Loneliness in ministry

Barbara Blodgett writes this weeks Alban Institute offering, discussing an important challenge facing many clergy: Loneliness.

While there may be something to the idea that as ministers we should always feel like we are “in over our head” (or else we may not be taking our calling seriously enough), there is no point in drowning! Joining with our peers to figure out what makes ministry so hard can help us keep our heads above water. While loneliness is traditionally one of the hardest parts of professional ministry, we do see signs today that pastors are changing this. There are many members of the clergy who are not struggling and who want to join peer groups because they relish the chance to reflect on work they enjoy (even if they find it challenging) and desire to improve. Peer groups are, in short, for those who are keeping their heads above water and want to stay there.

Pastors need to get a collective grasp, first of all, on what contributes to the loneliness they experience. I am not pointing out anything new by saying that the ministry is considered a lonely pursuit. Nearly every conference I attend or piece I read on the formation of ministers stresses our need somehow to change the culture of loneliness for clergy and other religious leaders.

At some point, someone invariably brings up the metaphor of the Lone Ranger, implying that ministry may be compared to traveling all alone across a vast landscape. Indeed, loneliness in their work is frequently given as a primary reason why ministers seek out their colleagues. Many acknowledge that ministers are hungry for the companionship of others. Simply belonging to a group of peers that gathers regularly, whether it be for fellowship, spiritual formation, or continuing education, can go a long way toward meeting clergy’s felt need to break out of their isolation.

Comments (4)

As I've observed, the clergy who seem to do best are those who have friends and confidants outside their congregations. They could be peers in the same or other denominations, or just friends. A spiritual director is probably a good thing, too.

June Butler

The phrase "professional ministry" forever sets my teeth on edge. Does that mean the laity are engaged in "amateur ministry?" I used this phrase once in a paper in seminary, to which the professor responded wisely: "Surely there is a better description than this!"

I agree with Mimi's suggestion that all clergy need a spiritual director and support from beyond the congregation.

It is also important to me to note that these challenges are not confined to ordained ministers (how we love to think we are special!), but are endemic to leadership in any vocation. We do well to look to our lay leaders in other occupations for examples of seeking support and networks from beyond their workplace.

The word "amateur" means "lover". Too bad it's become a word meaning someone who does something with little or not talent or training, a dilletante, a dabbler, someone who gets it wrong, makes mistakes. As John Claypool titled one of his little books, "God is an Amateur". Would that we all were.

When engaged in parish ministry, my confidante was a Jewish dentist. We could talk safely and freely about the parish and its members and I could get a lot off my chest and get some good advice from someone outside the system.

Don Hands

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space