There is a dark and uncomfortable reality to leadership that never makes it into the glossy brochure. It is my least favorite aspect of leadership and one that no one likes to talk about in anything but the abstract. That reality is this: Leadership can be crushingly lonely.
The ministry that I lead is in the midst of challenges. Energy is lagging. Momentum is a fondly remembered feeling. Attendance has lagged. Leaders are tired. Pressure is mounting. Everyone is looking to me to re-energize the team, kick start a new momentum swing, bring new people in the door, excite leaders and alleviate all of the pressure. That is a lonely and challenging place to be.
Loneliness, whether real or imagined, can be discouraging, alienating and destructive. It’s up to us to determine how to handle it. James starts his letter with an unbelievable exhortation: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. This is one of those verses that’s far easier to think about or ponder than apply. Often in the depths of loneliness, all you can do is trust God to apply it for you.
Leadership is great when everything is going well but gets lonely blindingly fast when challenges are introduced. For those who have led, you know that challenges get introduced after about .14 nanoseconds and so loneliness can set in pretty quickly. You strive to lead well through the good times and challenges both but as a sinful being, you can only do so much. Those that you’re leading seem to believe that you have unlimited resources, energy and ideas. You can continue the facade or admit that you’re broken, limited and human. Either way, the decision is yours and that’s a lonely place to be. Consider it pure joy, though, because those you lead will test your faith and produce perseverance in you. The perseverance that it takes to lead will make your faith mature and complete.
The flip side of this is our own relationship with those who are leading us. We often expect them to intrinsically know when we’re struggling and need help. Those that are leading you, though, are stretched themselves and can only do so much. You expect them to have the answers and feel a deeper loneliness when they don’t offer them. You feel lonely when they issue challenge instead of encouragement. You feel lonely because you’re scared to admit your own inadequacy to them. You feel lonely because you’re doing to them the exact thing that those you’re leading do to you. You expect your leaders to have all of the answers and solutions just like those you’re leading expect you to solve every problem. Consider it pure joy, though, because following will also test your faith and produce perseverance in you. The perseverance it takes to follow will make your faith mature and complete.
Leading is hard and oftentimes lonely. You think that people will line up to encourage and applaud you but that quickly forming line is often full of people with more problems, more complaints and more needs. Even with these challenges, leadership is a deep and holy calling. Stay the course. Finish the race. Consider it pure joy for it’s making your faith mature and complete!
Buz is a special education teacher who passionately loves his ladies (wife and 2 daughters). They live in Spokane, Washington and you can check out his blog right here.