The Weight and Joy of Being a Pastor: Loneliness

If you talk to any pastor or his wife and ask them about friends, more than likely you will get a sad, longing look. Many pastors and their wives are lonely. They have been betrayed, hurt, and left out.

As I’ve been sharing the weights and joys of being a pastor, the loneliness a pastor and his wife experience can be unique to this role.

Loneliness

Why is this true? Because you are a part of the community you are leading, and it is hard for you and for them to change hats. When you are the pastor, you are always the pastor. People always see you this way. You always see them as someone you lead, care for and shepherd.

This is kind of the culmination of the previous four. I think one of the biggest weights that many pastors carry is the weight of loneliness. What we do is not a job, it is a calling. I heard someone once say, “If you want a job, go get one; this one gets you.”

As pastors, not only do we carry the weight of a job (bills, staff, expectations, workload, church happening every week), but we also carry the confidentiality that comes with it; knowing the truth in many situations but not being able to share it.

Much of what a pastor does is in the context of being alone. While pastors are learning how to include other leaders in vision and preaching, which is important, and pastors are also releasing power and responsibility to other leaders so that others help to carry the load, which is also good, the reality is, the pastor still carries much of the weight of the church. The pastor and his family are often the ones attacked by those in the church, outside the church and Satan.

This was not clear to me before becoming a lead pastor. For me, spiritual warfare and attacks from people were there but not something that happened a lot. In my house, you can always tell when it is Saturday night as Satan seems to do whatever he can to throw off my rhythm, put a wedge in between Katie and me, and do what he can to keep our kids from sleeping.

I grew up in a church environment that believed in spiritual warfare and demons but didn’t give a lot of credence to it. While the other end of the spectrum sees a demon behind every door, spiritual warfare for me growing up was left more to what Satan did to tempt you.

When we lower spiritual warfare, we also lower the need for the power of God.

It is possible, though, to fixate too much on spiritual warfare and attacks, to see a demon around every corner, and for that to become the focus of our lives. There is a balance that is needed.

The reality of this is that it is lonely. One person gets up in front of their church and opens God’s Word. It is weighty, there is a lot riding on it, God is working in people’s lives and eternity is literally at stake. That is weighty and often lonely.

When people attack the pastor, where do they turn? When the pastor is weighed down by things, where do they turn? What about the pastor’s spouse? This is often the most difficult position in the entire church. They see what is said about their spouse, they hear it, they feel the pain, they see the sleepless nights, the exhaustion, and are often unsure of what to do.

For Katie and me, we’ve developed some things that help:

  • Retreat day. Once a month I do a spiritual retreat day. This is a time for God to refresh me, speak and listen. I go with my Bible, a journal, and some worship music, and that’s it.
  • Sabbath. I cannot say enough about how important it is to set aside one day a week to just stop. Even though it is all over the Bible, Christians everywhere, especially pastors, pretend that it is a suggestion.
  • Meet with a counselor or spiritual director. I can always tell when it is time. (Scratch that. Katie can always tell when it is time.) My pastoral counselor or spiritual director helps in discerning where God is moving, what He is saying and how to sort through the last month and the feelings that go with life. This is important because pastors are good at doing this for others but not for themselves.
  • Have people praying for you. Katie and I have people in our church and outside of our church praying for different things. This is huge and often overlooked.
  • Be low key on Saturday. Since church is on Sunday, we try to make Saturday night fun and low key. We don’t have any intense, serious conversations, we avoid stressful situations and do something fun and relaxing. And get some sleep!
  • Have friends. Get some men around you who understand. Too many pastors are walking it alone. Get some people who understand the weight of it, let them encourage you, lift you up in prayer and just generally be there.
POSTED ON April 13, 2017
  • HgsDctr

    Interesting and thought provoking post. Loneliness is “social pain,” signaling that relationships are not plentiful or satisfying. Treatments that work focus on changing social cognition-not increasing opportunities for relating. What is dysfunctional about a pastor’s thinking that causes loneliness? Why aren’t pastors “feeling the love?”

  • Brother Barnabas

    The reason pastors are lonely and hurting is because the weight of the church was never meant to be carried by one person or even one couple. The New Testament makes it clear that a group of elders should share the burden of teaching, pastoring, and leading the flock. Elders are called for again and again but never once is the role of senior pastor described. Check out http://www.discoveringbiblicalchurch.com for more.

Josh is the lead pastor of Revolution Church in Tuscon, Arizona. They are an Acts 29 church that exists to help people take their next step with God. His church and his writing flow out of this idea that we all have a next step to take with God. Josh is the author of Breathing Room: Stressing Less and Living More. He is also the creator of his blog, joshuareich.org, where he tackles lots of topics in leadership, personal and church health, and life.