By Josh King
“Senior pastors have a special and wonderful role in Christ’s church, but like folks in leadership everywhere, they face a sinister temptation to massively overvalue their uniqueness in a way that isolates them from accountability and input and burden-sharing.”— Andy Johnson, IX Marks Journal, June 2011
This past Sunday as our church began to gather again in person, I shared with them what I call “the damaging effects of isolation.” While I’m in agreement with and support the precautions we’re taking to mitigate health risks, I’m concerned with the impact of isolation on our souls.
With that in mind I read the above quote and was struck by how often we pastors put ourselves in dangerous isolation, not from a desire to be healthy, but from an arrogance that believes we already are.
Here are a few self-isolations I’ve noticed among the pastors I call friends and acquaintances.
1. Isolation from accountability
If you’ve pastored for longer than an hour you know how messed up people can be. The hard thing is remembering that we, too, are people—messed up people. We need others in our lives who can tell us when we’re acting out of character or going down a wayward path.
I know there are several arguments for a multiplicity of top-level leadership in this vein of thought, but let me encourage you to change the way you interact with nearly everyone. Be honest about your motivations. Whatever decision you’re wrestling with, you no doubt have some pure and some evil motivations.
When you speak with your peers and mentors, vocalize those base motivations. Let them know you’re leaning toward pride, self-preservation, or even fear. It doesn’t have to be an official set-aside group of people who are constantly giving you a job review. It can be a manner in which you walk through life, allowing others to know you’re not always practicing what you’re preaching.
2. Isolation from burden-sharing
We’re told—and repeat it to ourselves—that the buck stops with us. We believe we should shoulder the burden of the church, and sadly, we think if we don’t, we’re not only disappointing our church but also Christ. All of this is a lie.
We’re not created to carry the burden of a church by ourselves, and so we must allow other people to shoulder the burden with us. One of the habits I’ve developed in my life is regularly taking an inventory, asking myself what things are causing me stress and then looking for people who can either take those from me or help me with them.
It’s amazing how much care is gained by simply telling another person I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by a matter and asking if they’d mind taking a certain amount of it.
3. Isolation from peers
The final isolation I see suck the life out of pastors is an isolation from other people who are in the trenches of pastoring churches. I find it helpful to make sure I’m in regular and open communication with other pastors who are pastoring churches of a similar size and setting. They know what I’m doing and can help me navigate the challenges.
While friends who pastor smaller churches are life-giving, they can often be used to puff up our own ego, like building our own fan club. Friends who pastor larger churches or more prestigious positions are regularly used to network for future advancement.
What we need is a friend who can give us nothing and need nothing from us. We have to be willing to kill our pride and open up to someone else rowing in the same direction about the pain we’re experiencing. We don’t because we want to appear to be the top dog.
In all areas of life right now, distancing is an aspect; but isolation shouldn’t be. The result of sin is that we slide toward isolation. It’s where we end up naturally unless we fight it. Few people intentionally cut everyone off. But many end up in isolation when they aren’t intentional about pushing toward other people and leaning into those relationships.
My hope is that as we come out of this season of social distancing we’ll be ever more thankful for—and intentional with—the companionship we find in others both in the local church family and our larger context.
JOSH KING (@JoWiKi) is the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, husband of Jacki, and father of three boys. He’s also a co-host of the EST.church podcast.