Loneliness in Leadership

When I first stepped into ministry, and specifically leadership, I had no idea that at times, it would be a very lonely place. The more I talked to the mentors in my life, I felt reassurance in knowing that I wasn’t the only leader who felt this way. They expressed that the one thing no one prepares you for is the loneliness that comes with leadership. Their words gave me the reassurance and understanding that this is all part of ministry. Over the past couple years, God has given me deeper insight into why leadership is often a lonely place, but what we can do to make sure that loneliness is used in a healthful manner to push the Kingdom forward. Today, I want us to take a look at biblical leadership and how some of the greatest pioneers of our faith offered their loneliness back into the Lord’s hands, so that He could use it for His greater purpose.

Before we dive deep, I want to clarify something. There’s a difference between the spirit of loneliness and the loneliness we experience in leadership. The greatest difference I have seen is this: the spirit of loneliness sends people to a place of isolation which stilts growth, whereas biblical loneliness places you in a position of consecration that draws you closer to God. At times, you may feel alone, but as a leader, you are not ever meant to lead in isolation. Jesus didn’t lead in isolation. And, neither should we. It is crucial that you connect yourself to other leaders who are walking the same path as you, leaders who are covering you and your ministry in prayer. If you are a leader and you feel like there is no one else who is walking the same path as you, begin to pray that God would connect you to the right people and voices in your life. Furthermore, as a leader, you must be submitted to your pastor. If you are a pastor yourself, then it is vital that you have a pastor in your life who you are submitted to. All of us, as we shepherd others, should have a shepherd who is keeping watch over our ministry. The most important thing you can do as a leader is to make sure every facet of your ministry is being covered through prayer. He will open the right doors, including the right relationships and resources that will help guide you in your calling.

Throughout this year, the further I got into my studies, the more I began to see something repetitive happening in the lives of some of the greatest leaders in the Bible. It was in the loneliest of places that God carried out His purpose. God positioned people and placed them in circumstances that were incredibly solitary. But every single time, when that person submitted themselves into God’s hands, the loneliness was used for a far greater plan. God often works in patterns, so it shouldn’t surprise us that 2,000+ years later, as leaders, we, too, must walk a similar path.

Loneliness prepares our hearts for the assignments God has prepared for us. In Greek, the literal translation of the word solitude is wilderness or desert. It is here in the desert seasons that we are refined. In solitude, our lives are brought into focus. Loneliness, when offered back into God’s hands, brings us into deeper intimacy and dependency on Him. It is here that God humbles us, purifies us, increases our faith and teaches us valuable lessons about life and His character that we wouldn’t learn any other way.

Now, let’s get into the meat of today’s post.

God shapes us through loneliness. In her book For Women Who are Called by Women Who Have Answered, Kim Haney writes, “God takes His time to develop us and mold us into something He can use and depend upon, and the development always happens in a lonely place on the backside of a desert.” God sends us into the lonely places, for our benefit, so that others may experience God in a transformative way. I can truly testify to this. Loneliness has, over and over again, sent me on a path to come to know God in a deeper way, and to learn aspects of spiritual warfare that might have come through no other avenue.

From a sermon he preached in the 1960s, Rev. Henry A. Moore (aka my grandfather), preached a message entitled Face to Face with God, focusing on the story of Moses. He broke down the life of Moses and stated that, “In the second 40 years of his life, Moses had to be purified by suffering and humbled by failure. This was all a part of the training. There is a time when it seems God puts every man in the desert. God wants quality.” As a leader, do not despise the delays and setbacks found in the desert, for it is this very place that God is producing quality character traits in you, so that when your leadership is tested (just like Moses’ was), you’ll be better prepared to face whatever comes your way. If it hadn’t been for the desert and the many testings he went through, Moses might have never been qualified or ready to face what was to come when the call came. Because of what Moses went through, it produced leadership skills inside of him that allowed the people to trust and stand by him as they were led into the promised land.

In his book, Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald writes about John the Baptist accepting the call. “The call demanded submission to God’s ways, God’s methods and God’s criteria for success. John was willing to accept those terms, no matter what the cost to him in pain or loneliness…God drew John into the desert where He could speak to him. And when he got him there He began to stamp impressions onto John’s inner world that gave the son of Zacharias a totally different perspective on his times. There in the desert he gained a new view of religion, of right and wrong, of God’s purpose for history. And there he developed a special sensitivity and courage that would prepare him for his most extraordinary task: introducing his generation to the Christ.” I don’t think I need to expand much more on that. God put John in a desert so that he would be ready to introduce his world to the Messiah.

Loneliness is God’s training ground. That was true in the lives of Moses and John the Baptist, as well as the lives of many other biblical leaders. Another such leader who learned this is a man by the name of David. You might have heard of him. The first mention of David is in 1 Samuel 16:1, “For I have provided Myself a king among his sons.” The first thing we know about David is that he is chosen by God. He is chosen for a specific purpose: to become king. In other words, he was chosen to become a leader. As we continue to read, we discover that David was keeping the sheep for his own family. First off, David, as a member of the family, should not have been shepherding. That was the job of the household’s servants. Thus, it is safe to say that Jesse’s household was not very wealthy, which is why David had to take on the job of the shepherd. David could have become bitter by this, but he didn’t. David approached shepherding with a servant’s heart and used that time to get to know his God more. Shepherding all by himself gave him the time to think, to worship, to learn how to care for others, and to trust God in the midst of danger and threat. His years of being a shepherd were just as important, if not more, as the years he spent as a warrior in battle. Because of it, David was ready when his enemy presented himself to him.

God uses loneliness to bring incredible revelations into our lives. Another man in the Bible who greatly understood loneliness as a cost of leadership was the prophet, Jeremiah. I don’t have time to dive into the entire book, but like Paul, when Jeremiah was imprisoned, the Lord spoke to him saying, “Thus says the LORD who made it, the LORD who formed it to establish it (the LORD is His name); Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. Jeremiah 33:2-3. The LORD goes on to reveal His plans to Jeremiah, that He is going to restore the captives of Judah and Israel, that He is going to deliver them from all their sins, and that He is going to establish a covenant that cannot be broken. What powerful revelation! If it hadn’t been for the prison cell, Jeremiah would have never received some of the most profound revelation in Scripture. As leaders, we must come to understand that God positions us in certain places so that we may experience new revelation about Him and the future of His church. And, talking about revelation and the future of God’s church, we wouldn’t have the Book of Revelation without John being exiled to the island of Patmos. Think about that for a moment.

Loneliness is where God appoints His people with Kingdom assignments. There are so many examples of this in the Bible, one being that of the apostle, Paul. The word apostle simply means to be sent. Paul understood that as an apostle of Jesus, wherever his life would lead him, he was sent there by God, with purpose. As leaders, we must continually keep this at the forefront of our minds. Because Paul understood this concept well, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon were written. During his roman imprisonment, Paul wrote these epistles to the different churches, often referred to as the prison epistles. Would they have been written if Paul didn’t have that time in a lonely prison cell? We can’t answer that question, but what we do know is that because of where he was positioned, Paul was able to truly focus on his greatest calling: to spread the hope of the gospel to the churches. Paul came to understand that his time in prison was purposeful for the Kingdom.

At times, in leadership, we experience loneliness because of the weight of the responsibility that comes with it. We experience loneliness because there is something greater being asked of us. But, the most powerful thing to realize is that even though it feels lonely, God called you for this. John 15:16 states, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” Like the many pioneers of our faith, you have been chosen and appointed by God to fulfill His purpose. If there is anything we have learned today, it is that loneliness is a required course for leadership.

Along the way, God will be the one to equip you. God will help you to carry the load and burdens that no one else sees. God will continue to lead you and guide you as you face things you never thought you would have to face. And, most of all, God will place people in your life who will help support you and pray for you as you lead God’s way. The main thing to remember is that we must offer up our loneliness to Him, so that He may be able to use it, mold us, multiply it, do whatever He wishes to do on this Christian pathway we are walking on. As Elizabeth Elliot writes, “The loneliness itself is material for sacrifice. The very longings themselves can be offered to Him who understands perfectly. The transformation into something He can use for the good of others takes place only when the offering is put into His hands.”

Leaders, we are in this together. I pray that you are encouraged by these words and are reminded that there truly is nothing more beautiful than getting to serve for the Kingdom of God. Let’s continue to support and pray for one another as the day draws closer for our Lord’s return.

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