Ever been in the middle of a big crowd and still feel lonely? Empty? Disconnected? Think about the times you just seemed out of sync with the world, even though your schedule was filled with activities and other people. I think it happens to everyone at some time or another. And while it seems that ministers would be the last to be lonely because of all the church members who love them and want to be involved in their lives there are times when every minister might experience loneliness for very legitimate reasons. Think about the reasons it can be difficult to feel connected as a minister:
Expectations of church members:
- Unrealistic Expectations — Trying to be everything to everyone is an inherent impossibility to all ministers. When someone is in need, nothing else is as important as their experience. The ministering staff of the church is expected to drop everything and care for each and every church member . . . right!?? It’s unrealistic to think this is possible, yet it is the expectation of every church member. And the senior pastor is the one most likely to be expected to fill all of the expectations.
- Lack of confidentiality — What is said to the minister is to be held in complete confidentiality. There is no obligation for anyone else. Some parishioners are discreet and responsible with what is heard from a minster, but others aren’t able to contain what they hear. Ministers frequently fear what might be repeated and in what context their words might be broadcast.
- Fear of Criticism — Concerns that what is said might be misconstrued or criticized, even when made in jest, make it difficult to talk freely without measuring their words.
- Competition — Most people have some degree of a competitive nature, wanting to be considered above average or the best. Ministers are no different, and the fear of being seen as less than respectable in their work for God drives an unspoken competition. Being around other ministers may bring out that competitive drive and make it difficult to allow for closeness to their colleagues.
- Lack of trust — Because ministers are human, they too may have concerns about the motivation of other ministers resulting in a cautious distance by measuring the information they reveal about their personal or professional lives.
- Isolation — For the above mentioned reasons, it is possible that rather than socializing with other ministers, especially in other churches, is kept to a minimum. This leads to an isolation that doesn’t allow for development of a support group which is common to everyone’s needs
- Time — The minister’s spouse has legitimate reasons for being demanding of his time. What would be the purpose of marrying if there was no intent to spend time with the object of one’s affection?
- Possible financial constraints — Because most churches are limited in their ability to provide a generous salary for the ministering staff, or because there are members who believe ministers are only serving God for altruistic reasons and expect no remuneration, most ministers have significant financial concerns.
- Guilt — The guilt of not having the time or finances to provide generously for his spouse can result in an increased drive to be busy hoping to find satisfaction in ministry. This generates increased disappointment in the ability to invest in marriage, a frustrating and endless cycle.
- Parental obligations — Being the parent who is available for many of the children’s activities creates tension and disappointment.
- Recreation — Having leisure time to spend with the kids is always a struggle when there are so many church activities vying for the minister’s time.
- Guilt — Here, again, guilt may result from not being able to be the parent who is connected to his own children. This might be experienced by increased feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.
Family of origin:
- Loss of connection — Because the call to a church knows no geographical bounds, ministers are often separated from families of origin in order to serve God.
- Parenting parents — The separation from parents who are aging can add pressure to be the caring child that is preached and taught in the church.
- Pending and actual loss — When aging parents die following a difficult time of not being able to provide care, perhaps because of financial constraints, the feeling of loneliness for any minister can increase.
There are some relatively simple solutions for ministers who find themselves stuck in a busy, crowded loneliness, if they will take the steps needed to address the situation.
- Make family a priority — It’s hard for congregants to complain when a minister is practicing what he’s preaching
- Connect with colleagues who are trustworthy — Actively look for the other ministers who can be trusted and are genuine in their support.
- Cautiously find friends in the church where he serves — Be discerning in who can be trusted while being friendly to all.
- Be honest — Being lovingly honesty with family, the church members and self will be respected and protected by those who care.
- A counselor or coach – Find and meet with a trusted confidant with whom both frustrations and celebrations can be shared safely. A mentor or professional might be the best way to go.
Be encouraging and supportive of your ministering staff and the service they provide will be invaluable to those God has called them to serve.