I’ve been there—serving as a pastor seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with no staff to support me. Isolation was a practical reality. I’ve also served as a pastor in a suburban church with staff—yet I sometimes isolated myself there, too, by choice. I was there physically, but I wasn’t always there emotionally and spiritually. Here are some dangers of an isolated ministry:
1. We have no accountability built into the system. We answer to no one, which means we can lead as we wish without input. Sometimes, nobody even knows what we do during the day—which can breed laziness and misfocus.
2. No one’s asking us hard questions about our own walk with the Lord. Even we who lead need others who help us test our hearts. We are all too susceptible to misread our own soul to try to do this work on our own.
3. We have few others to share the burdens of ministry. Isolation means we carry the weight by ourselves, and that’s risky. The weight can simply become too much for one person. In fact, I developed ulcers during the first year of my ministry because I didn’t know how to handle the stress.
4. When we succeed, it’s easy to take all the glory for ourselves. Sure, we might praise the Lord publicly, but we know how important we were in the process. After all, we did all the work.
5. When we fail in ministry, we have no one to encourage us and pick us up. Failure will happen, and the time will come when we need other believers to support us. They’re tough to find, though, when we’ve chosen to be isolated leaders.
6. Eventually, isolation is just lonely. I’m highly introverted, but even I need people in my life. I do need time alone, but too much time alone misses the point of what it means to do ministry. Loneliness can captivate all of us.
7. Isolation most often leads to doing no evangelism and discipleship. How can anyone be sharing the gospel regularly and investing in others passionately when they’re on their own most of the time? You cannot do the Great Commission without relationships at some level.
8. Isolation can devolve into depression and self-pity. The other way around is true, too, but either way is not good. The more we find ourselves in isolation, the harder it is to pull ourselves up when ministry is hard.
9. We miss the fact that God never designed us to live in isolation. Indeed, He created us in such a way that it was not good for us to be alone. He made us needing others—which means our isolation is sometimes only sin.
What about you? Do you find yourself in isolation simply because of your current ministry context? Or, are you isolated because you’ve chosen to be so? In either case, let us know how the Church Answers family can pray for you today!
Posted on July 20, 2021
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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Another facet of isolated ministry isn’t simply geographical isolation but also Parish size. As the “pool” of members shrinks much of the onus will fall to the clergy, because the more one pushes the lay members the more they may look elsewhere for spiritual nourishment. While the simple answer for getting a larger “pool” is to grow sometimes growth takes time and doesn’t alleviate the need for more people. The corollary to the numbers issue is as membership shrinks and the pastor becomes bivocational out of necessity the problem doesn’t get solved – simply kicked down the road.
One thing I remember from my therapist from years ago and it bears repeating: people are gregarious by nature. Psychologically that means we self-select to be in he company of others and to want to associate with them in social activities. Gregariousness gives people security, companionship, acceptance, and a sense of belonging.
One thing which we find has helped in our Episcopal Diocese is a nearly-weekly Zoom gathering for the clergy resident in our 102 parishes covering 10,000 square miles in southeastern Virginia. It’s not perfect but it helps clergy maintain contact with people who can help us remember that we aren’t (1) crazy or (2) all alone.