Leadership and Loneliness

by Cath Tallack

[4 minute read] 

 

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

 

If you’ve participated in the Arrow Emerging Leaders Program in the last few years you might have experienced a moment where you’re asked to draw a self-portrait. We have a few laughs over the creative ability in the room, the way that we see ourselves either positive or negative, but the sobering point made in that moment is that in all of those portraits, no-one draws themselves dismantled. Everyone always draws their body parts together, as one. A key point being that we were never created to do leadership, ministry or life alone.

1 Corinthians 12 highlights that God created us to be interdependent not independent. Throughout the Bible we see leader after leader who need others to complete the goal. Right from the beginning Adam needed Eve, Moses had Jethro and Joshua, Paul had Ananias, Barnabas, Luke and Timothy and Jesus had his disciples and friends like Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Even God operates in a sort of team - God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit - all at once. God never intended us to lead alone. Again, we were created to be interdependent not independent.

However, Christian leadership can be a lonely place to live. In a recent NCLS study, senior leaders in the Australian Church answered a series of questions around close friendships. 22% of those surveyed indicated they only had 1 person whom they can be completely honest and be supported and encouraged by. 7% said they had no one.[1]

Isolation in ministry is common. Sometimes it’s self-isolation, either out of a fear of being known or a fear of being hurt by people considered friends. It can also be public isolation, caring for and befriending many, with very few personal friends to care for us, with whom to be real and vulnerable. As leaders, we can build the perception that we’re known by many, revealing bits of ourselves from our weekly communication or bible study or staff meeting every week to hundreds or thousands while in reality we’re actually known by very few. 

Leadership can be dehumanizing. People know and appreciate you for the work you do, the what you say publicly, the care you give, the prayers you pray, the vision you cast but there are very few who know us to the core, the truest version of ourselves. There is also a sort of collegial expectation that like good counsellors guard against dual relationships, knowing it’s nearly impossible and often unethical to have a personal friendship with a professional client, we should distance ourselves relationally from those we serve.

The problem is loneliness and isolation impact our spiritual health, our ability to lead and certainly our longevity in the ministry to which we’ve been called. The author of Hebrews reminds us to “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). We weren’t meant to live in isolation, we need daily, meaningful affirmation from others if we are to be successful and faithful in fighting sin, leading well and being an active member of the body of Christ.

 

So how do we achieve the balance of leading others well and leading ourselves well the way God intended – with others? Here a couple of thoughts…

  1. Find Your People

Give yourself permission to be friends with people you serve. Everyone needs a few people they can be real with, they can be vulnerable with and can be trusted to share with and confide in when needed. These people can be hard to find but they exist. They don’t judge, they love, they’re open and they see you as a friend first, leader (pastor) second. Give yourself permission to be their friend.

  1. Un-circle Your Wagons

One of the mistakes we make in Christian leadership is we ‘circle our wagons’ meaning we spend all of our time within our tribe. We attend and serve at our church, we go to our denomination’s colleges, conferences, networking groups. We even, to a certain extent do this geographically, sticking to our states and cities. There is so much richness in the Kingdom of God in different locations, denominations, expressions, organisations and cultures. Find a cohort of people to connect with that are outside your usual tribe. What you will find there, if you invest in relationship and grow in your own ability to be vulnerable, is a group of people who don’t care that much about your context but care deeply about you.

  1. Go One on One

Isolation breeds loneliness, self-depreciation, doubt, overthinking and lack of confidence. In leadership we talk much about finding someone to talk to on a regular basis that can help you move through these unhelpful thoughts and feelings and give you strategies to move forward with more strength and confidence in your leadership. If you don’t have a coach, mentor, spiritual director or just a listening ear. Find one.

  1. Get Prayer

In leadership, asking for prayer can be really hard sometimes. We fight against our perception of ‘having it all together’ and wonder if that level of vulnerability is helpful as a leader. So, find people you can trust, who might not even have a stake in your context and ask them to pray for you.

 

We are in this together. We are one body. We were never meant to do this alone. If you are feeling isolated and lonely right now, please reach out, don’t do this alone. My hope for you in this season is that you would look to God to supply you with what and who you need.

 

“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Psalm 25:15-16)


We would like to support you in your move towards increasing mutuality in relationships and vulnerable conversations, with both God and others.  If you’d like an initial chat with someone from the Arrow team, please Contact Us.


[1] Powell, R., (2011), 2011 NCLS Leader Survey. Sydney, Australia: NCLS Research.