We rarely allow ourselves to admit it. We resist it, deny it and internalize it. We never say it aloud, realizing few people can understand the simple fact that it can be lonely to lead.
I can't tell you precisely how loneliness seeps into my life. Sometimes loneliness is associated with a ministry disappointment or a dip in the number of students in my ministry. Sometimes it isn't. Occasionally it is related to the frequency of my quiet times. Sometimes it isn't.
I have experienced loneliness after great outreach events and during long elders meetings. I have felt it in church plants, small town ministry and the suburbs in small and large churches. No matter where I go, it is lonely to lead.
Even after many years of ministry, I am still surprised at this unlikely companion; but it is a companion for which I am tired of making excuses. Honestly, I am unsure if we can escape the impact of loneliness completely. Only by acknowledging and addressing it do I hope to discover healthier modes of life, soul and ministry.Why Leaders Are Lonely
Truth be told, some leaders are lonely because they are harsh, unpleasant boneheads who lack the virtues or social skills required to impact others positively. These leaders earn their loneliness.
What about the rest of us who strive to serve God and others with everything we've got? Good leaders can be found on any given day, prodding others toward excellence with a combination of inspiration, difficult conversations, encouragement and decisiveness. No matter how good we are, we will experience loneliness.
There are many contributing factors, but the root of the problem is this: Leaders are lonely because they have intentionally or unintentionally isolated themselves.
First, leaders isolate themselves from others—volunteers, staff and the people we lead in our ministries. Why? It could be the result of the leadership culture we inherited from our predecessor or the org chart. It could be personality. It could be a misunderstanding of what it means to lead. Or it could be a defense mechanism against disappointments and criticism.
Second and much more dangerous, leaders also isolate themselves from God at times. Sometimes we do this out of a sense of special privilege; we consider ourselves so spiritually mature that we convince ourselves that we can carry on without authentic connection with God. In other cases, we take on the suffering servant mentality and begin to live in a place of detachment.
Either way, isolation from God inevitably leads to draining the soul of all its reserves. We succumb to a robotic ministry with the spiritual substance of a package of Twinkies. I have hope for a better way.Two Truths for Your Soul
There are two important truths I would like you to remember as you struggle with loneliness.
First, you are not alone in loneliness. Doug Fields, Mark Driscoll, Chuck Swindoll and many other leaders speak of loneliness. Noah experienced it while constructing the ark, Moses on Mount Nebo. The psalmist wrote about it; Jesus experienced it; Paul waiting for execution in a Roman prison admitted it.