Elijah had just had his greatest success in ministry when he crashed and burned.
You know the story, recorded in 1 Kings 18. Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to prove their god was the true one. They danced and called out for Baal to consume their offering. Elijah mocked them. Finally, Elijah rebuilt the altar of the Lord. Elijah poured water on the bull, so much so that a trench dug around the altar was filled. Then Elijah prayed for the Lord to demonstrate His power and fire fell and consumed everything, including all the water.
Elijah was enjoying a ministry high. Before his pulse settled, he also courageously took out all the false prophets.
But when he got word that Jezebel was after him, he fled like a whipped pup. He hid alone in the wilderness a full day’s journey away, sat down, and said, “I have had enough!”
Some of you are there right now. Exhausted, afraid, and alone, you are thinking, “I have had enough!”
The truth is, almost every one of us has been there. A 2022 Barna poll shows that nearly two in three pastors either “sometimes” or “frequently” felt lonely or isolated in the prior three months.
I’m not sure isolation is unique to the ministry. Many men and women sitting in front of you each week feel lonely. What makes it unique for ministers is that pastors are surrounded by people constantly. I believe isolation and loneliness are among a pastor’s most preventable challenges.
To be clear, it’s not a recent phenomenon. Isolation has been challenging for decades, and although it was exaggerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s always been challenging. It’s normal to feel isolated occasionally. For that matter, some seasons of life and ministry are better than others.
So, who can fix the situation?
Notice in 1 Kings 19 that Elijah flees Jezebel and then goes so far as to leave his faithful attendant behind in Beersheba. If you’re lonely, actively find people inside and outside the church who can become your encouragers in the ministry. Find someone you can call, text, or visit with who restores and refreshes you.
Isolation is both dangerous and avoidable.
And before you say, “Well, I can’t have friendships in the church because it can become awkward,” let me tell you that the pain of isolation exceeds the awkwardness of staff friendships, member friendships, or friendships with other pastors in your community. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and your local association exist to serve you and connect you and your wife with other pastors and ministry couples, so make time to attend a few events where you can both come and be refreshed.
People are cheering us on from every corner of our convention. So if you feel isolated, ensure you’re not the person who runs off and isolates himself like Elijah did. Isolation is real, but it’s one of the most preventable challenges a pastor may face.
If you are a pastor looking to connect to resources related to this article, contact Jeff Lynn, senior strategist for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Church Health & Leadership department, at 877-953-7282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.