You Can't Be Resilient If You're Isolated

By Darrell Yoder on January 30, 2020

Editor's Note: Today's post is by Dr. Meryl Herr of The GoodWorks Group. As a part of this year's focus on resilience and pastoral ministry, we've asked her to interview scholars, pastors and organizations focused on pastoral health. We'll be sharing the insights and stories she finds on this blog and at the Spring 2020 conference.

In their State of Pastors research, Barna Group found pastors "are more likely than the general population to feel lonely and isolated from others." When asked how often, in the past three months, they had felt lonely or isolated from others, 52% of pastors said either "sometimes" or "frequently." And, according to Barna, women church leaders are even more likely than men to feel lonely or isolated.

The Flourishing in Ministry Project at Notre Dame also investigated the relationship between clergy wellbeing and isolation. They found that pastors' isolation may not be limited to isolation from their own local church. Pastors also feel isolated because at times they have few good friends in the ministry and simply don't feel welcome in the community of other pastors.

Recently, I interviewed Roy Yanke, Executive Director of Pastor-in-Residence (PIR) Ministries along with Regional Director Jason Eddy. PIR "helps exited pastors navigate vocational transition by providing a proven process of restoration within a caring and restorative environment." When I talked with them, I wanted to learn about the trends they have observed as they've walked alongside pastors-in-transition and their spouses. When I asked them to name some of the biggest struggles pastors face in ministry, they were quick to name isolation as a major struggle.

According to Yanke and Eddy, many pastors believe that they have it all together, or their congregation expects them to be that way. As a result, these pastors try to manage their weaknesses privately instead of in community. Plus, even though they listen to the cares and concerns of many in their congregations, some pastors struggle to be transparent about their own lives and engage with others at a deep level. They worry that if they share openly about their hurts, insecurities or weaknesses, people will run away. Others think their issues are unique, that no one feels like them.

In this way, pastors may struggle to find friends. Within the congregation, Yanke described, "sharing too much can become ammunition for an exit, but every pastor needs to find those advocates he or she can share with." This is a challenge pastors need to address, but it may be even more important for churches (especially board leadership) to consider how or whether their pastors can find deep, meaningful relationships to support their own wellbeing.

This year's Talking Points conference focuses on pastoral wellbeing. Join us on March 17, 2020. Perhaps you will find solidarity in the stories of other ministry leaders and find strength and encouragement for your work. Perhaps you will find a new friend with whom to share your life and your journey.

And, if you find yourself on the verge of or recently through a ministry transition or exit, representatives from PIR will be on-site to tell you more about the services they offer to pastors and their spouses.

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About the Author

Meryl Herr owns The GoodWorks Group, a consulting company focused on educational program development. She is also an adjunct professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Cornerstone University (Professional and Graduate Studies). Meryl earned her M.Div. and Ph.D. (Educational Studies) at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and two sons.

Categories: Discipleship, Ministry, Vocation