Pastors need to both spend some time with others and some time alone. Prioritize alone time, but balance this with time with others.
By Chris Maxwell
“Church would be okay,” the old saying goes, “if it weren’t for the people.”
“Hurt people,” the statement says, “hurt people.”
“My church is doing much better these days,” a pastor recently informed me, “since most of our folks left.”
I get the point. We’ve all experienced it. The people we care for over many years and invest time, energy, and emotions in, brag on us one day and then turn from us when we need them most. But really, the church is people—not a building, a service, a day, or a time. It’s a collection of people gathering together to worship God and develop relationships with Him and one another.
Spend some time together
The biblical stories, letters, poems, prophecies, and prayers come in various styles while having this in common: Most are written to groups of people, not one person living in isolation. Buildings, services, days, and times exist to help create and construct community—people together. But it takes time. It takes time to sit together. It takes time to learn together and become transformed together.
Life is a lengthy and bumpy journey. And traveling alone is not safe. It’s not wise. It’s not necessary.Life is a lengthy and bumpy journey. And traveling alone is not safe. It’s not wise. It’s not necessary. — @CMaxMan Click To Tweet
Jesus is the One who died for us all, but He didn’t endure His years alone. He pursued a few. He lived with them, loved them, and died for them, even though they betrayed, doubted, and denied Him.
Yes, people will hurt us. We’ll hurt them also. But let’s choose to pursue proper relationships with the right people.
Who are your closest friends?
“Closest” doesn’t refer to geographical location or biological relation. It refers to relationships. Write a list of true friends—those who spend time with you, love you, believe in you, pray for you, cry with you, laugh with you, eat with you, dream with you, and challenge you to become the person you should be.
What do they add to your life?
I don’t mean people who broaden your cultural connections or make you feel more important. We need people who don’t do everything and view everything just like we do. Ask yourself what your closest friends add to your life. How do they challenge and forgive you? How do they speak positive equilibrium to the devastating negatives playing in your mind?
What do you add to their lives?
Think of what their story adds to your story. Consider how you need that part in your chronicle. Think of what would be missing if they weren’t there. And think about what you must invest to be sure they are hearing encouragement from you, just as you are from them.
Spend some time alone
However, at times, some of us may like the crowds too much. Keeping people around us can become our own method of addiction or denial, rather than calling. We also need time away from people.Keeping people around us can become our own method of addiction or denial, rather than calling. — @CMaxMan Click To Tweet
Is it difficult for you to spend some time alone? It is hard for you to do nothing? If so, why are these things tough for you? Selecting times to be alone means choosing to sit back and do nothing so we can do what matters most. It’s searching, pursuing, aggressively looking for the hidden (Matthew 13:44-46). It’s admitting we are the needy and the wanted.
Set up an appointment with God. Turn off the television and the computer. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t hurry or rush. Hush the noise. Push the to-do list aside. Be still. Let nothing rob Him of your time. Think about God—His love, His acceptance, His forgiveness.
1. Schedule time to be alone regularly
We do what we prioritize. And we often fail to prioritize alone time. Change that. Place restful retreats from crowds and busyness on your schedule. Write them on your calendar. Consistent time alone, even when brief, can balance out the noisy, crowded customs of our habits.
2. Schedule specific events to be alone for longer periods of time
We should also plan and schedule lengthier sabbaths. Times to read, study, write, and sleep. We give our bodies and brains rest through long sabbath breaks. Balance busyness with time alone to rest and recover from the hurry.
3. Remember you are never alone
What have I learned through my sabbaths and alone time? I am never alone. Walks through nature, long naps, time spent deeply studying Scripture or reading lengthy books—those moments are deep experiences with the Spirit of God. When I spend some time alone, I know I am never alone. When resting, I know it’s not all about me. And when staring at stars and planets, trees and cows, I know the Creator could recreate my own life in remarkable ways. I just need to get out of the way and let Him.Our isolation is best when balanced with deep, healthy, encouraging relationships. — @CMaxMan Click To Tweet
Recognize your needs
Pastors know they need to both spend some time with others and some time alone. So, now’s the time—at least for a brief break. Shut off your devices. Get up from your chair. Walk. No agenda. No list. And no goal. Just walk.
With eyes open, look. See what you normally disregard.
With ears attentive, listen. Hear what you normally ignore. Imagine Jesus walking along with you. Listen to His silence. Notice His smile. Sense His acceptance. Smile in return. Give thanks in this moment.
Prioritize alone time. But remember to balance this tendency with time with others. We need equilibrium.
Our isolation is best when balanced with deep, healthy, encouraging relationships. Spend time with people—with the right people. Intentionally balance that with time away from people. Schedule it. Do it.
Chris Maxwell served 19 years as lead pastor in Orlando, Florida, after five years of youth ministry. He’s now in his 16th year as Campus Pastor and Director of Spiritual Life at Emmanuel College.
Portions of this article are adapted from Chris Maxwell’s book Equilibrium: 31 Ways to Stay Balanced on Life’s Uneven Surfaces.