Lonely at the Top: Confronting the Isolation Faced by Church Leaders


Feeling isolated in your ministry role? Discover why many church leaders struggle with loneliness and how you can find real, meaningful support.

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Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 2:00 PM EST

What Would Make Your Ministry Flourish Right Now?

You can quickly throw out some answers.

Less conflict. More attendees. Better community involvement. More time and margin. More volunteers, generosity, participation, etc.

That’s all true. But I believe another answer lurking below the surface is much more significant and impactful than these answers.

How’s It Going, Really?

My guess is that there are elements of church leadership that are good and elements that aren’t so good.

That’s ministry, I guess.

I’ve served in ministry for some 18 years, 13 years as a lead pastor.

I learned a lot during these seasons. Perhaps most interesting and depressing was how isolating the job can be.

Perhaps this was only my experience (although the data would suggest I’m far from alone), but finding true friends and confidants in ministry was challenging.

Making REAL Friends as a Pastor

Pastoral isolation is a real challenge.

The research and data (from Barna) are painfully clear.

  • Many pastors are experiencing increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • The depth and quality of a pastor’s relationships often vary significantly. This is particularly true among younger pastors or those newer to their roles.
  • From 2015 to 2022, the percentage of pastors receiving personal support from peers or mentors several times a month dropped from 37% to 22%.
  • Approximately 65% of pastors do not use any professional mental health services, significantly lower than the average for U.S. adults.
  • 43% of pastors cite loneliness and isolation as reasons for considering quitting full-time ministry.

Isolation Plus Stress Equals Burnout

We need relationships to help us process and survive life. This is especially true for pastors and ministry leaders. Not that other leaders don’t need support, but ministry is unique. You and I know it firsthand.

The immense stress of the job, congregational expectations, personal expectations, political divisions, and concerns about how their work affects their families make our job more and more difficult by the day.

Too many ministry leaders walk away from ministry unnecessarily.

The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. This is equally true for a pastor or ministry leader, yet it is much more challenging to resolve.

Finding Supportive Ministry Relationships

Solutions to pastoral isolation may feel complex. But hang with me.

I know. I’ve been there.

What about the congregation? It’s challenging to find genuine relationships within your congregation. It’s possible but not easy. After all, those attending your church see you as their spiritual leader. This is a challenging space for you to bring your vulnerable conversations.

Or a small group? You’re probably in a small group of some sort—or maybe you’re not. For me, a small group was always just another two hours of work. See above.

Maybe other local pastors? Other pastors in your community can offer some support. Finding a mutually beneficial support system from pastors down the street is rare.

Could staff members or key volunteers help? Not really. Sure, you can have friendships with these people, but you’re still their leader, meaning there will (should) be some healthy relational separation.

On top of all this, pastors need more than friendship. Friends listen and love, but they can’t always offer solutions or leverage their experience as mentors. A listening ear is great, but pastors and church leaders need more.

Bottom Line: You need people who are FOR you who don’t need or expect anything FROM you.

I’m working on a solution FOR YOU right now.

I’ve served pastors and churches as a consultant and coach for nearly three years. I’ve noticed something similar in every church and with every pastor. I bet this is true for you, too.

  1. You have a deep desire to see your church achieve its mission.
  2. You want to see your church better reach your community and grow disciples.
  3. You aren’t satisfied with every aspect of your ministry model.
  4. You have ongoing people challenges.
  5. You have engagement and participation challenges.
  6. AND… you need someone who genuinely cares about you, your staff, your church, and your community to help.

When I started consulting and coaching church leaders, I knew I would provide benefits for the first five issues. I had no idea that I’d become a pastor to pastors. I should have seen this coming, though. When I was in the role, that’s what I needed the most, too. I read books, attended conferences, and studied ministry models, but I didn’t realize my greatest need was a mentor.

I’m working on something BIG right now that may help fill this gap for you.

Every pastor needs 1) Coaching, 2) Community, and 3) Helpful content.

In the meantime, here are a few statements to consider. Answer using a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being “Strongly Agree.”

  1. I feel great about my relational life.
  2. I never feel isolated or lonely.
  3. I’m receiving support from helpful mentors or coaches.
  4. Most people in my life want something FOR me, not FROM me.
  5. I’ll remain in ministry for the next five years.
  6. I love my church and congregation.
  7. I have people who help me think, process, and create.
  8. I have the time to work on problems.

How’d you score? Send me a quick email and let me know which question offers your greatest opportunity

Tags: pastoral support, church leader isolation, ministry stress relief