The Loneliness of Leadership

Leadership comes with an inescapable amount of loneliness. Few can understand the pressing burdens assembly leaders are called upon to bear. Decision-making creates loneliness, as those who disagree with the decisions tend to isolate themselves from those making them. Additionally, being the target of criticism, much of which is harsh and untrue, leads to many lonely and sleepless nights. It was hard enough before a pandemic, but now even more challenging. If you’re a leader battling loneliness, here are a few reminders, which I pray will bring some encouragement to your soul.

For one, remember that the best leaders felt lonely. Moses, David, Elijah and Jeremiah all had bouts of severe loneliness. The Lord Jesus, whose people you have been called to lead, knew what it was like to be alone. “Many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer” (Joh 6:66).[1] When arrested by the Jewish rulers, “all the disciples left him and fled” (Mat 26:56). The favored three (Peter, James and John) slept in Gethsemane when He asked them to pray, thus magnifying His loneliness. Indeed, the Good Shepherd has been where you are.

Another encouragement is to remember that you’re a leader, not a savior. There is only one Savior, and it’s not you. You don’t have to answer every question, solve every problem, heal every heart, remove every burden or dry every tear. You serve with others and, together, the Lord can use you to meet the needs of His people.

It might be helpful to remember that loneliness can be transformed into productive solitude. When you’re feeling the loneliness of leadership, spend time with the Lord, not only bringing to Him the needs of His people but worshipping Him and learning His Word. It’s easy to use this time preparing for preaching and teaching, as well as looking for answers, but you need to feed your own soul. You don’t always need answers, but you do need strength to go on, strength which can only come from a steady feeding on God’s Word.

Finally, remember that when you’re lonely, you’re never alone. You have the Lord’s assuring words, “I will never leave you and I will never abandon you” (Heb 13:5). And He stands ready to share your burdens (1Pe 5:7), even if others don’t. Remember too that every believer, including those leading the Lord’s people, are personally yoked to Christ (Mat 11:28-30). Warren Wiersbe wrote, “The yoke that Jesus gives us is tailor-made for us. He knows exactly how we feel, what we can do, and how much we can take. But even more, He is yoked with us so that we do things together with our Lord.”[2]

So keep on preaching. Keep on teaching. Keep on praying. Keep on leading. You are not alone. You have the promise of the risen Lord Himself: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat 28:20).

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NET.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Lonely People (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2002), 85.