Pastors Who Lack Close Friends: 5 Reasons Why

Barna Research discovered that 61% of pastors are lonely and have few close friends. The loneliest people in churches are often pastors. Why is this so?

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

The experts say that five key factors inhibit pastors from developing close friendships.

  • lack of formative modeling: in families of origin some weren’t close to their parents and/or their parents never modeling for them how to create intimate relationships.
  • some pastors developed a loner tendency: they’d rather be alone.
  • personality: some personalties can unintentionally push people away.
  • wounds from the past can compel some to put up walls with others.
  • fear of sharing loneliness with others: some pastors think that if people knew they struggled, hurt, or had problems, it might lessen the respect they would give and therefore hinder that pastor’s leadership effectiveness.

Number five can be very powerful. Certainly we shouldn’t publicly display all our dirty laundry, or we would diminish our influence. But actually I’ve found that when I have appropriately shared my struggles with others, most people endear themselves to me and respect me even more.

I’ll never forget a story I heard Bill Hybels share years ago in a conference. The specific details are hazy, but the impact on me remains.

On one of his study breaks he told about a Sunday night visit to a small church. After the sermon, the pastor stood before his flock and in tears shared a heartbreak he had experienced from his son. He said he felt like a failure and wasn’t sure what to do. He then closed the service. Spontaneously the people rushed to the front and surrounded him, hugged him, and wept with him. Bill then used a term to describe the scene: “the circle of brokenness.” As he drew thousands of us into this story, with misty eyes I realized that every pastor yearns for that kind of acceptance.

If fear of rejection, looking less like a pastor, or worry that you might diminish your influence keeps you from inviting safe people in, realize the danger in which you can put yourself. Without safe people, ministry can overwhelm us.

A psychologist friend of mine once explained that isolation can set up a pastor on a slippery slope toward sexual compromise. In isolation, Satan can exploit his vulnerability. He can then begin to compromise and live a secret sexual life that may ultimately lead to ministry and/or marriage failure. My friend reminded me that sin grows easiest in the darkness.

So, if you are a pastor, don’t minimize the importance of friends in the ministry and in your church. Push through your loneliness and find some friends.

What other factors have you seen that can create loneliness in pastors?

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Feeling Overwhelmed in Ministry or Life? Try this.

Ministry burnout, overload, and destructive stress lead to an abysmal survival rate for pastors today.  For 20 years a friend of mine followed 105 pastors and discovered that only half remained in ministry. Many other statistics bear witness to the high fallout rate for pastors. Burnout, moral collapse, and the weight of ministry has shattered many dreams for Kingdom impact. No pastor ever begins ministry with a goal to end up as a casualty of it. Unfortunately, unless some make systemic changes to their hearts and ministry pace, they too will end up a statistic. But, if you feel yourself on the road to burnout and overwhelmed you can change your trajectory through this simple yet life-transforming exercise.

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I’ve used a tool that many coaches use to help people regain balance from feeling overwhelmed. It’s called a “Life Balance Wheel.”

It had its origins in the Middle Ages when few could read. Etched on many cathedrals, it visually represented the cycle of daily life: happiness, loss, suffering, and hope. For most people life offered little hope and the carved images instructed the common person about the inevitable change process in life.

Today we use the life balance wheel in a more positive way. It takes many forms, but this example captures its essence. Each piece of the pie represents an area of life. Within that area the scale rates your satisfaction with that part of your life.

Here’s how to use it to help regain balance and deal with life’s pressures in a more intentional way.

  • Google “Life Balance Wheel” and you’ll find many free printable templates.
  • After you print it out, mark your level of satisfaction within in each area of your life.
  • Connect the dots to see how balanced or imbalanced you have described your life.
  • Pick one or two areas in which you feel least satisfied.
  • Describe what life would look like if your satisfaction in those areas increased to an “8”
  • List five specific steps you could take in each area that could help you move to an “8”
  • Give each step a specific date when you will take the step.
  • Make yourself accountable to someone to help you regain balance. A good coach trained in the life balance wheel would be a good investment.

This simple tool could have profound implications for your future, your family, and your ministry. Right now schedule an hour this week to complete the exercise and see how God could use it in your life.

If you’ve used the life balance wheel before, what have you found helpful?

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Brokenness in a Pastor’s Life

Many issues can keep a church from growing and hinder a pastor’s effectiveness. They include circumstances beyond his control (demographics or a location that hinders growth), an uncooperative board (they say No to his vision), or even family issues (a chronically ill child who requires an inordinate amount of energy). These experiences can bring painful brokenness to a pastor’s heart. And, we seldom see any immediate benefit from our brokenness. But could God use it in our lives? I believe so.

broken heart

Brokenness has touched my life in the two places where it hurts the most: my family (a child chronically ill for 25 years and a child who rebelled for many years) and my ministry (many dreams not fulfilled).

Yet, I’ve taken comfort when Jesus explained that brokenness must precede fruit bearing.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12.24)

And nineteenth-century Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard captures the essence of Jesus’ words when he wrote these words.

“God creates everything out of nothing—and everything God is to use he first reduces to nothing.”[1]

Also, Richard Foster, one of today’s most influential voices on spiritual formation, describes one of the greatest benefits from brokenness. He calls it the “crucifixion of the will” and says it brings “freedom from the everlasting burden of always having to get our own way.”[2] Always having to get our own way is the antithesis of the other-centered life Jesus modeled for us.

As I enter the sixth decade of my life and reflect over the brokenness I’ve faced as a pastor, I’m beginning to see its great value. It still hurts and I’d prefer not to face it. Yet, I’m experiencing the fruit of brokenness: inner peace, joy, and a purpose that supersedes ‘ministry success.’

How has God used brokenness in your life and ministry?

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References:

[1] Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Kierkegaard, ed. Alexander Dru (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 245.

[2] Richard Foster, Prayer (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 55.

Pastors Afflicted with Relational Anorexia

In my research for my second book, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, I discovered that pastors are often the loneliest people in the church, second perhaps only to their wives. I learned some sobering insight from several sources. In this post I unpack the concept of relational anorexia for pastors.

Eraser deleting the word Anorexia

Here are some of the sobering facts about pastors and their relationships.

  • I interviewed Dr. Michael Ross, Executive Director of The Pastors Institute, who has worked with several thousand pastors in various capacities. He told me that the number one problem pastors face is isolation.
  • Gary Kinnaman author and former mega-church pastor and Alfred Ellis, author and founder-director of Leaders that Last, an organization for ministers, wrote, “Most people in full-time ministry do not have close personal friendships and consequently are alarmingly lonely and dangerously vulnerable.”[1]
  • Well known author, Steve Arterburn has observed that “the men in the church who are least likely to have friend connections are pastors.”[2]
  • Focus on the Family discovered that nearly 42% do not have any accountability partner with whom they meet.[3]
  • And the Alban Institute, an ecumenical organization that serves thousands of congregations through research and publishing, has learned that pastors tend to seek help from others only when they are in crisis, “rather than allowing these resources to sustain and nourish them consistently.”[4]

In other words, we don’t seek out safe people to help us process ongoing ministry issues until they escalate into major crises. Even then, many pastors suffer alone.

We’ve probably all preached that God created us for deep relationship with others. But just as anorexia (the word actually means “no appetite”) can cause a person literally to feel no hunger even though he is starving, relational anorexia can keep us from feeling our inner hunger for deep relationships. Henry Cloud and John’s Townsend describe in their book Safe People these indicators that we might have relational anorexia.

  • I am uncomfortable with people and relaxed when alone.
  • I don’t get “lonely,” whatever people mean by that.
  • I spend time with people out of obligation, or for functional reasons (tennis partner, commuting to work, etc.).
  • My fantasies of vacation always involve my doing something fun by myself.[5]

The authors also posed several questions that may indicate major hindrances to healthy relationships. I’ve paraphrased them here.

  • Do you tend to only be a giver in most of your relationships?
  • Do others usually approach you only when they want something from you rather than to simply spend time with you?
  • Do you find it difficult to open up to others?
  • Do you most often choose to be alone to deal with your problems?
  • Do you feel that only God really knows and loves you?
  • Are intimate, two-way conversations with others rare?[6]

So, what should we do if we suffer from relational anorexia? I recommend that every pastor have at least one safe person in his (or her) life with whom they can be honest and with whom they can process their pain.

Who’s your safe friend? In this post I list qualities to look for in a safe friend.

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references:

[1] Gary Kinnaman and Alfred Ellis, Leaders that Last (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 10.

[2] REV.org, “Steve Arterburn Interview: Open Season,” August 2007. http://rev.org/protected/Article.aspx?ID=2519.

[3] Focus on the Family, “Pastoral Ministries 2009 Survey” (of over two thousand ministers), http://www.parsonage.org/images/pdf/2009PMSurvey.pdf, 8.

[4] Michael Jinkins, The Alban Institute, Congregations, “Great Expectation, Sobering Realities: Findings From a New Study on Clergy Burnout,” Number 3, May/June 2002. http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?q=printme&id=3284

[5] Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Safe People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 129.

[6] Adapted from ibid.

 

Saving your Family without Killing Your Ministry

pastors balancing family life and ministryMy wife and I have 3 grown kids. One has survived a brain tumor, one was a straight arrow, and one was a challenge. My oldest daughter Heather (our challenge) even co-wrote a book with me about the experience in our family called Daughters Gone Wild-Dads Gone Crazy.

I’ve excerpted 5 insights from our book about how to keep your family intact in the pressure-cooker of ministry.

1. Resist turning words into weapons.

Heather got me so angry that at times I said some things I wish I had never said. I wish I could have taken back some of those angry words as the Bible tells us. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Prov. 12.18 (NIV-G/K). One psychologist suggested that we wait 30 seconds before responding in an angry situation.

2. Stoke the relationship fire with your children to keep the relationship alive.

If you’ve ever gone camping, to keep the fire going you must stoke it by stirring the embers. Often when I was hurt so much I had to make a conscious choice to reach out to her in tangible ways to let her know that I loved her. Just small things like simple grace gifts kept the relationship alive. Although I stumbled often, Heather later wrote us a letter that really touched our hearts. Here’s what she said.

“Thank you for never closing your heart to me. I wouldn’t be what I am now if you had…I always felt the love of God from you…through your unrelenting pursuit of me in my times of darkness, through your never giving up on me, through everything you did for me in spite of how horrible I was..that’s how God loves us.”

3. No matter how much your children may hurt you, never close your heart to them.

At times I felt like giving up on her. But by God’s grace, I kept my heart open to her. I’m glad I did because I got to experience the fruit of reconciliation later.

4. Keep a good sense of humor.

Sometimes you simply must laugh between the tears. One night Heather showed up at 4 in the morning as we caught her climbing into the window on the biggest day of the church year, Easter Sunday. I had to keep a sense of humor to keep from killing her.

5. Choose your battles carefully and lose some on purpose.

Some battles with your children are not worth the fight. On biblical/moral/ethical values, stand your ground. On personal preferences, it’s worth losing some of those. Dress, a clean room, and some music choices are personal preferences. I love what one parent advised, “If you can cut it off, wash it out, or grow it out, don’t sweat it.”

What have you learned that has helped you keep your family intact?

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