British pastor H. Wheeler Robinson once wrote that “the penalty of leadership is loneliness.” In Scripture we find that even Jesus Christ experienced loneliness. John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Christ established the standard of leadership, yet I don’t believe His purpose for coming to this earth was for us—particularly leaders—to remain in self-imposed exile and isolation. We were never meant to become islands unto ourselves.
As rewarding as leadership can be, it comes with a cost. At times, we are like the point of an arrow. When you look to the right and to the left you may not find anyone there. Often those around us don’t even know when we’re lonely because they see the external, the strength of our leadership. Albert Einstein echoed this sentiment when he said, “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”
Years ago I began to ponder this issue of loneliness in leadership. I thought about all the leaders in my community wrestling with this same thing. I knew from being a pastor for many years that it would be nearly impossible to get a group of leaders together, let alone have them be vulnerable with one another. Yet there were so many “islands” within my community with exiled leaders. Was there a way to bring these islands together so God could command a blessing upon us? How could these lonely leaders actually become vulnerable with one another?
I believe the Lord showed me how to accomplish this using a principle I’ve taught at workshops and seminars about racial reconciliation. People would often ask me, “With the great racial divide in our nation, how can I begin a reconciliation process with someone?” My answer was simple: Start reaching out to one person and build a relationship.
I took my own advice and reached out to a Christian leader who I didn’t know well and who was of a different doctrinal persuasion. I proposed that since we both attended the first Promise Keepers Pastors’ Conference, maybe we could get together to pray and work on this racial and denominational reconciliation issue. He agreed and we began to meet together. We soon discovered we agreed on more about Jesus and the church than we both realized.
As our relationship grew we began to trust each other more. One day my colleague suggested that we each invite five leaders from our own doctrinal persuasions to come to our meetings. We decided this meeting would focus on the things we agreed upon, and that we’d allow Jesus to direct us for the future.
Our first meeting wasn’t without issues. It was similar to a blind date—a little awkward and challenging. But because our colleagues trusted both of us, they decided to get together again.
From this “first date,” we’ve continually met together for weekly prayer for more than 10 years. We’ve learned to trust one another and become vulnerable and transparent. We’ve walked together through individual health issues, spousal pressures, children challenges, church leadership misunderstandings and many other issues. We’ve become true friends. Our gatherings cross multiple denominational lines, and we’ve had the privilege of working together on projects within our community. God has truly commanded a blessing upon us.As you read this, remember that there are leaders in your community who are feeling isolated and are just waiting for someone to throw them a lifeline. Will you be the one?
Duane Britton is the lead pastor of Dove Christian Fellowship Westgate in Ephrata, Penn.
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