How Leaders Should Handle Loneliness in Ministry


It doesn't matter how many people you have around you, you can still feel lonely. Pastors know this well. They're around people all the time, visiting families, discipling leaders and making hospital visits. But even during all that activity, you can still experience loneliness.

The Bible says in Genesis 2:18a, "It is not good that the man should be alone." But the truth is, all of us will go through lonely times in our lives—even pastors.

There are four causes of loneliness:

Transitions. Life is a series of transitions. Any of those changes can cause loneliness.

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Separation. When you're isolated from those you love, whether through a relocation, illness or relational problem, it can lead to loneliness.

Opposition. When you feel like everyone's against you at work or at school, loneliness can creep in.

Rejection. When someone betrays or rejects you, loneliness can come.

The apostle Paul gives us a great example of dealing with loneliness in ministry at the end of his life. He wrote 2 Timothy as an old man in prison. Nero is about to put him to death. As he writes the last chapter of the book, Paul is lonely.

When most people get lonely, they respond in predictable ways—workaholic tendencies, materialism, substance abuse, affairs and so on.

But how does Paul respond?

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul models four actions we should take when we're feeling lonely in ministry.

Use Your Time Well

You can make the best of a bad situation and resist the temptation to do nothing. Think of a creative way to take advantage of the situation. Paul says, "When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left with Carpus at Troas. Also bring my books, and especially my papers" (2 Tim. 4:13, NLT).

Paul knows it's easy to not take care of yourself when you're lonely. Paul is sitting in a dark, damp prison cell. Instead of complaining, he decides he might as well be comfortable and asks Timothy to bring his cloak so he can at least be warm.

Then he asks for his books. He decides to capitalize on his lack of interruptions and study—and write! He wrote most of the New Testament during his time in prison.

When you're feeling lonely, ask yourself: "What can I do now that I can't do when more people are around?" See this season as an opportunity and make the best of your situation.

Minimize Your Hurt

Don't rehearse your pain over and over in your mind. Instead, refuse to become resentful. Bitterness and loneliness often go hand in hand. You can't allow your bitterness to grow. Paul describes his attitude in verse 16: "The first time I was brought before the judge, no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me. May it not be counted against them."

Despite being abandoned, he refuses to show resentment toward the people who didn't come when he needed them.

Resentment only makes loneliness worse. Resentment locks you in a self-imposed prison and drives people away. It makes you a cynic. Nobody likes cynics. Loneliness becomes a cycle.

Recognize God's Presence

God is right beside you when you're lonely. Paul recognized this in verse 17a, "But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength." Whether or not you feel God's presence in your life doesn't matter. God tells us over and over in the Bible that He will never leave us.

Loneliness is a signal it's time to get to know God better. Prayer is a powerful antidote to loneliness.

Emphasize Others' Needs

You need to focus on others—look outward, not inward. Loneliness is a decision. Ultimately, a fear of love often drives loneliness. We don't want to let anyone hurt us, so we keep everyone at a distance. That simply leads to more loneliness.

Even in his dying days, Paul focuses on others rather than having a pity party. In 2 Timothy 4:17b, Paul writes: "So that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear." Even during his loneliness, Paul is thinking about all the people he wants to share the good news with.

When you're lonely, you need to stop building walls and start building bridges. Instead of complaining about your loneliness, ask God to help you be a friend to someone else who needs it.

I know you get lonely at times. Ministry doesn't insulate you from it. But God hasn't forgotten you either. Put these four principles into practice, and let God use this time to provide healing and hope in your life.

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Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church, one of America's largest and most influential churches. He is the author of the New York Times' bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. Pastor Rick started The PEACE Plan to show the local church how God works through ordinary people to address the five global giants of spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership, poverty, disease and illiteracy. You can listen to Daily Hope, Pastor Rick's daily 25-minute audio teaching, or sign up for his free daily devotionals at He is also the founder of, a global online community created to encourage pastors.

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