I recently read a blog post on how pastors should combat loneliness in the ministry. It began by pointing out that loneliness is a “debilitating virus” that all ministers suffer from, and that failure to address it will eventually lead to “catastrophe.” Needless to say, the words “virus” and “catastrophe” really grabbed my attention—I do not want a virus of any type, and I certainly do not want anything potentially catastrophic lurking around the edges of my life.
So, with fear-instilled expectation, I read on to discover the cures for my loneliness virus, hoping Jesus would show up and make it all go away. Sadly, the first three “tips” for combating loneliness were typical and churchy, and though I agreed with the truths contained in all three tips, I adamantly disagreed with their prescriptive application.
Tip No. 1 was, “Make a list of specific things God has done for you lately.” Tip No. 2 instructed, “Spend more time in prayer.” Tip No. 3: “Meditate upon the scriptural fact that you are not alone.”
Deep sigh. Why would we ever think that God’s best plan for loneliness would not include spending some quality time with other humans? He designed us with a deep need to be in relationship, and though His is first and foremost, He gave us other human beings to love and enjoy.
I believe feeling lonely is more often a symptom of our need for human interaction than a lack of divine relationship. Simply stated: God wants us to enjoy being with other humans! No doubt we should remember what God has done for us, and we should always pray and remember that we are not alone—but we must spend time with real people in real-life, real-time settings.
So, my prescription for loneliness is to build three types of intentional relationships that will help you navigate life and ministry. Everyone should have friends, mentors and rabbis. Working together, these relationships function as a personal “triple-braided cord” (see Eccl. 4:12, NLT) to strengthen your heart, soul and mind.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17, NKJV).
Friends are the people you hang out with, those who are on a similar faith journey. Friends are the dear souls who laugh with you, cry with you, play with you and fight with you; who shake their heads in disbelief when you botch it, cheer for you when you hit it, and stick with you when you come back over and over again for more of the same. Friends are good for your heart.
Good friends are best found through the emotions of life; you have to spend time with people who feel what you feel. I once read an article about a “friend broker” who helped highly successful, high-intensity business people find friends. Seems their lives were too busy and too complicated to find friends on their own—sad, but true. I think pastors can be too busy and have lives that are too complicated, as well, so they never really venture out of their church offices to make friends.
Join a gym or get a hobby. Join a bike club or a book club or hang out with some neighbors. Better yet, invite a couple guys from church to hang out and just “be guys.” (I know, dangerous ground making friends at church—get over it.)
But here’s the key: You have to treat them as peers and share your life with them. It’s so freeing to be yourself with good friends who love you for who you are.
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14, NKJV).
Mentors are wise souls who have successfully walked the roads you are traveling on. They are fellow navigators who are willing to help you find your way. Really good mentors help you see Christ in your decisions and show you how to walk out the amazing directions the Holy Spirit whispers in your ear at every turn. Mentors are good for your soul.
The best mentors are a more experienced version of who you want to be. A good mentor is successfully loving Jesus, loving his wife, raising his children, leading his church or launching out into new ventures.
No one mentor can do it all, so that’s why you need a few. Once you find someone who fits the bill, ask him or her for some advice—a trial mentoring moment. Most successful people want to mentor others.
Now, here’s the key: You will need to ask the person to mentor you, and you will need to schedule time with him or her. It’s your responsibility to stay connected to the mentor and to follow his or her advice. Don’t be shy; you may need to ask a few people before you find the right one. If at first you don’t succeed, keep on trying.
“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life” (Prov. 19:20, NLT).
Rabbis make truth come to life, so that precepts become personal convictions. They bring context to what God has declared by teaching you how to hear Him speak to your intellect and imagination. Great rabbis inspire you to love the Word of God, and to become a lifelong seeker of all that is true and holy. Rabbis are good for your mind.
Good rabbis might be the easiest of the three relationships to find. Some will be up close and personal, while others might be far away and unknown. Find some great authors and read their books. Look for great teachers and listen to their podcasts or watch their YouTube clips. Maybe you can even find an excellent pastor or professor nearby whom you can sit and talk to.
Study how these rabbis take a thought and turn it into a deep belief, and how they take a deep belief and turn it into a life practice. Pick a handful and read all their books, or listen to them weekly, or talk to them often and for as many years as possible. Let them inspire your faith, and allow their thoughts to inspire new and deeper thoughts in you.
There you have it. If you are lonely, you should certainly connect with the creator of all things. But you should also make some friends, mentors and rabbis. You will have to open your heart a bit wider to allow others in, and you will need to give them permission to mess with your neatly ordered beliefs and convictions—but trust me, you’ll be better for it.
By: Bill Gross, missional coach/consultant for the National Church Office