Have you ever experienced it? That sense of loneliness that can come with a leadership position. You know what I mean, right? You serve tirelessly week after week, month after month, year after year. You are around people a lot of the time. You know them well – their names, birthdays, likes and dislikes. But you don’t feel known.
Is it normal to have distance between you and the people you are leading? How far is too far in either direction of the spectrum of friendship and respect? If there is too much respect and not enough friendship, does the leader-follower relationship work? If there is too much friendship, can the leader be taken advantage of or really lead well?
These are questions that many leaders in ministry can face. Add to that the simple hurdle of a busy schedule (is there even enough time to build true friendships?), and personality (in particular, how do introverts handle this issue?), and it’s a complicated aspect of leadership. Is it even normal?
There’s no question that Mother Teresa’s ministry is a prime example to most of us when it comes to serving and loving people. Yet, did you know that she faced extreme loneliness and doubt in her ministry? She once stated, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” While it seems like she was referring to those she served, she could just as easily have been referring to herself. After she passed away, some personal letters she wrote were uncovered that revealed she had a deep crisis of faith for the last 40 years of her ministry and felt and extreme sense of loneliness.
Yet she kept serving.
Loneliness is normal in leadership. But “normal” doesn’t mean “designed by God.” He doesn’t want us to feel lonely. In fact, His own being shows that He is not a God of loneliness. He’s a triune God – in relationship with Himself. He wants us to be in community and relationship.
There’s no magic formula to figure out how to balance out leadership and friendship with those you lead. It all depends on life stages, ages, circumstances, personality…and a number of other factors. But what is important is that you, as a leader, find some sense of community. Most likely, this will be apart from those you lead. Maybe it’s a small group of your peers in ministry as well. Maybe it’s a Bible study that you join (check out Bible Study Fellowship in your area). Maybe it’s community that is few and far between, like at officers’ councils, youth events (Boot Camp is an excellent sense of community for lonely leaders!), or even family reunions. It will be up to you to keep some of the community going in the dry times of ministry.
It’s worthwhile to look deeper into Mother Teresa’s life, faith, and service on your own. What you might find is a sense of camaraderie – which is ultimately the antidote to loneliness…to know you are not alone with your feelings, thoughts, and doubts. Seek out the stories of those from the past and present who can relate. You are not alone!
In the meantime, keep on doing what God has for you to do. He will provide!