Proverbs 4:23 – “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (ESV)
“Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.” MSG
1 Timothy 4:16 - “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so
doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (ESV)
“Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted.
Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.” MSG
I have deliberately chosen the word “rhythms” rather than "disciplines" because of the organic nature that the word represents. In music, rhythm is “an ordered alternation of contrasting elements.” Good rhythms in ministry allow us to account for the realities we all face, and keep us from a rigid approach to our discipleship that can far too often create shame rather than joy and freedom. Rhythms reflect the ebb and flow of life under grace.
In order to address the issues of isolation and loneliness in ministry, we must consider the rhythm between solitude and community.
SOLITUDE AND COMMUNITY
I can be alone in a group. I jokingly refer to my “people quotient”. I am energized by being alone. But there is a danger in isolation. My own story is a clear example of the dangers of being isolated from others. Without authentic relationships, my secret sin was allowed to fester until it became unmanageable and led to my exit from ministry.
Many of us in ministry are dangerously isolated – perhaps not because of a lack of proximity to others, but because we lack those significant, authentic relationships. This is the loneliness and isolation of many ministers and spouses.
We need the rhythm of both solitude and community to combat isolation and loneliness.
Solitude is different from isolation. It is an intentional “coming apart” as Jesus advised, in order to hear God. Jesus planned times of intentional aloneness with the Father. (Mt 14:23, Mk 1:35)
Solitude is that time and place where we find, as John Ortberg has said, “that your existence is larger than your job at church.”
Being alone with God, in solitude, is a Place and Time to remember who I am and to confront the real issues of my heart. One of the clearest examples of this in my own life occurred when I was on a personal retreat at a local Jesuit retreat center. Walking through the “stations of the cross” in the outside gardens, I came to the one where Jesus asked the Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment of solitude, God was able to speak into my own feelings of abandonment, carried with me from when I was a child – feelings that affected a good deal of how I treated others. In the cry of Jesus, I knew that he understood my pain. Without the time alone, I never would have experienced God’s healing touch in my heart.
Solitude can be a time when we fast from things, people, and all the outer props of our lives; including technology. (R. Foster)
But we must be careful here. We do not live only in those internal moments. There is a reason Jesus created the Church, the physical expression of His Body here on earth. As ministers, we live much of our lives between our ears. The contrasting element to solitude is community – the other element necessary for overcoming isolation and loneliness. Being alone needs to prepare us to be with others.
Ministers and their families need genuine community. We may preach it to our congregations. But we can avoid it for ourselves. Ministry happens in community and we need it for our souls to be healthy.
Jesus desired that Peter, James and John share with him in his times of glory (on the mountain) and in his deep sorrow (in the Garden)
Paul longed for the company of his companions while in prison.
Community is a word that is very popular right now. With it has come a greater willingness of some ministers to be more open about their own challenges from the pulpit. While I am grateful for that, the deeper issue is: Are there those who really know us? Do we avoid real and authentic relationships for ourselves out of fear or pride?
Are there people we can be unfettered with; who can advocate God’s presence and grace to us?
Ministers need others to remind them who they really are – because we can forget that we are human beings first, disciples second and ministers third. All of us need people who can speak God’s truth and grace into our lives and take us back to the Gospel for US!
I am used to being a lone ranger. But understanding that I need others in my life caused me to create an advisory team when I returned to ministry life. This small group of men know me, and I can be transparent with them. One of the greatest joy’s in my life is that, where once I had none, now I have friends.
Where is that place, and who are the people with whom you can be fully known without secrets? Can sit with them and confess, “Here is what I am most ashamed of”, and experience grace, forgiveness and healing! I believe that James 5:16 is the most avoided passage of Scripture I know. Yet the work of confession – of bringing our faults and sins into the light – is vital for the health of our souls. Personal confession is good. But real healing takes place in that community activity of speaking and hearing in the presence of others. Being authentic at this level will allow us to be authentic in other relationships both inside and outside of our congregations.
It is important that we nurture this kind of community with our spouses. They are a “help” fit for you (Gen. 2:18). They are on this journey with you. Then you must find those folks – within and outside your congregation that can be your friends. Starting today, I challenge you to reach out and find one other person to begin with.
In the rhythm of solitude and community, we can find a lasting answer to the problems of isolation and loneliness in ministry.
PO Box 64934
Virginia Beach VA 23467
Roy A. Yanke- Executive Director, PIR Ministries
God’s servants need hope! Roy’s personal experience has shaped him in unique ways to come alongside the many ministers and their families who are “exited,” have fallen or are just plain burned out in ministry. He pastored for 17 years in an evangelical denomination. As a result of a major “crash and burn”, Roy experienced both the discipline and the grace of God through years of slow but steady growth, restoration and renewed hope. Prior to joining PIR Ministries in 2012, Roy spent 16 years in industry, focusing on management and quality systems.
Roy served as a Regional Director for PIR Ministries from 2012 to 2016; and was appointed the Executive Director of PIR Ministries in 2016.
Roy and his wife, Deb, have been married for 42 years. Roy is an ordained ruling elder and regular teacher at Grace Chapel EPC in Michigan. He is a graduate of William Tyndale College.