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?
Four key factors inhibit pastors from developing close friendships.
- lack of formative modeling: in our families of origin we’re close to our parents and/or they never modeling for us how to create intimate relationships.
- some pastors develop a loner tendency-they’d rather be alone
- personality-some personalties can unintentionally push people away
- wounds from our past can compel us to put up walls with others
- fear of sharing our loneliness with others: often we think that if people knew we struggle, hurt, or have problems, it might lessen the respect they show us and therefore hinder our 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 appropriately share my struggles, most people endear themselves to me and respect me more.
I’ll never forget a story I heard Bill Hybels share 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 yearned to feel that same acceptance in my church. I believe every pastor does as well.
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 we can put ourselves. Without safe people, ministry can overwhelm us. A psychologist friend explained that isolation often sets up pastors on a slippery slope toward sexual compromise. In our isolation, Satan will exploit our vulnerability. We can then begin to live secret sexual lives that may ultimately lead to ministry and/or marriage failure. Remember, sin grows easiest in the darkness.
What other factors have you seen that an create loneliness in pastors?