I admit it. I have a tendency to be a loner. I like my personal space and my private time. I recognize, though, that my tendencies aren’t always the best for a pastor. Here are my reflections on others like me:
Why Some of Us are Loners
1. Some of us are naturally introverts. In fact, I’m convinced many pastors are introverts, but we’ve learned how to manage the public responsibilities of shepherding a church. Fellowship gatherings drain us, but we go anyway because we know we need to. If we don’t have our alone time, however, we’d never rejuvenate.
2. Some have been hurt in the past. It doesn’t take many experiences of sharing ministry with others, becoming best friends with your staff, opening up to members . . . and then getting wounded . . . before you become a loner out of self-protection.
3. It’s easier to do ministry alone. It takes less time to make a visit if I go by myself. I don’t have to worry about anybody’s schedule. Lunch takes less time if it’s not connected to hanging out with another believer. We even spiritualize our thinking: “we can get more done for God’s glory this way.”
4. It’s risky to be vulnerable. If I never invite others into my life, I never need to talk about my fears, my weaknesses, my failures. Nobody learns that I sometimes struggle as a spouse or a parent. Nobody knows that my confidence sometimes masks my insecurities.
5. It’s the only model we know. Too few of us had someone pour into our lives when we were young pastors. We have learned the lessons of ministry the hard way – by ourselves – and we’ve learned how to survive on our own.
Why that Pattern’s Not Good
1. It misses the point that God created us to be with others. When God said in the Garden, “It is not good for man to be alone,” He was not talking about a consequence of the fall. He spoke prior to the fall – showing He created us to be in relationship with others. He did not intend us to do ministry by ourselves.
2. It misses the way Jesus did ministry. Jesus always got it right: He knew how to balance His time with the Father and with others. He called individuals, preached to the hundreds, and fed the thousands – all while also patiently investing in a few men. Even in his toughest moments (like the Garden of Gethsemane), He wanted men with Him.
3. It’s dangerous. Let’s be honest: we often make our dumbest decisions when we are alone. Isolation breeds trouble, and that trouble sometimes costs us our ministry. I have met very few leaders who fell when they were sharing life and ministry with others.
4. It can be self-centered. It sounds odd to say that my desire to work alone can somehow be self-centered, but it can be. It’s My space. My plans. My ministry. Meanwhile, I share little with others who might long to learn beside their pastor.
5. It’s not good leadership. Most of us know this truth intellectually, but we don’t practically live it out. If my departure from a church leaves a hole that seriously slows the congregation’s work, I have not been the best leader. I’ve probably, intentionally or unintentionally, built a kingdom around me – and that’s not good.
What Should We Do?
Admit our tendencies. Ask God for courage and wisdom to invest in someone else. Find 1-3 other believers into whose lives we might invest ourselves. Then, do something with these other leaders. Each step will help you break the pattern of being a loner.
Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 4. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer