The Desperation and Desolation of Isolation

There is a topic that’s been rolling around in my head for awhile, and it’s just now coming into view.

The impetus for the blog comes from several different places.

One place is a quote from a former pastor who retired from the ministry just a few years ago. About six years ago he was addressing the church he shepherded and told the congregation that he had realized a long time ago that his best friends could never be counted among the saints of his pastorate (something about petty jealousies and accusations of favoritism, if memory serves).

Another place this comes from is a statistic published by the Barna Group back in 2002, which said some 70% of pastors polled don’t feel like they have a close friend with whom they can relate.

A third place is merely personal observations made over the years, in seeing how men of God thrive or fail, depending on how incorporated versus how isolated they become.

It is very common, especially in churches that have a clearly marked line between clergy and laity, that the pastor, and even his assistants and associates, are living in a different sphere than the one inhabited by the rest of the local assembly. Additionally, the larger the church or the greater demands placed upon the pastor of any sized church, the more removed from the Body the pastor tends to be, if for no other reason than for room to breathe. And so, in such churches, the chasm between leader and follower is so wide, the two groups, outside of pulpit and pew, have almost no interaction with each other, except in properly planned and scheduled meetings/appointments.

Justification for such division usually revolves around a few ideas. Primary among them is the fact that Jesus appeared to have an “inner circle” of disciples. There was of course, the Twelve, who were separated from the rest. Then, from out of the Twelve, three were uniquely chosen for certain aspects of the Lord’s ministry (namely Simon Peter, James, and John and the Mount of Transfiguration, for example).

From this, it is concluded that in a local church, there is always going to be an inner circle of more devoted disciples, who, due to a special calling not placed on the rest of the flock, have to be separated from the other sheep for the work of, or sake of, the ministry.

Another idea is that, since the ministry is dealing with and facing issues too big, too burdensome, too difficult, too delicate, too whatever, they have to be forced apart from the other saints, because average Joe or Jane Christian just wouldn’t or can’t understand. Feelings and egos are too easily hurt in the church (it is believed). Therefore, for their own protection, pastors and leaders withdraw and isolate themselves so they can more effectively serve the needs of the ecclesiastical community around them.

A possible third idea is that, if anyone in the church gets too close, too friendly, too attached, if God calls the man of God away–or worse, if the pastor should fall to sin–the members who’ve become so friendly and attached are going to uproot, for better or for worse, and follow the pastor to his fate.

Lastly, and most unfortunately, sometimes it is perceived that a local church has only one “man of God”, the oracle and prophet come down from the mountain (i.e. a Moses figure) to be the voice of God for any and all who call themselves members of that assembly. For this reason, such a calling requires a extra level of separation, so the oracle can maintain a sufficient degree of holiness, or risk losing his ability to hear and be God’s voice.

And so, around these ideas, a class system emerges. The leadership, like the Marines (The Few, the Proud…) are believed to be the priests of the people, while everyone else makes up a passive, spectating crowd of observers. The wheel of the Church just keeps on spinning. It is believed this is the right way, the best system. After all, in governments, the military, corporations, world politics, universities, and just about everywhere else, such a system keeps the engine moving along nicely.

But compare:

8. But be not ye called Rabbi [an Aramaic word that essentially means Reverend]: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren (Matthew 23:8).

While it’s true that in a large family, with many sons, there tends to be a pecking order, and the firstborn is often the most privileged.

But in the church, there is only one firstborn among the brethren: Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). Everyone else are equals. All are heirs of salvation. All having gifts and callings. Everyone in the church is a priest unto God the Father (Revelation 1:6). Why? Because the Firstborn Son of God, who has all power and authority in Heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), has decreed that it be so.

So let me ask you a question:

Is the system we employ, which all too often separates, estranges, and isolate ministers from the rest of the Body, really the plan of God?

The title of this blog post is my answer.

Consider: The Lord Jesus immersed Himself into His followers. He was with them constantly, from sun-up to sun-down. His only act of isolation was for prayer. Otherwise, the Savior was daily in the midst. He even slept in the same camp with those He was “…not ashamed to call…brethren” (Hebrews 2:11). Everyone had immediate access to Him; none were ever turned away, even when the disciples tried to screen certain people from Him.

Would it not then stand to reason that those of us who long to serve and be as Christ-like as possible should also follow the same example, and not be removed from the people we serve?

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10,

9. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.
10. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

When a church follows a traditional, world and not Spirit-based pyramid hierarchy, with the clergy at the top, with the Bishop, Senior Pastor, etc. at the very pinnacle, he, even if he has a wife and family, or has other friends in the ministry (usually other pastors from other churches), nonetheless sits by himself. There is a reason a pyramid looks like a mountain.

And if you can, imagine for a moment how foolish and risky it would be for one person to go alone into the wilderness to go climb a mountain by himself. No matter the skill or bravery, there are unaccounted for elements of chance beyond the control of the most seasoned climber. If one of those unexpected variables should show itself, imagine the danger and desperation that lone climber will face, when he realizes too late he’s heading for ruin and there isn’t a soul there to help. Woe, indeed!

Don’t you think a minister who’s cut off, even isolated from God’s people but looking for that mountain-top experience with the Lord faces a similar, albeit less metaphoric danger?

1 Peter 5:8,

8. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…

We often hear preachers tell churches that the devil, if he’s really anything like a lion, will try to isolate from the herd the weak, the sick, the old, the slow, so he, like a lion, can have free access to the kill. But rarely do you ever hear a preacher talk about how his own weaknesses as a fleshly man, coupled with his natural tendency to isolate himself, makes him more of a target than anyone in the entire church.

Look at what Paul said about himself:

“And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).

“Who is weak, and I am not weak…” (2 Corinthians 11:29)?

When’s the last time you heard a minister admit to such? Usually all we ever see is the stiff upper lip, the good show, the resolute character, the face of a man not daunted by anything. We think somehow that if a pastor/minister/preacher/leader admits to being weak, then the whole church is going to fall. Maybe if such men admitted their weaknesses, the whole local Body could come to their aid, surround that man in love and ministry, and help him overcome?

What is this coming down to?

It’s real simple. The devil is picking off pastors, leaders, preachers, and ministers left and right. They are dying by the thousands all over the world. You see, we’ve been sold a lie. We’ve bought into the “some are more equal than others” stupidity the devil introduced into political communism a long time ago. As a community of believers in Messiah, we too, are to live a common life, a life for all intents and purposes, that is of the communistic variety, albeit in the truly Holy Spiritual sense.

But this division, this class creation, this separation between clergy and laity, introduced by the devil some centuries ago, has allowed for a divide and conquer mentality in which every demon in this world can pretty much slay at will.

When the shepherd is smitten, the sheep will flee. It’s pretty easy to kill a shepherd when he’s off somewhere he’s not supposed to be, away from the sheep, climbing a mountain by himself.

Confess your faults to one another DOES NOT mean schedule a counseling session with your pastor so you can dump all your problems on him, then expect him to personally help you shoulder your cross (and everyone else’s) while balancing his own. Nor does it mean the pastor should hold in and not share with the church his own struggles and flaws, and so, isolate himself from ever receiving from the Body of Christ (and therefore by extension, the Spirit of Christ) the ministry he needs from God’s people.

It means each saint, no matter the title, position, or level of spirituality, including every pastor, leader, minister, and preacher, needs to humble himself or herself, get themselves to the middle, to the very heart of the Church, share and bare their soul, and have as many as will, lay hands on him or her and pray the prayer of faith.

Acts 20:36-38,

36. And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.
37. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him,
38. Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.

Do you see how, in a most crucial moment, when he needed them most, Paul had around him a group of faithful saints to pray with, to weep with, to share a holy kiss with? Saints who could sorrow with him, even journey with him, as he went forward to an uncertain fate (See v. 22). He wasn’t daring to climb the mountain alone. He had with him elders and saints from Ephesus, possibly the first converts he himself baptized in Acts 19:1-6, to bear up with him and help him carry the load.

So, how should a pastor or minister, who’s feeling isolated and alone, getting it from all sides, feeling like he doesn’t have a friend in the world, re-incorporate himself back into the Body?

I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few suggestions:

1.) Remove the title. The names we were given as infants were good enough our whole lives up til now, are always good enough for God, and are also good enough for your brothers and sisters. Jesus Himself doesn’t demand we address Him by all His titles every time we speak of or to Him, so why should we?

2.) Find a Barnabas. Paul needed someone to help him incorporate. Find a faithful friend who can re-acclimate you to Body life.

3.) Spend non-ministering time in fellowship. Join a Bible study or prayer group that you don’t (and won’t) lead. Give no input, offer no suggestions, don’t even direct anything at all. Just sit back, relax, and let someone else be for you what you try so hard to be for others.

4.) Open your pulpit to trusted elders who might just have a Word from the Lord for you!

5.) Take a backseat in conversations. Learn to listen. Keep your preacher from preaching. Just because you’re used to a passive, captive audience, doesn’t mean that’s what’s owed to you all the time. Your church needs to talk to and preach to you, too. It really does.

6.) I once knew a pastor who wouldn’t let me make him a sandwich when he came over for lunch one day. Don’t be like that!

7.) Realize you are not hurting your calling, or even your relationship with God, if you take time off (not from the church, but from ministering in the church). Yes, you can and should take your responsibilities seriously, and yes, they must not be neglected. But trying to be “on” every single moment of every single day is not what you’re called to be. God doesn’t want performers. He wants followers. And even He took a day off to rest.

8.) Refuse to be everyone’s answer man. Do it in love, and with kindness, but gently, and always, refer people to the Lord. You must resist the desire you have in your flesh, as a man, to be the fixer. No one really needs your advice if they’re being led by the Spirit.

9.) Tell the world you’re on equal footing with every saint. Affirm and reaffirm. Let the only distinctions that exist between you and your brothers be the ones God creates. For all else, just throw in with everyone and be one (and not the better) of your spiritual kindred.

10.) Apologize and seek forgiveness for the times you went astray and damaged the Body by damaging yourself through isolation.

It’s a challenging list, to be sure. And I wonder, who’s Christ-like enough to really step up and meet the challenges?

There may be more specific things, or even additional things, that can be done to help solve for the problem of ministerial isolation. That’s fine. You must pray and get your own answers from God about it.

But if you’re reading this, and you’re a preacher, bishop, pastor, elder, minister, or leader, and you’re isolated from the Body, you need to know this: it’s only a matter of time before your isolation turns to desperation, and before your desperation becomes desolation, of body, soul, and spirit. And if you don’t fix it now, a whole mess of saints are going to go down with you, the very thing you thought your isolation and removal from the Body was going to prevent.

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~ by votivesoul on 08/22/2013.

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