Better Together

 In Blog

By Certified Consultant, Dan Abbatiello

In a Harvard Business Review article, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States Vivek Murthy wrote that loneliness is a growing health epidemic. In fact on Wednesday, January 17, 2018, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the creation of this new position called the Minister of Loneliness.1

It is true that one of the more difficult challenges in life is loneliness and pastoral ministry is not immune to this challenge.  A study conducted by Rev. Andrew Irvine, chair of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health found,

“Close to 49 per cent of clergy identified two or fewer friends; most cited close friendships as “an unmet dynamic” of their lives… (and that) close friendships between people in ministry was not evident. The study said that a majority of clergy relationships were “work-based not social” and that most “social” events in their lives centered around church and were, therefore, “work not social.” 2

It would seem natural that a ministry couple would pursue friendship with another ministry couple. However, that can be a real challenge. Having ministry in common is a good place to begin but, ministry alone doesn’t automatically translate into enjoying each other’s company. Finding another ministry couple with whom both spouses relate involves a variety of factors such as: comradery, age/station in life, personalities, likes, dislikes and outside interests.

Additionally, the husbands may relate well to each other but not the wives or vice versa. Moreover, even if all the above elements exist most pastors work 50 or 60 hours a week on a regular basis; and during times of special events or crisis even more; and let’s not forget family responsibilities. Bi-vocational ministry presents another set of hindering factors as well. Since many minister in a rural areas, time, travel and money can also be limiting factors. Furthermore, can both couples be trusted with each other’s potential vulnerability and not feel that reputation or respect is at stake?

In spite of the myriad of difficulties the search for ministry friendships is worth pursuing. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers but nevertheless let me suggest some things that may “grease the skids” toward overcoming loneliness?

First, consider that couples-only relationships may be too restricting and unrealistic. It is appropriate, and often necessary for women to spend time with other women and men with men. A couple should give each other permission to spend time with others separately.

Secondly, spiritual self-care is important. Ministry is a people business and lonely ministers may seldom be alone. Ironically, loneliness can be the result of not spending time alone with our Heavenly Father. Time Father helps prepare us for building healthy friendships. Our ability to accept, appreciate, get along with and have fun with others is often dependent upon our spiritual and emotional maturity or lack thereof. Some people may simply need to learn how to play better in the sandbox.

Thirdly, the pursuit of friendship is important enough to pursue ministry friends and give it the priority in time and prayer needed. It is appropriate to ask the Lord to provide the friendships we need and expect that prayer to be answered. Proverbs 18:24 declares “… there is a friend sticks closer than a brother.” By the way, “suffering for Jesus” by being lonely is not necessarily meritorious at all. Sadly, the martyr syndrome can be an unhealthy cover up for not wanting to be hurt again.

Fourth, don’t give in to the temptation to isolate. Proverbs 18:1 states, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire; he quarrels against all sound wisdom.” Ministry is emotionally draining because most ministry relationships are about pouring out with little refreshing coming back. We may feel a lack the energy for another relationship, however, remember that healthy friendships are mutual. We give, yes, but we also receive.

Lastly, it is our responsibility to take advantage of every opportunity to gather for fellowship. Every denominational or network meeting offers a potential for connections to be made that may blossom into a healthy friendship. We can also take the initiative to intentionally connect with those with whom we feel may be like-minded. C. S. Lewis said, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?”3 C. S. was right – we are better together.



The survey was mailed to a sample group of 1,252 clergy representing 30 per cent of clergy from the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. The questionnaire received 338 responses; 99 returned surveys were from women clergy.
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