9 Truths About Lonely Pastors

The conversation took place just yesterday. A young man told me his dad, a pastor, recently committed suicide. He talked about the pain his father experienced in ministry as well as the intense loneliness.

Though suicide is not an inevitable outcome, I do know the number of pastors experiencing loneliness is high—very high. I hurt for these pastors, and I want to help in any way I can.

Perhaps my nine observations can be a starting point for a healthy discussion on this important matter.

Three Causes …

The three most common causes of loneliness shared with me by pastors are insightful:

1. Church members do not want to get too close to a pastor.

Actually, it works both ways. The pastor is seen as the spiritual leader of the church. For many, it’s hard to get close to someone who holds a perceived lofty position.

2. The pastor is accustomed to giving instead of receiving.

In healthy relationships, both parties give and sacrifice. The pastor is accustomed to giving and ministering. Sometimes, it’s hard to be on the receiving end.

3. The pastor is in a defensive mode.

Many pastors have been burned and hurt by church members. As a consequence they are always “on guard,” rarely able to lower their defensive shields to be in a healthy relationship.

Three Dangers …

Here are the three most common negative consequences of loneliness straight from the mouths of pastors:

4. Burnout.

Healthy relationships energize people. Loneliness depletes people of energy. The lonely pastor is more likely to experience burnout than those pastors who have developed mutually healthy relationships.

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Thom Rainer
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.