The Loneliness of Leadership

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NLT

Many will want your position, even more will want your title. They think they want ‘fame’, they think they want to be known as a leader, a change-bringer and an influencer.

Many leaders spend much time counting the cost, considering the struggles and joys they may face, what impacts it will have on their family and marriage, the changes in finances etc etc.

It’s a bit like going into marriage. We know we’ll have to make sacrifices at some point. We’ll probably disagree on a few things from time to time and hurt each other. We agree that there will be good days and bad, easy and extremely difficult.

But nothing, no matter how much counting the cost you do will prepare you for the eery silence that comes with profound loneliness – when you’re separated in your soul from your spouse because of sin. It’s uncomfortable. It can be very frightening even.

The same is in leadership, but it’s not necessarily because of sin, it just simply is. We have to be incredibly intentional and yet discerning with who we let in to our inner circle, but to have an inner circle means there first has to be an outer circle, right?

I have been contacted twice in the last 6 months, directly eyeballed and asked how I am and then listened to, by three people who are not my husband.

There’s a difference between being alone, and being lonely. I’m not alone, I’m surrounded by many people everyday. I also have Jesus, I’m not alone.

Loneliness comes when there is a disconnect between what God intended for us (to be in relationship with Him & have relationship with other people) and what we are experiencing. The different systems in our bodies can’t work apart from each other, they can’t be independent. The blood system can’t operate without getting the vitamins from the work of the digestive system.

In order for them to have a relationship between them they must be working, and then also working for the good of the other. This is relationship.

Leaders are often separated out from the rest. Not always intentionally. Those God has gifted and positioned to be leaders will think differently, have a bigger/wider perspective of what is going on big picture wise, and will also be extremely sensitive and responsive to the needs of those they lead. They’ll make considerations about things unseen by the majority.

We are made to be different, though not independent. But sometimes against all of our desires it can be perceived that because we are different we also desire to be independent, and are expected to be self-sufficient with everything together, or atleast some struggles that we choose to hide. So the conversations we end up having with others are so superficial it’s not a relationship at all, it’s just a transfer of niceties that stroke someone’s ego for having checked in on the pastors wife.

How do we go about addressing this issue of loneliness in leadership?

Something that stands out about Jesus is that he was primarily a follower. His mission was to obey the will of His father. He was different, but he wasn’t independent. He went to those he served. He did life with, and opened his life to others. He had relationships.

Opening our lives to others doesn’t mean we unwisely bare all to every person, but it means that we live soberly, with integrity, real and present. We are after all humans, not artificial, elevated robots giving commands.

We often think of the disciples as followers, but they were also leaders – they were different, they learnt to live and see the world differently and in doing so influenced many people including you and I. See, I think Jesus knew this, and he knew first hand the loneliness they would face from being different. He opened the personal parts of His life to them and led them well, regardless of how well they followed.

We need to do the same, look out for other leaders. Encourage them. Write to them. Surprise them. Call them. Cry with them. Listen to them for as long as they need and then Pray together. Break bread together. Give them space to reveal and confess sin without baulking at them. Forgive them, over and over.

And then – encourage those you serve to care for and support their leaders. Teach them about this loneliness, known of by many and cared for by few, and show them ways to be in relationship with those who are made to be different but not independent. Those who stand in the frontline everyday for the sake of those they lead and serve, to the honour of God.

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