Ministry to Pastors at RISK: Can We Talk? Isolation and Loneliness

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Before we launch into an overview of Dr. Wickman’s chapter fivBetherefor pastore on the RISK of isolation and loneliness, hear the Word of the Lord and ponder what happens too often after the blessing and zeal of ministry:

I Kings 19: 4-8:  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of
the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

There is a slogan that applies to this chapter about self-care through community in the Body of Christ:  “H-A-L-T means don’t get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired”. Bad things can happen when these factors occur over a sustained time period.

This chapter by Dr. Wickman is somewhat shorter than others, but I found it pregnant with insight, meaning and practical wisdom that can be used immediately in self-care.

  • Pages 43-44 documents numerous studies showing that the stress of loneliness (not aloneness), rejection, isolation, abandonment, and insecurity can lead to high blood pressure, over eating, lack of exercise, interrupted sleep, and perhaps even cancer. Loneliness can kill with a broken heart.
  • Pages 44-46 cite our unity in Christ, an extended practical availing of our connectedness through small group fellowships. But pastors tend to have one support group…their wife. (My comment: This too often puts a burden on the pastor’s wife who is not called to a non-existent office.  Such a burden can be deadly for her personally and her marriage, not to mention the children being affected adversely.)
  • Pages 46-49 tell two tragic stories of pastors lonely and isolated; one tells of suicide, the other of out of control finances. (My comment: this could have been “fill in the blank” with church-aholic, substance abuse, porn, adultery, sexual abuse, gambling, hobbies to excess, exercise to excess, computer, phone, TV, video and movies to excess, criminal behavior, etc., etc., etc.  As John Calvin said: “Our hearts are idol factories.”)

I read J.I. Packer years ago say in a short quote that had no citation: “The main way God fellowships with us is through our fellowshipping with one-another in the Spirit.”  Put the oxygen mask on yourself first and only then on the baby.  Brethren, ministry comes by faith union with Jesus and not out of your own boasting, performance, strength, imagination, trying harder, academic degrees, professionalism, or experience.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 

Finally, these thoughts about the words “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” Fellowship is not mere social time, or how is the weather, job, or sports going. Fellowship is the sharing of our life in Christ by the power of the person of the Holy Spirit. Pastor, you don’t just need allies in the “business” of the church, you need at least two or more confidantes of the same sex. Persons who are honest, safe, empathetic listeners, grace filled, full of faith, speakers of truth even when it may hurt you, and in love with His Beauty.

Down here in the mid-south I have found it amazing people do not even know what the word “ministerium” means. I moved here from Pennsylvania where they were all over the place. Without rejecting friends within their local church, I suggest every pastor needs a small group…outside of the church he pastors.  How about starting a ministerial group around you?

*Free retreats for clergy in WI and MN: also on FB.

*Hiking’s benefits:


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