Ministry is all about people. How is it that you can be constantly surrounded by people and yet feel lonely and isolated? Weird right?
I think it’s because ministry leaders have very few peers. It’s hard to find people with whom you can be authentically you. There just aren’t relational spaces where we can drop our guard and reveal what’s really going on.
We are always on. We have to have it all together. We’re the pastors. We’re the leaders.
Well, that’s just ministry. That’s just the way it is.
But, should it be?
We’re all feeling adequately guilty now, but what can we do about it? Ministry is still naturally isolating. Where can we find people with whom we can live in community? How do we find an inner circle? Here are a few ideas.
Know the Risks of Isolation
Lonely is a bad place to be. Isolated is a dangerous place to be. Let’s be honest about something: Lonely and isolated people do dumb things. When I think about times when I’ve made poor decisions and engaged in destructive behavior, it’s often because I was relationally disconnected.
There is a biblical concept behind this reality. We are created in God’s image. God exists in community—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We were created to reflect this reality.
We will never be the people God designed us to be without meaningful community. In fact, we can’t be the ministry leaders God is calling us to be when we are isolated.
I think we all know this to be true. My darkest seasons in ministry were all seasons of relational isolation. On the flip side, seasons of joy and fruitfulness have all been seasons in which I was relationally connected in meaningful community.
I had an inner circle of trusted friends, and we were truly supporting each other through honest conversation, accountability, and prayer.
Ideally, we would all belong to a community of five or six people where we can be completely authentic, share what we’re really struggling with, and be accountable—an inner circle. We all need this. Realistically though, not many of us have an inner circle.
Where do you even start? Well, you start small. Maybe you have one person in your life where you can be real. Start with intentional conversations with that person. Maybe for now your inner circle is one person. Develop that relationship. Perhaps you can add others in time.
Or start with a small group of people who have potential to become your inner circle. But understand that it takes time to develop the kind of vulnerability you need. Be patient and let it grow. The important thing is to move in the right direction.
Maybe you don’t have an inner circle right now and perhaps you shouldn’t expect to have an inner circle next week, but if you move in that direction, you just may have an inner circle in a few months.
Think Outside Your Church
An inner circle must be safe. In my experience, the people you work with are probably the wrong choice for this sort of relationship. I can’t be honest about what I’m really struggling with if there is potential for what I share to impact my job.
Because of this, I would suggest that the kind of inner circle community you need as a ministry leader should come from outside the walls of your church. You need a place where you don’t have to be “on.” Where you don’t have to have it all together and where you can drop your guard.
In addition, I would suggest that a diverse group of people will provide you with helpful perspectives. My inner circle is made up of a CEO, a counselor, a doctor, and a farmer. Their combined perspective has helped me look at the challenges in my life and ministry from different angles. I have found this to be incredibly helpful.
There have also been seasons where seeing a Christian counselor has been helpful. It’s confidential. It’s time specifically for me and my health. In fact, considering the pressures ministry leaders face, I think counseling is always a good idea. If you need a place to start with building community, consider seeing a Christian counselor for a few months.
As you seek to develop an inner circle, consider that these people may need to come from outside the walls of your church. Also, they don’t have to be other ministry leaders. Sometimes it can be helpful to hear other perspectives.
Go Back In Time
For some of us, the options simply aren’t there. Perhaps you are new in your ministry position and in a new city. In this situation, fighting isolation by creating an inner circle can be very challenging.
I would suggest going back in time. Seek out old friends, mentors, and ministry partners. Maybe you can reconnect with previous members of your inner circle.
When I moved to an unfamiliar city for my first ministry position, I knew very few people. At that time, I relied on close friends from college to be my inner circle. Sometimes going back to people you have relied on in the past is where you can find the kind of community you need.
My boss has a standing Monday phone call with a pastor friend from another part of the country. They have been calling each other on Mondays for something like 20 years.
In this weekly conversation they talk through their Sunday sermons, ask each other about their marriages and other “inner circle” type questions. For my boss, this weekly phone call is one of the ways he pursues relational connectedness in the midst of the isolation and loneliness of ministry.
You Need This
Let me close with this: You and I were created to live in community. We will never be the ministry leaders we ought to be unless we are living in close community with others.
Yes, ministry is isolating and lonely but isolated and lonely is a dangerous place to live. We simply cannot stay there.
I would challenge you to get serious about building community. Find a small group of people with whom you can develop an inner circle.
In my experience, there is nothing like a supportive and honest inner circle to keep me out of trouble and keep me running toward the calling God has placed on my life.