Alan Briggs: Out of Isolation

Loneliness is a feeling, but isolation is a choice.

If you hang around enough conferences, you eventually will hear the phrase “leadership is lonely.” I understand this statement, but I don’t fully accept it. Yes, leaders bear unique burdens others struggle to understand. But no, we cannot allow that feeling to become a license for isolation. Loneliness is a feeling, but isolation is a choice.

We live in an isolated culture where people are starved for connection. Many are lonely, church leaders included. Some have chosen to isolate. Worst of all, some are convinced the moment they received a pastoral call, they accepted the curse of being alone. This seems more natural in a small church with only one pastor, but many isolated pastors I meet with have others on staff.

Most churches don’t have a team; they have a staff—some in it only for the paycheck. Teams either multiply or diminish genius, nothing in between. Beautiful things happen when a team comes together to accomplish something bigger than they would dare attempt on their own. In healthy teams individuals band together with exponential collective genius. But frustrating, even destructive, things happen in unhealthy teams. We’ve all heard church horror stories.

People are hungry for team right now because of:

• Our shifting world. Culture is changing at warp speed, and we need others to process the realities of change with.

• A scarcity of mentors. New migration patterns have beckoned us away from family and close friends who, in the past, would have functioned as mentors.

• A lack of neutral voices. Everyone seems to want something from pastors, which makes it hard to find objective advice and coaching.

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• Information bloating and relational hunger. Information is infinite today, but there is a deep hunger to learn from those who have gone before us.

• The wisdom of community. We inherently know more wisdom and health can be gleaned from others than we can muster ourselves.

Our team at Stay Forth Designs helps leaders and teams get healthier and have more ministry impact. Pastors continually come to us longing to get a handle on shifting from a staff to a healthy team. I recommend they take these three practical steps:

1. Identify and develop an inner ring. Jesus invested more in Peter, James and John, and they became pillars of the church. To develop an inner ring, you will have to say no to some demands on your time in order to redirect three hours every week to equip an inside group of ministry leaders.

2. Preach less, equip more. Leadership is creative work. Instead of simply adding it to your plate, you’re going to have to give up some things. I challenge church leaders to preach 30% less a year so they have relational space to develop more leaders.

3. Teach through immersion. We need fewer words and more experiences. Take your team on field trips so you can do ministry together.

Don’t let the unique challenges of ministry drive you to isolate. People around you want to help shoulder the load. Develop a healthy team and you will see some great things happen.