Pastors can feel alone because they believe they do not have anyone with whom to share their struggles. Paul Church explores why pastors isolate themselves and the dangers in doing so.
by Paul Church
“I just can’t be completely open and honest about my struggles to anybody.” I listened to a fellow minister on the phone. As he opened up — perhaps for the first time — my heart broke. Not just for him but also for the countless other ministers who feel the same way.
As ministers, we often feel isolated because we feel there is no one we can really talk to honestly about our personal struggles. While we teach that accountability is essential, I have found that we do not practice it. I have had conversations with dozens of ministers who do not have an accountability partner. Really? I thought this was 101 stuff. Accountability has been a fashionable topic among church leaders for years. How could it be that so few of us have no accountability relationships?
The result of this trend is isolation. We all know how dangerous that can be; yet, that is where many church leaders are. When we are isolated, we are vulnerable. Refusing to accept that reality, we rely on our own strength as a spiritual leader to overcome any temptation. We pray and pray; yet we find ourselves falling into the same temptations again and again. Do we need an explanation? The problem is not a lack of spiritual maturity, prayer, or Bible study. Simply stated, we are isolated. More than that, it is like we are in a spinning vortex of perpetual isolation that the enemy uses to keep us in check and the church at bay.
Why Are We Isolated?
Ministers typically lack quality relationships
If you are a married male minister, ask your wife how true this is. It is not that we do not have friends. It is not that we lack people to have lunch or coffee with. We have deep conversations with other people about their struggles. We get with other church leaders to talk about church strategy and vision; however, we lack the kind of relationships where we can be raw and honest about ourselves.
Many of us are transplants
We do not live around family and do not have lifetime friends nearby. So naturally, our closest friendships are usually with other ministers or congregants — people we do not feel free to be open with. These relationships are often superficial. While I have challenged the notion of keeping church relationships at arm’s length, no one in my church is an accountability partner. I am thankful for three guys who keep me on track — Anthony and Chris in Oklahoma, and Jim in Indiana. And while I am cultivating local friendships that can grow to be accountability relationships, I am glad these guys are willing and ready to talk. And we talk. In fact, we have traded some pretty embarrassing facts about ourselves. These guys know me and can tell when I am blowing smoke and being real.
So much is dependent on our job. So there is a very real fear that if anyone finds out about our little secret, we will be forced out of ministry. Everything we hold dear is hanging in the balance — our family, our ministry, our finances, our whole identity, and our purpose in life. We have all heard about moral failures without really stopping to think about what it means for those people. Life on the other side is a train wreck. Unless you know a trade or have previous secular employment experience, finding a job will be difficult. You are immensely qualified for a number of high-level positions, but none of your qualifications are marketable in “the real world.” The financial strain only compounds the obvious marital and family issues. Out of a job and cut off from the only friendships we have … other ministers and congregants. No … it’s too risky to share. What if they blow the whistle? What if they share it with someone else?
Pride is the hardest sell because hardly any of us will claim to be prideful. We love to share our successes and rarely share our failures. When was the last time you sat with a friend on Monday morning and said, “Man, the service really sucked yesterday”? When it comes to who we are, we are even more guarded. I have a friend who is trying to salvage his marriage and has all but given up on ministry because of a moral failure. This friend and I had several accountability conversations during the time he was having an affair. I had no clue about what was really going on. We asked hard questions and gave what seemed to be honest answers. He is at a really good place right now, but how much of this could he have avoided if he had been honest about his struggles and failures? Fifteen minutes of a really difficult conversation could have averted this tragedy.
So we decide to preach accountability, yet go it alone when it comes to ourselves. We preach that we cannot make it on our own, that other believers are God’s gift to us to help on our spiritual journeys. (See how wonderfully biblical and relevant that sounds.) But apparently we do not believe it, think it does not apply to us, or refuse to practice what we preach. The question of “who” is the issue. Who could be this kind of friend to me? We are good at figuring out so many things, but we cannot figure this out.
A brief but difficult conversation with a trusted friend could be the difference maker. Sometimes all we need is to hear ourselves say what’s on the inside. The prayers of a friend also make a huge difference. Geico advertises that 15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance. So for the sake of money we will willingly talk to an insurance agent (something I personally hate to do). So for the sake of everything we hold dear, are we willing to have a brief (albeit difficult) conversation with a trusted friend?
Fifteen minutes could save your life.
Paul Church, lead pastor, Dakota Ridge Assembly, Littleton, Colorado