5 Ways to Fight Loneliness in Leadership

It’s lonely at the top.

For those who work in the church, we all know it. Those who make it for the long haul either succumb to a lifetime of loneliness and don’t have any real friends or we learn to adapt and find deep connection outside the walls of the church.

But loneliness doesn’t have to be a part of the job. You really can have deep friendships and be in full-time ministry.

Acquaintance vs. Friendship

The first few years I worked at churches I confused church members hospitality with true friendship. Sure, I really enjoyed being close with people in the church… but at the end of the day (and certainly in retrospect when you step away from a church) a lot of those people I thought were my friends turned out to be just positional acquaintances. As soon as I stopped being their Pastor Adam they stopped wanting to hang out. Once I stopped investing in their kids there were no more invitations to dinner, golf, and BBQs.

Of course, we have been able to transition a few of those church acquaintances into true lifelong friendship. (For which we’re totally thankful!) But I think getting there took some time and wisdom.

A spouse helps but doesn’t really count

Kristen is my best friend. That goes without saying. But Kristen could never fill the void I needed in ministry as a friend and confidant. When I meet with people young in ministry, I often see them putting their spouse in the friend category. Of course, your spouse will help you curb loneliness! But don’t forget your spouse needs to find true friendship outside of you, as well.

So, what works?

Here are five things that helped me get past loneliness and find some healthy friendship while in church leadership.

  1. Find a ministry network locally. Believe it or not, there are people just like you in your own community! Joining a network is a great way to meet people. Go a couple of times, see who you connect with, then take the first step and take that one person out to lunch.
  2. Join a sports club or league. I don’t mean a church league either. Join a league and get outside of your church social circle. Get to know contractors and realtors and other normal people.
  3. Connect with long-time friends intentionally. Some of my best friends in ministry, I only see once or twice per year. The few days we spend together per year are awesome and fill up our tanks. Going to the same conference really helps. But even meeting up for a weekend somewhere goes a long way.
  4. Ignore other leaders who live unhealthy lives. For whatever reason, church ministry attracts workaholics. Looking through job postings at YS I can’t believe how many of them will admit that they want someone to work more than 40 hours per week. Don’t work at those ministries. Go home on time. Make wise use of your ministry time and you’ll have tons of time for real friendship. Never forget that its Jesus’ job to grow the church.
  5. Take the first step! I think I spent over a year completely lonely and out of my mind crazy because I was waiting for fellow ministry people in my community to come find me. It’s not going to happen. The assumption is always going to be that you are busy and your life is full of relationships until you step out first.

Published by Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

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7 Comments

  1. My suggestion: go to part-time or take a second job somewhere you’ll rub shoulders with real people.

    It’ll force you to be more strategic with your ministry time. It’ll force you to invite more people to take part in the ministry. It’ll protect you from living in the Christian bubble. It’ll save/make you money.

  2. Really helpful article Adam. Very timely (for me) too. I think one aspect to consider as well is that building “real” friendship in your own congregation helps keep you invested in your congregation. I have some really life-long relationships outside of my congregation that I cherish deeply. If they were my ONLY “real” friendships then I wouldn’t have roots in my congregation to keep me invested there. It’s a tough balance though, because the relationship cup fills up quickly — like you mentioned.

    Thanks so much!

    1. I think its hard (and potentially dangerous) to form deep friendships in a congregation you’re on staff at. I think it does happen over time. But I know I always struggled with having to protect one major area of my life! I could never say to a church friend like I could a non-church friend… “Yeah, I’ve had a bad day. I’m so sick of this or that.” It seems like that level of freedom and honesty that you have to hold back on acts like a block.

      1. That’s true, whenever there are legitimate gripes about church then I really couldn’t do that with friends at church — but of course that has never been necessary so far! 😉

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