The loneliness of Leadership
A study by the American Council of Life Insurance once reported that the loneliest people in America are college students, divorced people, welfare recipients, single mothers, rural students, housewives, and the elderly. I could add one more category — leaders.
Leaders are usually lonely, and there are several reasons why.
First of all, I believe it happens as a result of the position itself. A leader must be over or responsible for other people, and that can be an overwhelming task! In 1 Peter 5, Peter wrote to the elders, saying they were over the people, and yet they were also among the people. This is a difficult position since the pastor is not only the shepherd, but he is also one of the sheep.
A leader is lonely in making decisions. There is the weighty burden of making wise and God-directed decisions because the consequences affect many lives outside his own.
I also know that leaders are lonely because of the many demands of their ministries. As a pastor, it has always been hard to say "No" to people who need my help and counsel.
God gives a leader the vision of the ministry. He must be able to see farther and deeper than those of his own congregations. Often his followers are not able to catch the vision. Loneliness is then the experience of being out there to lead with no one following.
People in leadership are targeted for criticism, envy, and blame. I have tried to imagine how Moses accomplished leading Israel through the wilderness for 40 years! He experienced problems of leadership with every step of his wilderness experience. He expressed to God that the burden was too heavy for him in Numbers 11:14. Moses certainly learned that leadership is not easy — it is very difficult.
A second factor causing loneliness is that people are always people. People are prone to complain because complaining is a human thing to do. The only way to avoid problems connected with leadership is to avoid people and to abdicate the position of leadership!
Why is it that people have a tendency to think about what they don't have instead of all of the blessings that they do have, just as Moses' congregation seemed to suffer from memory loss when they complained in Numbers 11:5, "...we remember the fish that we did eat in Egypt freely..."? They were slaves in Egypt. How could they have forgotten the miserable conditions and the taskmasters? People today usually remember that the past was always better, referring to it as the good old days. In church ministry, many times people tend to live on past blessings and the way things used to be. People have a tendency to forget the blessings of the present, and they are not excited about the prospects of the future — they think they want to live in the past because the past was always better.
Because people are always people, they have a tendency to exaggerate their problems, yet at the same time become accustomed to God's blessings. In Moses' time, God supplied their every need, but they became discontented anyway. We struggle with our expectations and sometimes the "everydayness" of our lives when we need to refocus and count our blessings.
Because people are always people, everything always looks worse than it is. Any difficult situation always looks worse than it is, especially when you are walking by sight and not by faith. Our great adversary, the devil, is the great perpetrator of this attitude in Christian thinking. How prone we are to forget what God has done for us and to think that He has failed us this time. Charles Spurgeon said, "We write our blessings in sand and we engrave our complaints in marble."
A third cause of loneliness in leadership is that leaders do not always understand their place as a servant of God. I believe leadership is a privilege and not a burden. Now, don't misunderstand me. There are burdens that come with the territory, but there are also privileges. For a time, Moses forgot about the privileges and focused on the burdens in Numbers 11:11-15. He felt as if he alone had to carry the burden, and he knew he could not. God never expected him to carry the entire burden by himself.
We in leadership need to do what Moses did when the weight of the burden is too heavy to bear — go to God in prayer. Moses said, "I am not," but he needed to remember that God's name is "I AM." When we say "I am not," we need to remember that God says, "I AM" (Exodus 3:14). Ephesians 3:20 proclaims that God is able to do "exceedingly abundantly, above all that we ask or think." His calling is also His enabling.
Certainly God has not left us alone. We have the promise of His presence, but He has also given us one another, and one thing we can do to counter the loneliness of leadership is to take advantage of opportunities for fellowship. Let's do all we can to attend the May Graduation Fellowship Week, May 12-15. I look forward to seeing you there.