If you are a true leader, you know all about the loneliness that often comes with it.
“It gets lonely at the top.”
I have both quoted that and experienced it. Often in my role as a senior pastor I found myself absolutely alone.
Now at no point was I ever totally isolated from people. There was a congregation, the church staff, a whole lot of acquaintances and a few really good friends.
But the leader who has never experienced the loneliness that comes with the role has perhaps never truly led. This is especially true when being called to lead change.
Consider Nehemiah of old. When we look in on him in Nehemiah 1, he’s hearing about the condition of his ancestral home, Jerusalem. The text implies that he wept, mourned and prayed for months and he did it alone. It’s not recorded that he conferred with other Jewish refugees nor that he talked to anyone about it other than God.
Jumping ahead to Nehemiah 2:11, when he finally reached the ruins of Jerusalem, Nehemiah told no one about the things God had called him to do. He went out one night, mostly alone, to survey the damages and to put together his plan for restoring the walls of the city.
In chapter 3 and following, a whole lot of people did not believe in Nehemiah and stood in opposition to what God had called him to do.
No leader who’s been called by God should ever assume others are willing to listen and ready to move. When God calls a leader to do something new and important, he or she will often be met by opposition or worse.
When that happens, the leader can feel alone and isolated. Loneliness often leads to doubting the mission God has given. To doubting one’s own ability to lead. To fear, depression and a false sense of reality.
Just read the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After the mighty victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah runs from people into the wilderness. He is all alone.
When God meets Elijah and asks what he is doing there, Elijah answers that he is the only one in all of Israel who has not bowed the knee to Baal. God fact-checks Elijah and tells him there are 7,000 others. Elijah is not the only one.
Perhaps you are in a time of feeling all alone.
I feel your pain.
Know that the call of God never comes with a guarantee that people will like you or quickly follow. In the meantime, you will be left with your feelings of loneliness.
May I share a few things that have helped me during those times?
Stay very close to the One who called you and gave you a mission/vision. Was there a central passage of Scripture that was part of God’s call to you? Hang onto that passage. Read it again and again. Remind yourself of the call. Cling to it tightly. It is God who called you, and like Nehemiah and Elijah, God will not leave you alone for very long.
Remain open to the ministry partner and friend(s) that God will bring your way to share ministry and vision. Those people often come from some very unlikely places. Often they will be outside the circle of people who are technically on your team. Spend time with them. Consider Elijah and Elisha.
Unless God has called you to be an Old Testament prophet, know that your loneliness is likely to be only for a season. And in that season, you will be given the gift of knowing God more deeply than you ever have before. Almost every Psalm speaks to this. Live in the Psalms every day for a while.
It is lonely at the top. That can be a good thing for a while. Dare I say it goes with the territory?
The more radical God’s calling, the lonelier it can be. But in that loneliness, get to know better the God who called you. Look for the ones He brings your way to share or even lead the vision.