The-Lonely-Pastor

The conversation took place just yesterday. A young man told me his dad, a pastor, recently committed suicide. He talked about the pain his father experienced in ministry as well as the intense loneliness.

Though suicide is not an inevitable outcome, I do know the number of pastors experiencing loneliness is high—very high. I hurt for these pastors, and I want to help in any way I can. Perhaps my nine observations can be a starting point for a healthy discussion on this important matter.

Three Causes . . .

The three most common causes of loneliness shared with me by pastors are insightful:

1.     Church members do not want to get too close to a pastor. Actually it works both ways. The pastor is seen as the spiritual leader of the church. For many, it’s hard to get close to someone who holds a perceived lofty position.

2.     The pastor is accustomed to giving instead of receiving. In healthy relationships, both parties give and sacrifice. The pastor is accustomed to giving and ministering. Sometimes it’s hard to be on the receiving end.

3.     The pastor is in a defensive mode. Many pastors have been burned and hurt by church members. As a consequence they are always “on guard,” rarely able to lower their defensive shields to be in a healthy relationship.

Three Dangers . . .

Here are the three most common negative consequences of loneliness straight from the mouths of pastors:

4.     Burnout. Healthy relationships energize people. Loneliness depletes people of energy. The lonely pastor is more likely to experience burnout than those pastors who have developed mutually healthy relationships.

5.     Moral failure. Unfortunately some pastors seek to fill the voids created by loneliness by entering into inappropriate relationships. Ministries are destroyed and families are torn apart.

6.     Depression. Some level of depression is inevitable with the lonely pastor. Some of it can be very serious.

Three Solutions . . .

I plead with pastors to who are experiencing loneliness to take one or all of the following steps:

7.     Find a confidant. Be intentional about developing a healthy relationship with someone. That person may be a pastor in another town, but don’t stop until you have found such a person,

8.     Involve your spouse. Many pastors are reluctant to involve their spouses in the messy details of church life. I would hope that you view your spouse as your best friend with whom you can share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

9.     Get professional help. Pastors are among the last to seek professional help. Unfortunately, their loneliness can degenerate into depression causing them to leave the ministry and even have suicidal thoughts. Please get help before it’s too late.

What insights can you offer on pastoral loneliness? What suggestions do you have for lonely pastors?

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Comments

  1. Milton Kornegay says

    Use moments when loneliness creeps in to cultivate intimacy with God. I’ve found that my heart can be very sensitive to what God is saying during times when I feel lonely.

    • says

      Milton, I agree! As a pastor who’s struggled many times in ministry I identify with you. As a result of my own struggles I have a ministry to encourage, help, and support struggling ministers called Redemption Ministry. If you’d like, go check out a few comforts God has comforted me with in my struggles. From the website, click on “For Ministers.” I will be praying for you… http://www.redemptioinministry.org

      Ron

        • says

          Ron,

          I would LOVE to talk with you. I have been ministering to pastors, missionaries and church leaders for the past 4 years. My ministry is called Renewell…… for pastors to renew well and stay renewed. I walk alongside “the guys” as a friend, confidant, encourager, life coach, shoulder to lean on… with a heart of Jonathan to serve and support as the Lord leads.

          Blessings and keep up your much needed work!
          John

    • lisa says

      GOD knew I WOULD NEED TO REMEMBER WHAT HE DID FOR ME YRS AGO BECAUSE HE KNEW I would be lonely most all my life, was a visitation telling me he loved me, he was my friend and that he understood me. I am not a Pastor or a pastor’s wife. Maybe stepping down and being just the one that goes to church will help.

      • lisa says

        I have some insight from the Lord about my own life That I need to return to him whole heartily and fall in love with him like at the first when I came to know him with the burning flame of fire! He say’s he will never leave nor forsake us, he is always there though sometimes it feels he is nowhere to be found. If he spoiled his children they would not learn discipline, and just waiting on him. His timing isn’t our timing but he comes in the nick of time. Love never fails. If it looks like it does that just means he has something else in mind for us. He is the potter we are the pottery being fired many times will create and Beautiful piece of art. Everything we need to know is written in his word and that book of his is a mystery, and when it’s time for you to know something different he will allow you to see it. FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM AGAIN is all I’m saying. Him being #1 before anyone of anything. God bless everyone that reads this He will continue to create what he has started in us! With long life will he show us his salvation. Ask the Holy Spirit to renew your spirit in him and he will do it. Amen.

  2. Todd Benkert says

    Great article on a common pitfall in ministry. I cannot count the number of times and periods of my life I have felt and described myself as “alone.” What has helped me is solutions that correspond more directly to the causes you mentioned. I.e. 1. Build healthy relationships and close friendships within the church. 2. Allow others to minister to you and willingly receive their ministry. 3. Let your guard down and risk being hurt.
    I’ve also found it helpful to be in a small group with other evangelical pastors.

    Thanks for the helpful post.

  3. tim smith says

    Thom,
    Reading your post this morning made me think of a conversation my wife and I had a few weeks ago. She specifically mentioned a convention sponsored meeting designed to help pastors and their families 22 or 23 years ago. In a session for pastor’s wives they were told not to “befriend” church members because it would make problems in the church. The idea that the pastor’s family can not or should not have close friends in the church has been taught or at least implied for years. Along with your comments I believe this mindset has lent to the problem you have written about. I am thankful my wife and I are great friends with each other. We have recently resigned as pastor of the church we have served for twenty years. It was a great 20 years with people we love and who loved us, yet we have no “close friends” as a couple. In our next ministry we plan to be more intentional working on friendships with people where we serve.

  4. says

    Great article. The one thing I’m not sure about is bring your spouse fully on board. I think it is important that my spouse knows that there is frustration in a general sense, but I don’t want her to carry the same burden I do with the specifics. I think that is better carried by a confidant not in the same church. So for me, I share the details with other pastors. I share the generalities with my wife.

    • says

      I can defenitly see your point in this. If your spouse knows all of the “dirt” it makes it harder for her to build good relationships with the members of the church because she knows thier “secrets” that they felt only you were going to hear. Finding a friend in a different church or even a different feild of work to talk with would probably be more beneficial, not only to the church but your marriage. While keeping everything from your wife makes your marriage a challenge burdening her with all of it is too much as well. It requires Godly wisdom to find that balance. Thanks for pointing that out Stewart!

    • Eric Linthicum says

      I agree. There have been times of conflict in my ministry that I am glad my wife and kids didn’t know who said what. The whole thing got resolved, but unlike me, they didn’t have to go to worship a single Sunday because of it. My wife knew I was hurting and she let me know she cared, but I never disclosed the details. We just prayed that “the issue” would be resolved in a way that brought God glory and blessed those involved.

      Other then that, I concur whole heartedly with this article.

  5. says

    Thom,

    another great article. As I read this I get worried about entering the ministry field. I say this becasue I suffer from health condtions that cause deep seated depression at times already. I feel that the Lord has called me to this profession and as Spurgeon said “if you can do something other than pastor, go and do it.” Well, I dont feel I could do anything else it is my hearts cry and has been growing over the last decade since it was placed on my heart. No matter the challenges I have faced it continues to grow. I digress, my concern is how should a young pastor getting started avoid these pitfalls from the start? Maybe that could be a different post to answer that question. I do appreciate your post and their pastoral perspective, that is why I visit and follow on FB.

    Paul aka preach

    • Thom Rainer says

      Paul -

      A few days ago I wrote a post about thirty things I’ve learned after thirty years in ministry. Though each point is more pithy than detailed, they might offer some insights from a veteran who often learned the hard way. Bless you my friend as you continue to discern God’s plan for your life.

  6. says

    Great thoughts about the challenge of a balanced life in ministry. I am reminded of the book, “The Walk on Water Syndrome”. One of the challenges is is in having balance in life and ministry. A key component in the equation is balanced relationships. It is my perspective that core identity and professional identity must include open and honest relationships of giving and receiving. Pastors are no different than anyone else. The y want love, appreciation, affirmation, and relationship. The challenge is getting past expectation driven roles instead of functioning out of a unique personal and spiritual identity. This is a major challenge for pastors and people to manage in the church. Mother Theresa said, one of the greatest problems tn modern culture is loneliness. It will be lonely if we do not find ways to develop a fundamental, basic human need for relationship and fellowship with others. Great advice Thom… :-)

  7. says

    Unfortunately, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two separate things. I learned all these steps in seminary. When it came to putting them in practice, it was too little, too late. Thank God He kept me from taking my own life, as I intensely wanted to do at times. But it became painfully obvious to me that I couldn’t continue as a pastor, because it just hurt too badly. I pray for those who are still in the fire. Thanks, Thom, for your wise counsel and concern.

    • Thom Rainer says

      John -

      I am thankful to God that He saved you from suicide. Thank you for a sharing a “dirty secret” of too many pastors — suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately some of those thoughts have become reality.

  8. Matt H says

    What I have observed also is that not only are pastor’s relationships shallow and/or lacking, it seems like a lot of times they are in a spiritual low place as well. They are not spending time in the Word, in prayer, or other spiritual growth practices. We obviously read the Bible because that is part of our “job” but it’s easy I truly believe for the Bible become merely a textbook to us instead of a life changing experience for us. Pastor’s need time studying the Bible for sermons and lessons, but also separate time for their own soul. I have observed this in my own life and it is a tough rut to get out of. I believe it’s important to have those close relationships with people who challenge you and spend time in the Word with you as well.

    Thank you for all you do Thom! I greatly benefit from your writings!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Matt -

      Excellent points. When we fail to spend time with God through His Word and in prayer, we indeed do become more vulnerable to spiritual and emotional attacks.

  9. Joy says

    My husband and I have been in ministry together for 25 years. We are best friends and closer than ever. We share the ‘good, bad and ugly’.
    I know my husband has held back some details over the years, but not many. We have gone through some very tough times in church and we have needed one another. Wives need to know they are trusted by their husbands and are their partners in ministry. But, we wives also need to always keep in mind that we are responsible to the LORD for our responses, attitudes, and reactions just as much as our husbands.
    Thank you, Mr. Rainer for point #2 as I wish more pastors would involve their spouses more. Great article!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thank you Joy. I have heard from countless wives that they wish their pastor/husband would be more open with them. They know when something is wrong, and they tend to imagine a worst case scenario than reality. Most are actually relieved when they hear the precise nature of the problem.

  10. Ruben Ortiz says

    As Matt said Spiritual Formation is the key. I’m pastoring the same church for 12 years and I’ve had several crisis. Being a Hispanic pastor makes it even more difficult. I always said Jesus save my life and Spiritual Formation save my ministry. There is a big difference between loneliness and the practice of the necessary solitud. I highly recommed the Academy for Spiritual Formation from Upper Room Ministries.

  11. says

    I’ve had that “close confidant” relationship with two different pastors, and perhaps a third. They’ve involved pastors of other churches as well as a church of which I’ve been a member.

    I think it would do a pastor a lot of good to know that someone in his congregation KNOWS the deal. That the pastor is a man to whom God has sovereignly given the desire to preach, but that’s not inherently different from, say, the fact that God sovereignly assigned me to be a Christian businessman. Different functions, same standards.

    We also need to keep in mind that we must not let what a pastor is NOT, interfere with what God has, in them, for us. Organized or disorganized, neat garage or messy (like mine), fashionable or not (to my tastes) are all irrelevant in the light of what the pastor IS to be.

    It’s good, but difficult, if that friend is a member of the same church. That way, at least someone in the pastor’s flock knows the deal and can speak to difficulties among others who don’t have that same relationship.

  12. Lisa S says

    I want to share what comes to my mind as I read this article. It reminded me of the apostle Paul who had every reason to be depressed and to want to commit suicide. But he didn’t because he knew and lived by the power of the Holy Spirit Who kept him from all those pitfalls mentioned above. I wonder why so many pastors and Christians get depressed and stay there because there is no greater power and might than our Lord’s. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is ours! It can lift us up from depression and lonliness. It’s He who works in and through us. It’s “His divine power that gives us everything need to live a godly life” 2 Peter 1. I sense that many pastors and Christians know this and other passages of Scripture but they don’t believe that it’s true. God is not a liar therefore we can’t allow any reason or excuse for pastors or any Christian for committing suicide or for feeling so lonely. I remember a time when I felt so lonely I didn’t want to live anymore. But that was before I came to know God and was known by Him. Since then I have not had any feelings of lonliness or depression that took over my life. I’ve had depression at times but I recognized it and it drew me in to the Lord’s arms and brought me closer to Him and stronger in my faith. His power was stronger than the depression. We can’t forget God’s truth which sets us free. It doesn’t bind us or cause us to live as slaves to sin or to thoughts that are not of Him. “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Cor 10:5. We really need to take a hard look at this and remind ourselves and others to live by the Spirit and never to underestimate Him. All of us, including pastors must examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. Just because someone said the sinners prayer once doesn’t make them a Christian. There must be conversion, not just a confession of speech. No conversion equals damnation and unfortunately many preachers, pastors, churches and Christians are teaching a “method” of salvation that’s unbiblical and is leading many death. No one is immune to temptation which is we must grow in Christ and get stronger and stronger in our faith making sure that what we believe is the truth and not man made religious or politically correct doctrines.

    Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

    • Barry Bishop says

      Lisa,
      I think you should be cautious in admonishing pastors who have suicidal thoughts that this is an indication that they are not really saved. Examining themselves IS the problem. Those in depression need to look outward to God for help, hope, and change and not inward at their problems. The Lord brought me back from the brink a few years ago (yes, suicidal thoughts, after my conversion and after becoming a pastor) by using Psalm 77, and 103. Remember that suicide (which is a sin and self-murder) is really an escape. It is a permanent solution to temporary problems. It is an appealing option to those in despair and who feel like the world is crashing in on them. Have you ever thought, “I sure wish Jesus would return today”? It is a similar longing to escape the presence of sin. Anyways, I am glad you have a biblical view of salvation and a concern for methods that are creating false converts. However, I could easily imagine a depressed pastor (and myself a few years ago) reading your comment and concluding, “I guess I really never was saved. There is no hope for me. I might as well die.” This may not seem to make much sense to you in light of the verses you shared but let me tell you that when people are depressed and suicidal their thoughts don’t make sense either. It is a prison of despair. Exhorting them to believe the things about the power of God for victorious living can push them further down. Exhorting them to look to God and trust Him with the future can be helpful. This is a fictional story that I wrote that is nevertheless drawn from real experiences in my life. I hope this helps others. http://unexpectedending.blogspot.com/2013/04/on-edge.html

  13. Lisa S says

    It seems we should consider whether or not we’re going about “church” the way Jesus intended. Jesus came to establish His church here on earth, He didn’t come to establish another religion. But this is what man has turned it into. In light of so many pastors (overseers, shepherds etc) having so many problems shouldn’t we consider whether or not the position itself is what God intended. Did God intend for the church to be run like a business? And what about church discipline? That’s something that’s very rare because of how much of the world is in the churches and how Christians have adopted and adapted to worldliness notions like “do not judge.” Jesus didn’t stop at “do not judge.” And Jesus did say, Let those who have ears, hear. I pray and hope that those reading have ears to hear.

    • Barry Bishop says

      Ah, now you are raising a different but good question, Lisa. And the answer is, “To the teaching and to the testimony!” (Isa. 8:20)

      • Lisa S says

        Barry, I appreciate your comment and I’ll read your story, thank you. I’m sorry you took my comment as an admonishment when my intent was to encourage others to seek God first and to trust and believe Him. I have come to understand that just because someone says they’re a Christian it doesn’t mean they are. Jesus said that we will know them by their fruit. I’ve also come to realize and understand that to be a Christian we need to have thick skin. We are warned ahead of time that we will be persecuted in various ways, maybe not as terribly as some but we will be. Paul talks about going into training, he talks about soldiers. We need the armour of God on. We need to “put on” Christ and wear Him as a garment. And we will have trouble…but no trouble that Jesus hasn’t overcome and get us through. I have never been to seminary but from what I’m seeing as a result of going is not good. There’s much of the world in it and it’s leading pastors to a dead end! Is this being addressed by Christians/seminaries? My husband and I have a friend who is 90. He calls seminaries “cemeteries.” He doesn’t say it that way to criticize but he’s seeing something and calling it what it is. Others have said the same thing and others agree.

        There is truth in what God tells us for a reason. That reason is so that we don’t get depressed to the point of suicide or feel lonely. No Christian ever has to feel lonely, no Christian should. But sadly this isn’t the case. It seems the majority or almost the majority of them do.

        Many who profess to be Christians, pastors or not, even though they may have knowledge “about” God (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Scripture and some may even a college degree, don’t “know” God and are not known by Him and they don’t know it. This is what’s going on today and it’s not a criticism, it’s a huge concern. Saying this and writing the comment that you responded to was not meant to cause anyone to go further away from God but to draw near Him. If we don’t then no amount of counseling or articles like this one will help anyone. Christians must be proclaiming the power of God in situations like this and not man made methods or tactics. There’s too much of that going on in churches and within Christianity. There’s a reason these pastors feel lonely and have little or no relationships, neither of which should be. Instead of coming up with ways to help these pastors in the flesh, we should point them to the only One who can heal them, encourage them to live by the Spirit etc. But they must believe and they must confess their unbelief to themselves and to the Lord and anyone who the Lord puts on their heart to confess it to. We should never teach anyone that God’s truth can be trumped by man’s methods. That’s a dead end.

        PS This comment is not meant to offend anyone but to encourage us all to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to us.” Matt 6:33

        • Allen Calkins says

          Lisa,
          I appreciate the sincerity of your contributions and comments and your desire to share a helpful word. However, I believe it is rather simplistic to suggest those having serious emotional problems, pastors or not, are either not saved or not in right relationship with God, or not fully surrendered, etc. Blaming the broken for being broken is not very helpful. Pastors can be saved, called, surrendered and committed and still suffer with relational issues that can lead to depression, despair and worse. The human spirit is more fragile than most of us are willing to admit.

          • Lisa says

            Hi Allen,
            I’m not sure where you got that I was saying these pastors were not saved I was simply stating what is stated in Scripture, “to examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith.” This is critical for all believers whether pastors or not. And sadly this is something that is rarely talked about or done within Christianity. It seems everyone “assumes” because someone is a Christian they read Scripture and put what God says into practice but this is not the case most of the time. And because of that, from what my husband and I have seen people tend to go off in their own directions with beliefs, ideas, actions, perceptions, etc which leads them away from the Lord. It’s so important to be Christ conscious as we are taught in Colossians 3 and as Oswald Chambers talked about in the book, My Utmost For His Highest.

  14. rachel says

    i work all day in a kitchen on my own and then i go home to an empty house as my children have grown up and left but the most benifcial time to be with God and to truely get to know the truth of Jesus Christ is being alone they are the only ones i have to turn to talk to and be with i have lost a lot of friends and my parents.
    but when at work i am under presure but when i am at home i can do what i want and most of all i really get to know the truth in the bible instead of living the way others live .and that is the sadest thing with people of to day they do not learn to live with them selfs and they excpect others to constantly be there for them and when it comes to them being on there own and true reality kicks in they dont know how to cope and it is a shame because you are never truly alone and like your comment paul had reasons for depression and i understand that and wanted to finish mylife but the spirit in me is to strong every time i try it really stops me so like i said time alone is never time a lone it is with Heavenly Father
    God bless all

    • Lisa S says

      Rachel, that’s very encouraging to hear. A child of God is never alone. Jesus said He would not leave us orphans. How comforting. I pray others would find comfort and encouragement in that as well and look for peace and wisdom and knowledge and everything they need from our Lord. He loves us and wants us to know Him so well and be hungry and thirsty for Him. Amen to your post, Rachel.

  15. Doug Miller says

    Twice now I have been involved with a group of other pastors to study and pray together. Both times we met weekly and built relationships that were open enough that we could share what was on our hearts. We could confide in the group. This group has saved me, and others, from leaving the ministry altogether. I would suggest that any pastor who does not have this opportunity to call some pastors in your community to come together for this purpose. In our SBC community the Director of Missions is a good person to head this up. But whether you have this central person to start it or you do it yourself, make that first call. Find the first person who is also looking for such a group. Once you do you will have the nucleus for the group to be developed. Start from the beginning with the understanding that everything that is shared in the group stays in the group. Anyone violating this “rule” will be asked to leave. Unite this group with prayer; for repentance, for revival, for encouragement, for leadership. If there is nothing else to help the pastor combat loneliness, this group can, and will, make a world of difference.

    Thank you for sharing this. I pray that those pastors who are feeling this loneliness will find a group, or start one, so that God can use you as He desires.

    • Thom Rainer says

      That is a great idea Doug. Many denominations have key persons who could organize this group. And you’re right. Any pastor could take the initiative as well. Thank you for your excellent input.

  16. Allen Calkins says

    I served in the same Baptist church as an adult layperson for ten years before being called into ministry. During that time I tried hard to be a friend to the pastors and some other staff members as well. It is a challenging thing to do. Some pastors especially make it clear they are not interested. In those cases I just backed off. But for those who are willing, it can be a great blessing for you and them. However, the befriending layperson/couple needs to be aware of some needed ground rules:
    1) Do not excessively hover around the pastor and his family at church. If your friendship dominates the interaction time with the pastor at church it can create jealousy in other members by making it look like the pastor ‘plays favorites’. It can also keep the pastor/staff member from being as effective as they need to be meeting new people and building relationships with them for the church.
    2) Do not expect them to be as available socially as other people might be. Pastors are busy with many evening meetings and interruptions. They need some evenings with family or to ‘catch up’. Let them know you are OK with last minute cancellations due to emergencies or exhaustion. Do not expect them to ask you over as much as you ask them.
    3) Keep your interaction time and relationship building time out of their prime time as much as possible. Go out for an early breakfast on a weekday or get together on a non-church evening vs. after church Wed or Sunday when they might need to hang socially with other less connected folks. Listen more than you talk.
    4) Find ways to quietly be personally helpful. Volunteer to drive their kids with yours for ball practice, drop off some food without staying to help eat it when you know they are really busy, volunteer to babysit, or ask to keep their dog or water their plants when they are out of town.
    5) Be supportive. Write encouraging notes, brag on them to others in the church, be their advocate in good times as well as in difficult ones.
    6) Do not flaunt your friendship – Do not talk to others at church about what you do together as much as you might other relationships. And make sure you keep confidences! Which includes, never expressing what you think their opinion MIGHT be.
    Sadly, few folks have been willing to befriend me in the ministry in this way for all the reasons already stated. I rely primarily on my spouse, family and lifelong friends for the support I need to stay relationally healthy. I have also been blessed by building relationship with kindred spirit pastors I meet in my area of ministry in the local Baptist Association or from another church in the community.

  17. Poking The Fire says

    The depth of pain and hurt in ministry would shock most congregants. Many pastors suffer in silence. I know, I am one. Most denominational workers side with the church 90% of the time when they are asked to “mediate.” They say they are neutral, but they aren’t. Ministers need advocates who will not worry about denominational political correctness (Strong reality). What is needed are people who will tell church leaders, deacons, staff, and pastors they MUST work toward forgiveness… restoration… and reconciliation. Otherwise the message of redemption is compromised in the community. I have tried this only to be told redemption was not wanted. The landscape is littered with wounded ministers and broken churches as a result of not following Gal 6:1-2. Everyone says ministry to wounded ministers is needed, but… Well, let us pray God works to turn around a dirty secret in many congregations and heal both wounded ministers and congregations.

  18. Laura Williams says

    I am so glad I am my husband’s best friend. We are in a very painful time with our church, but God is strengthening our marriage and our walk with Him. I am thankful when my husband treats me like ‘fine china’. I am also thankful when he doesn’t protect me for fear I may respond sinfully. Thanks for challenging me to be a partner to my husband and not to take the easy way out. We are getting professional counseling and we will be developing deeper friendships and confidants. Thanks for your ministry to Pastors and families.

  19. David Townsend says

    We have so often been taught that a pastor should not share with those in the church what is going on in his life, his struggles, etc. I have recently found a pastor in a different church, actually different denomination with which to be a confidante. The only question I would have is that you are speaking directly to married pastors, and if you have a spouse to talk to that’s half the battle won right there. What about single pastors?

  20. Jim Fryer says

    I use a Triad of pastors. we allow ourselves to speak openly and honestly and confidentially about anything and everything. Trust is first given then earned. I look forward to these meetings every month where we talk and pray sometimes for large amounts of time.

  21. Allen Calkins says

    I have had different people to be confidants in the communities where I have served as pastor. Sometimes it has been someone easily found ministering close by in the same Association. Other times it was a pastor from another denomination or a former pastor in another church. There were times when I had to depend more on people who were not local, not as helpful but certainly better than nothing! But each time I had to find them, I had to discern them to be trustworthy enough to be a confidant and I had to make it a priority to devote adequate time to cultivate that relationship. I guess my point is that pastors should not wait for others to solve this problem for them. They need to take the initiative and keep looking for that person of kindred spirit until they find them.

  22. says

    I struggle greatly with #7 and #9. I know they’re both good advice, I just don’t like sharing anymore than I have to, which is why I rely so heavily on #8.

    Thanks as always for the advice.

  23. Kenneth says

    Dr. Rainer,

    I agree with all by number 8. My wife is my best friend and early in my ministry I would tell her everything that happened at the church. It wasn’t fair to her because church members would often approach her and either try to get her to make a comment on an issue or to get information from her about an issue at the church. She needs to be able to go to church and worship her Savior like anyone else and not feel upset at church member that was rude to me or critical of me.

    • Jason Williams says

      Kenneth,
      In reading your post I think to how my wife has been treated similiar. A question I pose to you and myself. Our we living out the biblical mandate when we don’t adress the sin of others in our congregation? I see those questions to our Wives being a oppurtunity to manipulate or gain access for power. If we never adress those things how will people grow out them. If the questions weren’t intended that way, shouldn’t we at least have a conversation and deal with the hurt feelings? I hope this is received as I intended, as deep heartfelt challenges to us to live out the example of scripture in our lifes.

      God Bless

  24. Chris says

    I have no long term friends as part of being moves so often by the bishop. Making a tough decision my family attends a more faithful church than the denomination I am a part. My colleagues in my denom believe as one DS told me ‘you are a good pastor but a bad pastor in our denom’. I lean on pastors in other non-denoms but they are skeptical of me because I am in a more liberal denom. I’ve been through counseling and should continue. I don’t know the point to my writing this. I am lonley. I am confused. I am afraid. But tomorrow I smile, I do it all so no one sees. I am a pastor.

  25. says

    Lifeway used to provide a ministry to pastors in crisis called “wounded ministers retreat” (horrible name, wonderful ministry). It saved my ministry. Would love to see it return. Also, it may help stop viewing the pastor as a spiritual leader on a higher plane, and see him as a regular guy with a specific calling/gifting within the body. Pastors often bring this on themselves by portraying themselves as different. We are not. We are flawed individuals with a different gift, but in need of the same care the body offers to everyone else.

  26. Hearts peak says

    Michael Y and others….. Check out http://www.standingstoneministry.org They exist for pastors both before and after they reach a crisis point. No one needs to be alone. They desire to be available before a crisis and to ‘head it off at the pass’ but can also help at any point.

    There are many who desire to stand with today’s church leaders.

  27. Rev. Betty Crocker says

    As a young Pastor not adding that I am a women Pastor I enjoy reading this web sight, it also teaches me a lot and what to look out for. I thank God I was introduce to this web sight. Since i’v reading I also has grown.

  28. says

    Thom, by the number of comments on this post, it looks like you have struck a nerve. We recently did a podcast episode about the isolated pastor. It is so easy for us to do – to be in the middle of ministry and in the middle of a crowd, and still find ourselves isolated. Isolated from meaningful, authentic relationships that nourish our souls. God is of course our strength, but he’s also invisible, and we do need Jesus with skin on to help us along the way… the Body of Christ. Your suggestions to be vulnerable and build relationships are great, and I’ve found they are not once for all actions, we have to decide to do these things over and over, or isolation and the ensuing loneliness creeps in. Thanks for your blog and podcast Thom!

    Jeff Keady

  29. Ken says

    I wonder if there is any difference in how a pastor of a small town, small congregation appropriately deals with this vs the pastor of a larger congregation in the suburbs. My wife and I planted our present church in a very small rural community nine years ago, and while we have many friends in the congregation, we have no confidants. I think there are several reasons for this. 1. We are outsiders and will always be outsiders. We did not graduate from the community HS, and because our kids were adults when we moved here, they did not attend the local school. In addition, we have no extended family in the area. So, we do not have the organic connections that are taken for granted by most members of the congregation. 2. As the solo pastor, I am always ‘on duty’. When someone invites us to their home, there is the likelihood that conversation will include counsel, theological questions etc. While that is good, and may be part of conversation whenever Christians gather, it seems that it takes on a different dynamic as a pastor. 3. Like it or not, and we shouldn’t, our cultural heritage leads people to think of Pastors as ‘different’. 4. My ‘caution’ light is always lit. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. I’ve learned from hard experience that I can never assume conversations will remain confidential, even when I specifically ask that they remain so. People are so accustomed to talking with life-long friends and extended family members that confidences can be broken without a person even being aware of it happening.
    The solution, I think, is forging relationships with other pastors, and in my case that meant developing those relationships with pastors in another community. The reward is well worth the effort

    • Lisa says

      Someone sent this to me today. This describes my husband’s and my walk with the Lord though my husband is not a pastor:

      THE LONELINESS of THE CHRISTIAN
      by A.W. Tozer

      The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world.

      His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorptions in the love of Christ; and because with his circle of friends there are few who share his inner experiences, he’s forced to walk alone.

      The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord himself suffered in the same way.

      The man (or woman) who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him.
      He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and over-serious, so he is avoided, and the gulf between him and society widens.

      He searches for the friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none, he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart.

      It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God. His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else.

  30. Vernon Wease says

    It is a tragedy that Pastors (like me) do not practice self care. It is easy to not pay attention to the warning lights of your life’s dashboard. Self awareness is the first thought I have. Second, deepen your friendships. the only thing worse than the issues you mentioned was to go through them in isolation. The only salvation to my sanity as a pastor is the one or two people I can really talk to. they help me bear my burden.

  31. says

    This article is right on. When I became a pastor I felt like the same person inside but was immediately treated differently. Usually esteemed, but it felt foreign. The longer you have the pastor title the easier it is to live for the expectations of others and forget that you originally became a pastor because you felt like God wanted to use you. Somewhere along they way it becomes a pursuit in keeping the people happy with you, and it’s hard to be friends with people you’re performing for. There is not an easy answer other than to tear down the pedestal you’re placed on every chance you get. To say, “I’m not perfect, I struggle just like you. We’re all in this together.”

    Finally, I would just add that it has been so healthy for me to have friendships outside of my church. Although, some of my dearest friendships are with people inside my church, I have sought to have both. Without friends outside your church you can begin to lose perspective especially when things get difficult in your church.

    • Allen Calkins says

      Good insights, Lane! Jumping off the pedestal is very important. The prestige of the pedestal is simply not worth the price you pay by becoming more and more detached from the people you have been called to learn of so you can love them and lead them like a good shepherd.

  32. Alan Todd says

    This is not just a Pastor problem but a Spouse and Child problem too. They are in the fish bowl too. I sent my child to the youth group at the church next door so she could be herself for a little while. While our spouse is our best friends they too need an outlet out of town or state!

  33. Pete Barker says

    35 years ago today as a 16 year old my father passed away. He had been a pastor in AZ during the 50′s-70′s. I can only think of a very few real friendships he allowed himself. That breaks my heart for him. There would never have been an article like this back then. It is good that awareness has grown. There are many miles to go for this to be in the healthy place that I believe God desires. In “Dangerous Calling” Paul Tripp raises many issues about the culture of ministry. One of those is about what he calls “The sanctification of the Body.” He asks “Where did we get the idea that pastors should live outside the Body?” I know two older pastors who resonated with this book even though it was painful and convicting for them to read. I was very challenged as a lay leader by it. I would call it a must read for young pastors who are just starting the journey.

    I understand the potential perils of relationships. Actually they are filled with fear and messiness for those of us not in vocational ministry too. Our enemy wants nothing more than for fear to keep us all from the very relationships that our Father wants to use in the process of transforming our lives and being our very provision for this life. After all we will spend eternity in relationship with Him! Pastors face the fear of relationship. I believe with all my heart that it is God’s design for our lives.

  34. says

    thanks for sharing….we only have to draw to what the hymn song says…”what a friend we have in Jesus,,,”i do experience loneliness in the ministry especially that i do care relationship but i need to face the reality that nothing lasts,everything is temporary even friends in the ministry..

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