and He’s lived in community for all of eternity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So don’t think you’re immune from the need to cultivate community as well. It might come from other church pastor friends. It might need to be family. But find someone you can trust, and be intentional with them about your relational needs. We tend to think these things will just happen naturally, but the reality is, sometimes you have to step into the awkward to get to a place of cultivated friendship.
Intentionally pursue an inner circle of friends.
If you’re waiting for a picture-perfect strategy to best friends…best of luck. It’s time to start with what you can do. Be honest. Take your requests to God. And begin seeking friendship. You just might simultaneously be the answer to someone else’s friendship prayer too.