It's a Lonely Ol' Night

Recently a friend of mine wrote on his blog about the factors that lead to lonely pastors, which has inspired me to write a few thoughts of my own on the subject. By the way, in my opinion, my friend Malcolm, is right on!  Check out what he has to say: 5 Factors That Lead to Lonely Pastors

I suppose I should warn you, I am about to be very transparent.

Being a pastor can be an extremely lonely occupation.  In 1998, I began working full-time as a pastor.  From '98-2004 as a Student Ministry Pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from 2004-2007 as an Associate Pastor in Coral Springs, FL, and for the past 4.5 years as the Lead Pastor with Oaklawn Church of God in Hot Springs, AR.  My family is in Louisiana and Indiana.  My wife's family is in Ohio.  Distance from close family is certainly a factor.  The obvious factors being holidays and special occasions which most folks get to celebrate with their extended families.  These can be enjoyed with "church family" but it's not the same.  Personally, I have quite a nomadic spirit, so this isn't a constant factor, but there are moments that it does register.  Dorothy was right, "There's no place like home."

The pastor is a unique individual.  Sometimes a spiritual adviser, sometimes a counselor, sometimes a confidant, sometimes a friend.  At the same time, each relationship a pastor has is unique.  The real problem lies in the fact that every single one of us, no matter our occupation, have certain people that come into our lives that we just click with. There have been people in the churches I have served, both young and old, both men and women, with whom I have connected with deeply and personally, and really enjoyed their company beyond the "pastor-pastee" relationship. Being someone with a "high I personality" (see the DISC personality profile), this actually happens a lot with me.  Every time this happens, jealousy rears its ugly head.   Spending time with a friend or family outside of the context being their pastor causes at least one other person in the congregation to take offense and make accusations of favoritism or clique-ishness.  I wish I could say this has been an "only once" occurrence in my ministry, or that it was relegated to "youth ministry."  Such is not the case.  I was told early on in my years of vocational preparation and education, "Pastors can't have close friends in their church."  For 14 years I shrugged that off as not necessarily so, but have come to experience the truth of the statement.

Each pastor has to deal with the loneliness of vocational ministry in his/her own way.  Being an extrovert, I get energized by relationships and connecting with people. First and foremost, my wife is my best friend.  I also devote a lot of time to our boys.  Something else that helps me is developing friendships beyond "church talk" with other pastors.  There are a couple of pastors locally that I connect with on a regular basis.  Sometimes it's all business - talking church and ministry and what we're reading or teaching, but often it's discussing our kids or sports or the latest technology  - the kind of stuff "real dudes" talk about.  And then there's a couple of people who I see regularly at the coffee shop I frequent.  We discuss sports, entertainment, culture, and even faith (which is refreshing in a "your-not-my-pastor" situation). And to be honest, this is the only circle of friends that I talk politics with.  If you want to know my political views, my coffee shop friends can tell you more about it than members of my congregation.

The real help, though, is in the Bible.  Story after story of leaders called by God for specific vocational mission seems to tell of the potential loneliness of faithful leadership, and over and over God tells them, "But I will be with you."  That's the real key, that's what gives me hope in moments of loneliness - God's promise that as I walk in His ways, and live & lead according to His Word, by the strength of His Spirit, He will be with me.


Unknown said…
Thanks for your honesty and openness in this post. It was hard to read the realities of "jealousy" and the challenge of having close friends as a pastor. I love that you have a group of local pastors you can connect with. I too have a group of 5 pastors I hang out with regularly. We invite other pastors, especially new ones in town, but many struggle to "take off the collar."

Keep up the great work you are a part of in Hot Springs!

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