There are things we just don't like to talk about. They're not really secrets but are more lke unmentionables, things under the surface. Like the family uncle, or the check that bounced, or what your neighbor told you about his business. No, they aren't genuine secrets because in the cyber world very few things can be hidden. Instead they are the things unspoken.
One of the key themes in the New Testament is life in the community of faith. Being the church and exhibiting the character of Christ within the Body is central to our concepts of the spiritual life. Fellowship, worship, and discipleship and many other corporate elements define the relationship of believers with one another. That we are the Body of Christ is in itself a declaration of our inter-connectedness and mutual dependence. Who can argue the biblical standard? We are to experience this life in a gathered setting. We are not alone.
One of the unspoken parts is how many pastors, ministers, church staff, and spiritual leaders live lonely and isolated lives. Most all of the research about ministry health, usually in the form of statistical surveys, reveals the high percentage, as many as 70%, of church leaders without close friendships and living in isolation. Mark Brouwer's column at the Leadership Journal site March 24, 2014, begins, "It's ironic that pastors, who talk the most about the need for community, experience it the least." Life on an island, which Scripture addresses from so many directions, is one of the most unspoken, whispered, and denied real-time truths about pastoral health.
Why do pastors so often experience such isolation? Well, there are a number of reasons and my list won't raise the bar in that study. But, here are a few of the unspokens about it---
1. There's a time factor. Most pastors and church staff work long hours. They
are typically never off the clock. When they step away it is usually for family
time. So, there's little time for developing relationships with colleagues.
2. There's a reluctance factor. Pastors, especially in smaller churches, fear the
playing favorites label in their church, and therefore are reluctant to develop
close relationships with church members. Also, many of their church member
interactions are personal and confidential. Relationships in the church may
create an impression that confidentiality is violated.
3. There's a family factor. Most pastors would like to separate their work and
family lives. This is usually a pipe dream. But, it is admirable. Because of this
they cannot always speak to their wives or other family members about critical
4. There is a competitive factor in cohort relationships. No, they're not all dog
eat dog competitors and this competition thing isn't always about winning
and losing, or who's being more successful than who. But, it is a small world.
Often the unspoken things of ministry are spoken out of turn and there's
some reluctance in being with people who may know your unspoken realities.
5. There's a systemic factor. Many pastors have little in common with their
colleagues in other local churches. Often, the only common trait shared by
pastors and ministers even in the same community is that they are serving
churches. As a result, the formalized systems of pastors conferences doesn't
fulfill the relational needs.
Over the last couple of years I've become more aggressive in seeking to engage fellow pastors in fellowship. The example of Onesiphorus from 2 Timothy was convicting in this regard. In the finishperiod.com blog yesterday I quoted the verses that challenged and moved me. Paul wrote,
May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often
refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome
he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find
mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered
2 Timothy 1:16-18, ESV
Yes, the way Onesiphorus refreshed Paul and ministered at Ephesus were immediately impressive. But even more, Paul made special note of the aggressive way Onesiphorus sought him out and found him. You can only imagine Paul isolated in Rome, imprisoned though with only a guard, being lifted and encouraged by his friend.
It's a great biblical model in addressing one of the unspokens shared by so many of our fellow pastors and spiritual leaders.
"...he searched for me earnestly and found me..."
May it be so.