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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 (Preaching God’s word every weekYou can’t change peopleGod’s call on your lifeSeeing life changePeople under you are counting on youGod using youWhat God thinks of you and Communicating God’s word) of being a pastor, the loneliness a pastor and his wife experience can be unique to this role.

Weight #5: 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 [add link]. 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.

1.  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.

2.  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.

3.  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.

 

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4.  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.

5.  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!

6.  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.

 

 

Josh Reich is the lead pastor of Revolution Church in Tucson, AZ, which is trying to live out the rhythms of Jesus. The church's dream is to "help people find their way back to God."

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Talk about it...

Jill Forton

commented on Mar 7, 2017

Thank you for this excellent article on remembering to take Sabbath and that self-care is not a sin. Your clergy sisters need this as much as your clergy brothers.

Jacqueline Smith

commented on Mar 7, 2017

Thank you for the article on the loneliness of a pastor. Have you no female pastors? For us it's doubly lonely...we are women and many of our pastor brothers reject us. Over the 24 years that I have preached and pastored, the loneliest that I have felt was when I was in the midst of my fellow pastor brothers. while this is an excellent article, seemingly it is speaking the male pastors and their wives. This is what makes life even lonelier for the female pastor.

Debra Blackman

commented on Mar 7, 2017

Super relevant article. Leadership is a tough walk and even more so when there are these blurry lines between friendship & leadership within a church community. I only ever feel really free among other pastors. On that note Jill & Jacqueline if you're feeling on your own in a male pastor world go make an introduction with your local Salvation Army officer. Women have pastored in that denomination for 150 years and I have always felt free to minister w/o barriers there. Plus, Salvos are usually a passionate, inclusive and grounded bunch - it's a community where women can thrive in ministry. Might make a new friend with lots in common ;)

Regina Willingham

commented on Mar 8, 2017

I too must agree, but felt the silence when the comments were made concerning women Pastor's. I am in the same place and often find myself grasping for air with all the responsibility. You wish and sometimes even look for that person that truly can feel what you are carrying. This article was very refreshing just have to read and replace the who. My husband and I are a team and I do the Pastor in the role,but it gets lonely. Thank you for the article .

Lafern Cobb

commented on Mar 9, 2017

Good advice, except for No.6. My husband probably wouldn't like me to get a group of men around me to help. In many ways you just made me as a Clergywoman feel more lonely. But I'm 64 years old and have been in the ministry for decades, so your words only make me sad. As a Pastor, a mom, a grandmother and a wife for almost 44 years I think you have good ideas. Now you just need time to live them. I remember when I knew how to help everyone too. Seriously, it's time to stop directing Sermon Central to clergymen only. If we all supported and helped one another your article would not be necessary. If we all keep growing closer to Christ, we will one day all work together.

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