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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What NOT to Say to Someone in Pain

Several years ago at a physical therapy appointment I was getting some kinks worked out of my back. As the therapist torqued my left leg into a pretzel, she told me about a friend who recently got news about a life threatening medical condition. As my therapist shared, she felt unsure about what to say to her friend facing such sadness. Even though I’ve been in ministry over 35 years, the right thing to say to a person in pain still eludes me. What should we say to someone like her friend? Or better yet, what should we not say?

young desperate man suffering with hands on head in deep depression, pain , emotional disorder, grief and desperation concept isolated on black background with grunge studio lighting in black and white

Since our youngest was diagnosed with a brain tumor 28 years ago (and is now doing well), what people have said to us through the years has run the gamut from perfect to really bad. Most people really want to encourage when we hurt, but often they say exactly what you don’t need to hear.

Here’s a few statements to NEVER say to someone in pain, no matter what kind of pain.

  • Every thing will be all right. God’s in control. (Yes, God is control, but everything may not turn out all right.)
  • Just have more faith and you will be fine. (Platitude.)
  • God told me that you’d be healed/your problem will go away. (Why did he tell you and not me?)
  • Could there possibly be some sin in your life? (Sounds like one of Job’s friends.)
  • My (aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc.) faced the same thing and they were healed. (I’m not your aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc.)
  • Well, I’m facing such and such…and then this person prattles on and on about himself or herself, seemingly oblivious to our pain. (You really didn’t hear me, did you?)
  • Just let us know what we can do. (Often this really means nothing or else they would have gotten specific on the spot.)

Words carry great power. The book of Proverbs tells us they have the power of life or death and that a well-placed word is very valuable. This verse is a great one.

Prov. 25.11 The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.

I’d love to hear words that you’ve heard or said that were like gold in times of pain.

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6 Neuroscience Insights that can Make a Pastor’s Sermons Stickier

I received a master’s degree in the neuroscience of leadership last year and had a blast.  Christian leaders and pastors can learn much from the latest neuroscience discoveries about the brain. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain profoundly  impacts leadership, emotional regulation, motivating others, navigating change, team building, and effective communication. If you spend much time preaching or teaching, you’ll find these 6 ideas helpful for your sermons.

sermon-preaching

All pastors want themselves and others to become more like Jesus. For that to happen, thinking, behavior, and habits must change. Those changes don’t occur in a void. Rather, God takes what we learn about the bible, character, and God honoring behavior to transform us. A major input to this new way of living comes through preaching and teaching.

But for lasting change to occur, our brains must imbed new information into our long-term memory instead of our short-term memory. Think of the difference between cramming for a test in geography the night before the test (we soon forget the facts) and learning a new language (if we continue to use it, the language gets imbedded deep within our memories). Neuroscientists call this embedding process consolidation. The name itself pictures the process. Although initial information comes into our minds through our five senses, it passes through a part of the brain called the hippocampus. However, if we want the new information (i.e. our sermons) to stick, the memories must be spread to other parts of the brain to consolidate them into long term memory.

So if you want to increase the chance that life transformation happens through your preaching and teaching, consider these practical steps to help imbed your teaching into long term memory thus making your sermons more “sticky.”

  1. Increase focused attention by engaging more senses than just sight and sound. Creatively use taste, smell and touch. When people pay more attention to your sermons, they engage the hippocampus more. And unless it is engaged, people won’t remember what you say.
  2. Deliver your sermon in an organized way. Use a visual metaphor or picture at the beginning to tie the talk together. This is called pre-encoding which organizes the brain to remember better. If you deliver your sermon in a random way, however, memory decreases.
  3. Break up the message into two parts and place a different element between each (ie. video or music). In the second part creatively review the content you presented in the first part. The following week again review the previous week’s main points. Neuroscientists have discovered that spacing between learning something and practicing it increases memory retention.
  4. Use a power point flashcard at the end of the talk by asking the people to fill in the blanks of your sermon’s key points. When someone self-generates information it sticks much better than when they are simply told information.
  5. Ask the people to personally apply one aspect of the message to their own lives. This concept called self-relevant processing deepens memory more than almost anything else. It relates to helping them emotionally connect to what you want them to learn. Emotional stamping is a powerful memory enhancer.
  6. Ask the people to imagine themselves not only doing the application but also to imagine the context (where) in which they will do it. Again, neuroscience has discovered that people recall memories better when they imagine the context in which they learned or practiced something new.

Run the upcoming bible study or sermon you plan to give through this grid and see what improvements you can make to make your talk more sticky.

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Mr. Rogers’ Advice to Discouraged Pastors

Do the Best You Can and Leave the Results to God… That phrase may seem trite and a bit worn to discouraged pastors, but it’s filled with truth. In Christ’s parable of the talents, the master, representing God, gave responsibility to the servants, us, based on individual ability.[1] The story implies that some pastors have greater competencies and gifts than others. Similarly, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit gives out gifts as He sees fit.[2] It’s obvious that the Spirit gives some pastors extra preaching or leading gifts, evidenced in the size and impact of their ministries. And when we don’t measure up or our church is not growing and we face discouragement, what can we do?

do your best words on post-it over brown background

It’s easy to become discouraged when we do our best yet don’t see our church grow like others against which we or others may compare ourselves. When we wrap our identities around numerical results and the numbers don’t increase, the discouragement can overwhelm. This is especially true for older pastors who realize they may never achieve the dreams they had for ministry.

Author David Goetz wrote,

I often sat in the studies of both small-church pastors and mega-church pastors, listening to their stories, their hopes, their plans for significance. I deduced, albeit unscientifically, that often clergymen in midlife had worse crises of limits than did other professionals. Religious professionals went into the ministry for the significance, to make an impact, called by God to make a difference with their lives. But when you’re fifty-three and serving a congregation of 250, you know, finally, you’ll never achieve the large-church immortality symbol, the glory that was promised to you. That can be a dark moment—or a dark couple of years.[3]

In contrast to these struggles, the late theologian Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers fame) recalled an experience he had when attending seminary. He wanted to hear a variety of preachers, so for a time each Sunday he visited different churches. One week he experienced “the most poorly crafted sermon [he] had ever heard.” A friend had accompanied him and when he turned to her, he found her in tears. She said, “It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

Rogers then told his audience, “That’s when I realized that the space between someone doing the best he or she can and someone in need is holy ground. The Holy Spirit had transformed that feeble sermon for her—and as it turned out, for me too.”[4]

Although the results from our best efforts may look feeble to some, they can touch a heart and change a life when we least expect it. This side of heaven we will never know the people we impacted through our faithful service.

Don’t give up our give in to discouragement. God is still at work.

What has helped you deal with discouragement?

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Adapted with permission from the book by Charles Stone, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them.


[1] Matthew 25

[2] 1 Corinthians 12

[3] David L. Goetz, Death by Suburb (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 43.

[4] In Victor Parachin, “8 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor,” Today’s Christian, Sept/Oct. 1999. http://www.christianitytoday.com/tc/1999/sepoct/9r5035.html?start=1.

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.

lifebalancewheel2-288x300

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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