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The loneliness of leadership: 9 healthy ways to deal with it

Leadership means loneliness in some ways. With every step in leadership we make, comes the inevitable increase in loneliness. The higher we climb in leadership, the more responsibilities we get, the lonelier we become.

We can’t share everything we experience in our youth ministry with our team because some of it isn’t beneficial to them. We can’t be completely open about what we encounter or wrestle with towards parents or church member because there’s a confidentiality issue. We can’t ask just anyone for advice about our struggle with the senior pastor, because we don’t want to talk behind his back.

And yet at the end of the day, we’re the ones who have to make the decisions. The buck stops with us.

No one said it better than William Shakespeare in ‘King Henry IV, Part II’:

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”

Being a leader means dealing with loneliness. So how do you do this? How do you find a way to unload and share without damaging others? Here are 9 healthy ways to deal with the loneliness of leadership:

1. Have the courage to stand alone sometimes

Being a leader means accepting the loneliness that comes with it up to a certain point. If you are convinced you’re doing the right thing and God has confirmed this, then take a stand and be willing to stand alone.

2. Don’t confide in the wrong people

It’s tempting to confide in people when something bad has happened, like a fall-out with another leader. But ultimately you will always regret sharing with the wrong people. Don’t burden youth, other leaders, volunteers, parents or even your senior pastor with issues they don’t need to know. If they’re not part of the problem or the solution, keep them out of it.

3. Find a balance with your spouse

If you are married, your spouse may be the most logical person to share your struggles with. Be careful to find a balance here though. When our church was going through a rough time, my daily rants about what was happening had a huge impact on my husband and negatively affected his view of people and of my job. I’ve had to learn to find a better balance in this and share less of the struggles and more of the joys.

4. Invest in friendships outside your church

This is hugely important! You have to invest in solid friendships outside your own church, so you can share about situations once in a while with people who don’t know the players. This was hard for me at first, as many of our friends were from inside our church. When our church hit some rough roads, I couldn’t share it with them because I didn’t want to burden them with too much negative info. I’ve had to find other friends I could share with who didn’t know anyone in our church.

5. Become part of a (youth ministry) network

This is another biggie. Whenever possible, become part of a local or regional youth ministry network. Sharing experiences with other youth pastors can be such a relief because they will know exactly what you mean. It’s also a great place to ask for advice, since they will usually understand the ‘playing field’ of your problem. To sort of quote a famous Billy Joel song: ‘you’ll be sharing a drink called loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone’.

6. Seek a mentor or coach

I really recommend you search for a coach or a mentor or whatever you want to call it. You’ll not only be able to share whatever you’re dealing with and thus relieve some of your loneliness, but get good feedback and advice at the same time!

Right now, I’m mentoring a young guy in my former church. He just struggles with several issues in his role in youth ministry, but he can’t share that with most of his friends because they’re all in the same church. So we Skype once or twice a week and he unloads with me. Sometimes I give advice, sometimes I just listen, but the simple fact of being able to talk to someone makes his life easier.

7. Protect your team

Whatever you do, protect your team from either experiencing the effects of your frustration in loneliness or going through loneliness of their own. Make sure you do not dump your troubles on their shoulders and thus give them too much of a burden to bear. Sure, it’s good to be open to a certain point and share with your team. You don’t have to pretend leadership is a walk in the park either, but protect them from the brunt of it. And make sure they know how to deal with the loneliness on their level of leadership as well.

8. Protect your heart from bitterness

Especially in times of ‘extreme loneliness’, it’s easy to let your heart grow bitter. ‘Nobody understands me, nobody knows what I have to put up with every day, nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…’ Don’t allow your leadership to make you arrogant or bitter, guard your heart closely in these matters.

9. Share your loneliness with God

‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus’

No matter what you’re going through, no matter how deep your feelings of loneliness, never forget that Jesus is right there with you. He knows all about loneliness, about nobody understanding Him, about dealing with critics and false accusations and having to make tough decisions that nobody could help Him with. Jesus knows what you’re going through at all times, so share your burden with Him. You’ll find it becomes lighter after that!

Do you experience loneliness in your leadership? What do you to to combat this?

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0 thoughts on “The loneliness of leadership: 9 healthy ways to deal with it

  1. I’ve got two mentors that I meet with on a monthly basis, and my conversations with them lift a ton of burdens. Usually, there’s nothing huge to talk about, but just knowing it’s a safe place where I can lean on someone is huge. Thanks for the great reminders!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Benjer! Having a mentor (or even two, you’re blessed!) is so important, no matter how long you’ve served in ministry. Just the simple act of being able to unload in a safe place can make such a difference…also, I’m one of those people who needs to think out loud to someone, so having a mentor helps me to analyze my own thoughts and reasonings.

  2. I’ve found confidential online support with other leaders/spouses. This has been invaluable because I can discuss the things I can’t discuss elsewhere and I have amazing prayer support.

    1. That is an amazing idea, how did you come by this? That’s a group of people who knows exactly what you’re dealing with and can offer you support like no one else. Great tip, thanks for sharing Sarah!

      1. I’m part of a forum that is all pastors’ wives. They’re amazing! I found it through a blog post. I’m guessing there’s similar things out there for leaders. I know DH has a network of youth pastors that he chats with in a private group on Facebook. They all started working together at a conference.

        1. Thanks for the tip Sarah!

  3. Good article. Although you may have understated point number 9. The other points benefit tremendously emotionally and intellectually and socially. But if we habitually “look to Jesus” and think about Him (Hebrews 12:1-4), our spirits can endure much much more than we realize.

    1. Beautifully put Aaron, thanks for adding that!

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