If you are in leadership, there is a good chance that you have seasons where you feel isolated. Somewhere along the way someone decided that church leaders in particular must be separated from everyone else. Sometimes that is self-imposed. We need boundaries and sometimes we place them too tightly. Sometimes we are worn out with people and we choose to invest in them as part of work, but our free time needs to be people-free. Sometimes we are afraid for people to see that we are just as much of a mess as everyone else. Sometimes people just don’t know what to do with us because we are the “professional” Christians. For whatever reason, many church leaders end up isolated and/or lonely. And I really do believe that this is of the devil.
Proverbs 18:1 says, “One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound wisdom.”
When we become isolated, we are lacking two extremely important elements of the Christian life. We miss community and accountability. God has called us to live this life together, and part of the reason for that is we need people who will encourage us and tell us when we are being stupid.
I believe every leader needs at least these relationships in their lives:
- A friend who has permission to ask you all the hard questions. It is way too easy to hide behind the mask of ministry. We all need a friend who loves us enough to know how we are doing emotionally and spiritually. We all need a friend who knows our struggles and loves us through them. When we do ministry without accountability, we are living in a very dangerous place.
- Ministry friends who live in other places. I mean, you can’t text anyone in your church about that late volunteer or the really awkward thing that just happened that only another ministry leader would truly understand. You need a safe person who will listen as you blow off some ministry steam. You need someone who gets it and has been there. Having someone in your shoes in another state give you unbiased advice about a situation is invaluable.
- Two o’clock in the morning friends. I don’t know if my dear friend who taught this term made it up, but I do know she is the one who jumped on a plane when my family needed her most. You need someone that you can call anytime of day or night and about anything. And by the way, those relationships don’t happen just by saying hello in the worship center. These relationships take time and investment. They are messy and sometimes hard. It is easier to stay disconnected sometimes. But these relationships are also full of love and laughter and good memories and everything else that “family” brings with it.
- Friends that you can talk to and not talk about church one bit. Ministry leaders tend to live and breathe ministry. It is in our DNA. Whether we recognize it or not, sometimes we just need to be a normal person. You need someone in your life that you can talk about anything other than church.
- Friends who are all-in with you in ministry. Unfortunately, some ministry leaders tend to be most disconnected from their own volunteers or congregation. Y’all, this is not just a time clock we are punching with co-workers we have to tolerate. God has placed us in an amazing adventure to share the best news of the universe with the whole world. And He lets us do that alongside other people. Find those people who are passionate and ready to change the world with you and dive in together.
So what if you just read all of that and are wondering where these friends come from?
- Step out of your comfort zone. Whether it is making yourself go be friendly or inviting someone in to hold you accountable, your next step is probably going to feel very uncomfortable. That’s ok. Do it anyway.
- Take the steps yourself. Invite people to lunch. Put reminders in your phone to reach out to people you are close to and intentionally deepen that bond. Go out to lunch with people. Invite them to your home. When you are wishing people would reach out to you, reach out to them instead.
- Find other people in ministry. Gather up the people who serve in similar roles in other churches in your community. Find out who you connect well with. Go to a conference and find people. Find a networking group online. Ask people questions and learn about what God’s doing in them.
Psalm 68:6 (NIV) says, “God sets the lonely in families.” The CSB version says, “God provides homes for those who are deserted.” God has created us to do this life together. Being a ministry leader does not exempt you from that. Go, find a new friend. Go, deepen the relationships God has already given you. Glorify Him through your community and accountability.