Why Do So Many Leaders Refuse to Reach Out?

Honestly, this is a question I have been wondering about for a long time.

The irony of the work that I do as a therapist is that ministry leaders are one of the biggest referrers to my practice. They often instinctively see someone who is hurting and in need of help, and they are quick to locate help for that person. They may do some counseling themselves, refer to a lay ministry or make a recommendation for that person to come see me in my private practice.

Ministry leaders are really good at connecting hurting people to avenues of help.

If that is the case, then why do so many ministry leaders have a hard time connecting to help for themselves? I ask this question of myself as well since I have been serving in ministry for about 18 years.

Why do I have such a hard time reaching out and getting the help I need?

It was not always easy for me to ask … to reach out for help. And it still isn’t easy. But when I did … wow, it changed my life. And I was forever thankful to the people who often encouraged me to get the help I needed. In fact, I’m just now coming out of a long season where I had people alongside of me helping me through some difficult transitions.

So, why then do ministry leaders often ignore their need for help, but are so good at getting others help?

Here are a few thoughts I have. Let me know what resonates with you.

One, many ministry leaders are often so outwardly focused on the needs of others that they don’t look at their own needs. Some of this is due to the large amount of us in ministry who are “people pleasers” and have a hard time setting boundaries in our lives. We overextend ourselves in order to help others, but often at the peril of our own families, marriages and personal lives. The thought of getting one’s own help often goes unnoticed. And unfortunately, I was sharing with one pastor in counseling the other day that church history is full of stories of great ministry leaders whose personal lives were a trail of destruction. Broken marriages. Angry and detached kids. And a ministry legacy that was tarnished in the process.

Two, many ministry leaders see getting help as a sign of weakness. Though they refer others to get help, they internalize their own need for help as some form of failure. It’s sort of like the person who says, “I think medication is great to help someone through their depression and anxiety. I recommend it. Oh, but I would never do that myself.” There is some perceived weakness in themselves for needing help that they don’t place on others who need help.

Three, many ministry leaders live in fear of being exposed. “What if someone in my ministry finds out I’m seeing a counselor? They might think I’m unfit to preach (serve, lead worship, etc.) each week.” The disconnect in many ministry leaders is that there is a perceived notion that they are being vulnerable, but often the vulnerability that is trotted out is just another form of masking true vulnerability out of fear of being seen as weak and being exposed. Brene Brown writes:

“Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust and disengagement … ’letting it all hang out’ or boundaryless disclosure is one way we protect ourselves from real vulnerability. And the TMI (too much information) issue is not even a case of ‘too much vulnerability’—vulnerability is bankrupt on its own terms when people move from being vulnerable to using vulnerability to deal with unmet needs, get attention or engage in the shock-and-awe behaviors that are so commonplace in today’s culture.” (Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, pp. 46-Kindle)

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Rhett Smith
I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (MDiv, MSMFT, LMFT-A) and pastor to youth and families. I write about the relationships between psychology, theology and technology.