women in ministry: feeling alone

Welcome to a series that is focused on women leaders in ministry. It doesn't matter where you lead. If you are woman, leading a ministry, then this is for you. I want you to know that I am approaching this as someone who doesn't know all the answers nor have I figured it all out. All I know are the lessons I have learned in my short time in leadership. I have been a leader, in some shape or form, for the past 20 years. These roles have included leading a small group, mentoring, leading events and volunteers and leading mission trips. In the Spring of 2015, God called me to a role that would stretch my leadership capabilities to a point of constantly needing Him and that is leading the women's ministry at my church. Thanks for joining this series as we dive into areas of ministry that we might find challenging or alone in dealing with. The premise is to understand you are not alone!
Loneliness is a commonality among ministry leaders. It's easy to get to a place of feeling like an island, surrounded by water without much accessibility to other people. Which is so strange because ministry involves people. Most of us are around people constantly and are building intentional relationships. Leading a Women's Ministry is especially relational as I provide ways for women to do just that. Be it a Bible Study, movie night, retreat, etc. each opportunity is one for women to connect with one another. I am constantly talking to people and introducing or informing or talking about Jesus.

So how is it that loneliness can set in?

When I first started leading women's ministry, I had this naive notion that I would suddenly be surrounded by amazing women who would seek me out and want to spend time with me. Wow. High horse much? In all honesty, it wasn't from a place of pride. I didn't think of myself as higher than everyone, I just thought that, since I was a leader, that women may want to connect with me more.

Boy was I wrong.

In fact, it seemed quite the opposite. In some ways, I almost felt avoided. Such a strange phenomenon and feeling! After an event that I spoke at, I came down from the platform as ladies started mingling again. I expected some to approach me and chat about the talk or Jesus or whatever. Nope. Nothing. No one. In fact, I was the only one not interacting with someone. After a minute of collecting myself (and possibly having a quick talk to myself about humility), I walked towards some ladies and tried to interact.

Have you ever stepped into a conversation, involving a few people, and it just feels like no one hears or sees you? That is exactly what it felt like in this moment. Of course, the enemy starts to see an opportunity and weaseled his way into my thoughts. He began to twist things around and skew my perception of what was going on. Not only did I feel neglected, overlooked and ignored but, I also started to feel lonely.

What I also noticed happening, for me, was the lack of authentic relationship. As a leader, the need to be "on" is a real component. People are watching us. Whether they are an authority over us or, the people coming to hear us speak or teach. Because of this need to feel "on" all the time, it can be hard to find people we can be authentic and real with. Thus, loneliness can set in.

Finally, there is a strange perception of leaders and I am guilty of having this one so, I will speak from my own personal experience. Before I was any type of leader, I always viewed those who were, to have a great social life. I thought that they had a good group of friends, were sought out to be with and were invited to everything. I was in for a harsh reality check when I began leading. This is quite the opposite of what is true. In fact, since I have been leading a ministry, I find that I am sought out less and invited to even less than that! Once again, loneliness can set in. Due to past experiences, I have a hyper-sensitivity to being left out so, you can imagine how hard this has been to go through and process.

So, what do we do as leaders? Do we sit everyone down and tell them how wrong they have it? Do we send out a newsletter that tells everyone not to assume their leaders are perfect or have a full social life? I don't think that is a good approach. This is led with guilt and we never want to guilt the people God has placed in our path nor will it be authentic. It comes down to our own heart. Where are we going to fill that void? How are we being purposeful in seeking out ways to not be lonely.

Maybe you are thinking, "Hey Melissa! I am an introvert. Being alone is my jam!" Well, maybe to fill up your cup but, God did not create us to be alone. He isn't even alone. It's God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Three in One. Even our Heavenly Father is in community; He isn't alone. We were created to be in community and we need to be in community. For the accountability, for the relationship and, quite frankly, because it is modeled by God Himself and we are to be imitators of Him.

I've thought of some things I've done in my own walk in leading and the ways I have attempted to approach this common experience. This is not one of those "here are three ways you can overcome loneliness" posts, though. Mostly because I can't guarantee my way will work for everyone. Although, one component is fool-proof and you will recognize it right away.

You can't fix people's assumptions. So, I mentioned above that a reason I think loneliness and disconnect sets in is because of others perception of our social life. Mostly because it is how I viewed leaders and, I have to believe, there are others who think this as well. It seems like a natural assumption because leaders put off the vibe that they are confident and confident people have friends, right??? Well, you and I both know that confidence does not equate having a ton of friends. We know that the confidence we tend to exude is ONLY from God and God alone because, about 5 seconds before speaking or doing whatever we do to lead, we were still sweating and on the verge of throwing up. But, here is the thing - we can't force people to change what they think. We can't have a sermon on "Stop thinking your Pastor/Leader has 50 best friends". We just can't. Maybe there are ways we can be honest about our social life but, I feel like when we want to change assumptions, there is that underlying need to make people feel guilty. If that's not true for you, then go for it! I will say, I have been honest in conversations when the topic comes up and it has been wonderful. If someone you trust asks you how you are doing, be honest! I think it is good to be selective about who we confess this too but, don't try to change the flock. Especially if you are coming from a place of wanting them all to feel bad for neglecting you.

Seek out two or three people to be authentic with. As a leader, it can be easy to assume we have to have many people we connect with. It seems rude to not invest in some relationships because we don't want people to think we are exclusive or "lofty". Women's Ministry is a relational ministry and, women can be catty, exclusive and cliquey. So, it is easy to be reserved when it comes to excluding people from the deepest parts of who you are. That is the exact opposite of what this means. By seeking out just a few people we can be our true selves with, can revolutionize our lonely state of mind. I think it is healthy to have just a few people in your tribe. It makes it easier to invest WELL. When you get too many people piling up, the authenticity can waiver and it can become overwhelming trying to give equal attention to everyone. This way, two or three people get to be loved well by me and I get to be loved well too. I have learned to be patient with this one and I have also learned to be the one who approaches. I have a few close friends who, until I actually brought it up, had no idea I was feeling lonely. The moment I finally admitted it, I cried tears of release! There was hugging and also some accountability thrown in from these ladies. Because, they wanted me to be honest and be able to be real, authentic and my true self without judgement! Man, that is FREEING! One final thought on this one - don't worry about the ladies who may be offended you choose not to be super close to them. As a leader, you will have some people who seek you out because of your title and, will want to be "in the know" with you. God is going to protect you from inauthentic relationships and, when we trust Him in those moments, He truly does take care of the rest. We can still be kind, loving and supportive of those ladies but, at the end of the day, God has your back.

Who do you truly go to, to be filled up? I am an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs and I am a 7 on the Enneagram. Both of these are extreme extroverts who thrive off of being around people. It is so easy for my type to seek out other humans to fill up and only humans. But, you know Who I am after right now for our true source of companionship, aren't you? After all, you are a ministry leader and God is your Numero Uno. But, it's so true! I feel like we can pour and pour into other people, equip them, guide them, teach, disciple and do all of our leading and, yet, here we are forgetting to do it ourselves. No wonder we end up exhausted sometimes! No matter how seasoned you are, I know most of us get to this point. Sometimes it's on accident and we don't even realize what is happening until we are on the floor; in tears. God should always be my primary source of companionship. He is so faithful. His word says so. And I go to it and read it and spend time with Him. In those moments of feeling lonely, left out or whatever, those are the moments I feel God tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "What about Me?" He doesn't need me but, He knows I need Him. Always and forever.

You can't change people's perception but, when appropriate, you can help. But take that pressure off yourself.

Start small with relationships and be real. YOU be the one to call and reach out. Tell your friends what you need. The ones God has purposefully placed in your life are going to get it and will be there for you and you for them.

God is the ultimate source for companionship. Holy Spirit was left here on earth for us to be able to engage in that companionship and He will fill every void - including loneliness!

I wish this was one of those posts where, after reading, you would never experience loneliness again. Because you will. I will. It's common. It happens. I hope that we can help each other run to God in those moments and be so bold as to reach out to our little tribes. Seek out a mentor or someone to help walk you through it. And don't forget to put on that armor each day! It's worth it when the enemy tries to come knocking.

Share your thoughts in the comments. Are you a leader in ministry? Have you experienced the loneliness mentioned in this post? How have you worked through it and how would you encourage other leaders?


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