I read Perry Noble’s recent article about his struggles. Noble was very honest and genuine in detailing the roots of his battle with alcohol. It’s not surprising to read that his downfall had nothing to do with alcohol.The one trait that stood out most to me was his choice of isolation over community. Noble writes that he chose to be isolated.
Noble is fortunate and blessed to have strong people surrounding him who would not let him stay isolated. I’m afraid many pastors aren’t as fortunate and thus have been and will remain isolated, leading them to continue or begin the same self destructive habits that have destroyed countless ministries through the years. Why do we choose isolation? I’d like to offer a few observations.
1). We’re afraid to develop meaningful friendships: Let’s face it, we’ve chosen a vocation that can be highly and unexpectedly mobile. That doesn’t make fertile ground for the development of 10, 20, or 30 year friendships. I was even told by one pastor not to develop close friendships in the church.
2). We’re afraid to be vulnerable: With meaningful friendship comes vulnerability. We’re afraid our vulnerability might be used against us.
3). We’re afraid to be served: Do you sense a pattern developing here? We’ve been taught about pastoral authority. We’ve been taught about servant leadership. We’ve been encouraged to shepherd the sheep, but sometimes we’re afraid to let others serve us. We think our authority and leadership might take a hit if we’re seen being served by others.
4). We have our pride: this is a big one for me. I love my pride. I think I can do everything myself. I think I’m the smartest most capable person in any room I walk into. That’s my stupid pride talking. I can’t be the only one who’s pride talks to him in that way. Satan tells me I don’t need anyone else. He tells me no one has anything of value to speak into my life. Do you get the picture?
5). We are lazy: some of us are just plain lazy. It’s easier to sit down with a book than to call up a friend and have a conversation. It’s easier to stay in bed on a cold morning than go meet a friend for coffee. It’s easier to hide our sin than to be accountable to a friend. We just don’t want to do the hard, messy work required of a friendship.
Why does isolation get so little attention? Noble’s article was the first I’ve read that even mentioned this nagging problem.
1). We’re extroverts: Many pastors are extroverts, and the thought of us choosing isolation does not occur to anyone. We like to be around people. We gain energy from being among people. How could we ever be isolated? I’m an extrovert and I was in a room Wednesday night with 60 people yet I felt completely isolated. Often times, the most outgoing person in the crowd can be the most lonely. We do not develop deep friendships very easily. I may write another post on just this topic. For now, extroverts are often isolated because of false assumptions made by themselves and others.
2). Many churches do not serve their pastors well: I serve a wonderful church made of caring, imperfect people. I am blessed, but so many are not so blessed. Many pastors are left to fend for themselves in so many areas that there’s not time to battle isolation.
3). We don’t like to talk about it: there that pride again. No one, especially men, likes to talk about feelings of loneliness and isolation. We don’t like to tell others that we need them.
What can we do to fight isolation?
1). Quit being afraid: The Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear. Don’t be afraid to initiate and develop friendships. Will you have to leave the are you’re serving? Maybe, but the ability to maintain connections over great distances has never been better.
2). Create a prayer list: I’m working on a prayer list of all my friends. My desire is to text or call one each day to see how I can pray for him.
3). Confess your sins: I’m not good at this one. I rarely confess sin to anyone. If we want deep friendships, we have to be vulnerable and confess sin, and not just in a matter of fact Way like, “I had a drink today,” or “I lusted after a woman today”, but confess what’s at the root of those actions.
Those are my thoughts on isolation. It is hideous and one of the most effective tools used by our enemy. I’m not advocating unwise choices in regards to our friendships, but I am advocating for the necessity of deep, meaningful friendships that will help pull us out of our isolated enclaves and into the joy a life lived alongside our brothers in Christ.
What do you think? Are there any reasons you would add?
One more note: if you’re reading this and you’re feeling isolated and alone, send me a message. I can pray with you, listen and be a friend. You don’t have to stay isolated.