Does it seem strange and sad that pastors are often the loneliest people in our churches and communities? More than half (55%) of pastors say being in ministry makes them feel lonely at times, according to a LifeWay survey conducted in 2011.
Isolation is a trap that leads to loneliness, which can lead to even darker places.
Two weeks ago my wife and I are moving 394 miles to our new home in Nashville. We have lived, loved, and served in Conway, Arkansas, for fourteen years and our good-byes this week are hard.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I say good-bye to my Arkansas friends, I am thanking God for each of them and also praying for new friendships to develop in Tennessee. I see at least four relationship circles where ministers and church leaders can and should develop strong, lasting friendships.
1. Church Friends
In my recent blog called Top Ten Ministry Myths, I exposed the dangerous myth that pastors can’t be friends with church members.
Most of my closest friends are staff, deacons, and trustees of the churches I have pastored. If the pastor is the leader of the church family, doesn’t it follow that he is also a member of it? How about his wife and kids? Isolation is the Devil’s most subtle snare. Refuse to accept that myth that loneliness and isolation are an acceptable price of pastoring.
This LifeWay study also found that 18% of pastors have more than ten close friends in their congregation. Sixteen percent have six to ten, 38% have three to five, 10% have two, and 4% have one friend. The saddest stat is that 12% of pastors have no close friends in their congregation (over 30,000).
Pastors, if you cannot find a friend in your church, you need to assess the condition of your own heart and make a change. When I read Romans 16, I see where the Apostle Paul greeted several as “dear friend” – most of whom I’ve never heard of (Epaenetus, Ampliatus, Stachys, Persis).
2. Community Friends
I will miss Conway because I was very connected in this community. My volunteer role as a police chaplain was very fulfilling to me, but, then again, I don’t need a lot of smiles and hugs. Perhaps you could try a civic club, sports team, or artistic circle.
People naturally gravitate toward things that interest them. I made many of my friends in Conway through bowhunting and fitness circles because that is what I enjoy. In my previous pastorate, I developed friendships through fishing and tennis.
I don’t really know how I will be involved in my new community of Hendersonville, although I doubt it will be golf because it just makes me want to cuss, which is frowned upon in my ministry circles.
3. Ministry Friends
Romans 16 also has a long list of ministry friends that Paul mentions most commonly as “coworkers.” Life is too short and ministry is too hard to go at it alone.
Isolation is not just a problem for introverted pastors. Although introverts don’t need many friends, they really do need and want friends. They are usually very loyal and often better listeners than extroverts, which is why I’m glad I married one.
Although extroverts seem to have more friends than introverts, their ability to work the room can be an intuitive attempt to avoid any real conversation or connection. Extroverts can be great friends too, which is why I’m glad I work for one.
I’m such a hybrid that I do not think I fit into either category – or care to. I just want to be a good friend and a Barnabas to others in the ministry.
4. Family Friends
It is not realistic to expect every family member to have the same level of friendship. Like any relationship, your return is directly tied to your investment. Just because people share a name or DNA does not mean that they will automatically grow closer over time.
Herein lies the greatest challenge in our move to Nashville. My parents will live 638 miles away; our daughter – 430; our son – 394; my siblings – 874; Janet’s sister – 1197. I have too many friends on the mission field who read my blogs to be tempted to complain. God appointed us to be members of our family circle before any of our other friends came along. Family will likely be in your circle long after many others have left, so give them the best of your time and attention.
Loners are losers, as are those around them. Avoid the Devil’s trap of isolation by giving yourself and others the gift of friendship.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time” Proverbs 17:17.