Loneliness is real for many, but especially pastors. As I can see, there are a few contributing factors to this:
- We spend a lot of time alone. Studying for a sermon takes time. (Or at least it should.) For me it takes 12-15 hours each week to prepare a sermon for Sunday. It takes another 5+ to prepare for my teaching on Wednesday, and another 1 to prepare for teaching Sunday school. That’s 20+ hours spent alone each week. That doesn’t mention time in prayer, planning, other reading, etc.
- Some of what we know cannot be shared. Pastors are shepherds, and sometimes sheep share things with us that we can’t share with anyone else–not even our wives. This can be burdensome. It naturally makes us feel like no one can relate to what we’re doing–because not many people can.
- We have extra pressure to be holy. We are to set examples for the flock. That is not easy–especially when your flock has been following Jesus longer than you have! We aren’t called to be the savior of the sheep. They already have one. But our Shepherd has saved us to be holy, and if we fall, we impact a lot more people than if a sheep falls into major sin. People are watching us and some even set their standards of behavior based off of how we live. “If the pastor does it, then I can too.”
- We are under focused spiritual attack. Satan hates a lot of things: like babies, marriages, people who want to tell others about Jesus, and prayers. Pastors are involved in all four of those and have devoted their lives to playing a role in destroying the works of the devil. So we have targets on our backs. And some of the arrows heading our way have “hide,” or “no one will understand” etched into the shafts. So we keep things in.
- We sometimes make decisions not everyone likes. You can’t please everyone–even among the saved. On top of that, sometimes there are messengers of Satan within the church who don’t like anything you do. There’s just nothing to be done about this reality. This means people will naturally not feel as free to be themselves around us. It’s like being around the CEO of a company. It’s cool to be friendly or even to critique them, but it’s strange to be near to them in a relationship. Leadership is lonely. It’s part of the price we pay to have the influence God has given us.
Moving Past The Loneliness
There are two things to do if this is you (both of which I am currently seeking to do):
- Pray God would give you a friend. Of course the Lord helps us in our weaknesses, but He also hears our prayers and gives us what we need. And many pastors just need friends. If you’re a sheep, pray God would give your pastor a friend. And if you’re a pastor, pray for the same thing.
- Open up. Tell someone what you’re feeling, not just thinking. I have found that when I do this, instead of condemning me, people actually open up to me and put their guard down. Suddenly I’m not in an ivory tower anymore and they realize it’s OK to admit weakness (which is necessary to be a Christian!).
We all realize as pastors that the spiritual health of those Jesus has entrusted to us depends in part on our spiritual health. Open up and find a friend. It won’t just be a balm for you, it will prepare you to serve others well too.