Fighting Isolation

Many church leaders struggle to identify significant relationships in their lives

As the weather grows colder and the days become shorter, I isolate myself more. When I get home, I throw on warm, comfy clothes and snuggle up in a chair with our dog. My husband and I make simple meals of warm comfort food and spend the evening talking or watching our favorite television shows. Gone are the days of summer when the warm temperatures and long days meant there were extra hours to spend meeting friends for dinner or taking long walks through the neighborhood, connecting with neighbors. During the cold winter months, we have to nearly force ourselves to be social and connect with friends—to choose to live in community and invest in meaningful relationships.

While spending more time at home is natural when the weather is less than desirable, what if your life were always a winter of isolation? In his article for our resource Accountability for Church Leaders, David Augsburger writes that isolation is a serious issue for church leaders:

Shrinking personal networks have come to characterize Western life. The healthy person needs 20 to 30 significant relationships—five or so each drawn from family, church, work, play, neighborhood, and relatives. These are partially interlocking, yet richly varied networks of friends with commitment to intense, positive, reciprocal relationships with history and continuity. Many church leaders are hard pressed to name more than a few friends who are truly mutual and reciprocal. The constant temptation to be a helper in nonreciprocal and non-accountable relationships leaves a caregiver impoverished relationally, with less community than is necessary for healthy functioning.

With so many commitments to investing in others, without necessarily participating in mutual relationships, church leaders may struggle to identify many significant relationships in their lives. For many church leaders, relationships are ministry-based, transient, and somewhat superficial. For instance, a small-group leader may be friends with one of the small-group members. The two may e-mail regularly (mostly related to the group meetings), talk weekly at church services and at the group meetings, and share some meaningful prayer requests. At the end of the small group, though, there is a good chance that the relationship will turn out to be less close than originally thought.

This is a problem. Church leaders, like all Christians, need to know and be known. We will struggle in life, and we need to have friendships that hold us accountable and help us grow. And perhaps church leaders need this even more. James writes that those "who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). Yet when we feel isolated, it's difficult to identify close friends who we would want to begin an accountability relationship with.

Check out Accountability for Church Leaders to learn how you can intentionally build accountability relationships into your life. You and your ministry will be healthier for it.

Share with us: how do you avoid isolation as a church leader?

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