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You Have What it Takes to Make It

By Raul Rivera

Three signs of good, healthy loneliness

Chances are, if you have pastored a church for at least one year or more, you have struggled with feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.  If so, then you are doing things right, because leadership requires walking alone for seasons at a time.  It may be that after last Sunday's service you felt like you have been alone too long and that it's time to once again become a sheep in someone else's sheepfold.  Thoughts of quitting might promise relief from your misery, and throwing in the towel seems like the best solution.  But, I say, "Wait!"  What if circumstances were different?  What if this next Sunday 25 new people attend your church; followed by another 20 the next week?  Will that make you feel better?  What if the Sunday offering brings in $5,000.00 this week and $10,000.00 the next?  Will THAT make you feel better?  "Of course it will!" you might be saying right now.  If so, then your heart is displaced.  If the solution to your loneliness can easily be found in more people around you or more money in the church checking account, it may be that you are not trying to be a leader, and the long-term development that God has for you will be delayed or even aborted. I guarantee you that it is only a matter of time before the WOWNESS of the moment wears off and you find yourself back into the same lonely place you may be in today!  Do not take any shortcuts.  Every leader has to walk the path of loneliness and overcome it before he or she ever becomes fully effective in ministry.  This is very healthy for your development and worth the good fight of faith.  Let me give 3 signs of good, healthy loneliness.

  1. You feel inadequate:  Ever felt like the other pastors you know are more successful, talented, charismatic, organized, and connected with good relationships than you could ever imagine?  Those are often your perceptions.  It is very likely that the same minister you believe is everything you aspire to be, is actually feeling more lonely that you . . . Careful what you wish for. . .
  2. You believe every one is happier than you:  It's amazing how many pastors suffer from this.  I know a pastor that for the first several years of his ministry worked hard all week long to grow the church and diligently prepare for his Sunday message.  All the while, his church never grew past a certain number of people.  During the Sunday message, he preached a great sermon, followed by powerful ministry time at the altar.  However, once the service was over, he sat at the steps of the stage near the pulpit and cried his eyes out.  He felt so miserable because his ministry wasn't growing.
  3. You believe your ministry is a failure:  We often judge the degree of our failure against the degree of someone else's success.  Failure is only real if you quit.  But why do we hear the testimonies of others successes and instead of getting encouraged, we sometimes get discouraged?  I believe that the perception of failure in ministry comes becomes of a lack of patience, and the Lord uses that "lonely road" to work patience into you.

How to love loneliness

The day you answered yes to pastoring a church, you signed up to walk down many lonely roads.  Of course, they are at first, scary!  When you encounter them, you feel a certain doom come upon you and your ministry; but if you persevere, the place of loneliness eventually becomes a place of fellowship with God.  Many years ago, I preached at a church in York, PA.  The pastor and I went to dinner one evening and while talking about his ministry, he told me, "I have fallen in love with the call of God in my life."  He pastored a church in a community of broken families and poverty, yet he was content and satisfied with the fellowship he found in God in the midst of his ministry.  He has persevered through the lonely days and has now found that the lonely road is filled with fellowship.  If you persevere, you will win!

Three lonely roads

In ministry there are three lonely roads that mark you, depending on how you choose to walk them.

1.     Preaching to a handful of people:  I am sure we have heard some story before of pastors that started churches and preached to one just as though they were preaching to a thousand.  What we don't know is that what really matters is the attitude of the heart.  There is no way I am going to preach to one person in the same way as to one thousand.  Anyone can fake the external attitude.  It is the internal attitude of the heart that matters most when you preach to a handful...especially when you really want to preach to a thousand.

2.     Key families leaving the church:  This lonely road can be very painful.  You only have a few people in the church and guess what, you now have less.  One of the best and most dedicated families just said they are leaving to go to so-and-so's church.  Talk about feeling rejected and incapable . . . Why now?  Stay the course; patience is very necessary during these times.

Excellence when you think it doesn't matter:  This one you can fake, because the appearance of excellence is easy to simulate.  We can pretend to be a ministry of excellence because we spend money in decorations, sound systems and seats. But how about the accounting, minutes, bylaws, IRS forms and reports, or the children's church safety protocols?  These count! Will you manage the ministry today as though you had millions of dollars and thousands of people?  This can be a lonely road because no one will notice unless . . . hmmm . . . you get audited and things aren't in order, or sued by a disgruntled member and find out your insurance won't cover it.  Excellence in these matters is a lonely road because you may feel like they won't make a noticeable difference, and therefore, are a distraction from real ministry.  You very likely cannot find someone in your church, either, that will step up to the plate to help.  So, if you want to get it done, you might have to walk alone for a while. What you get right today will save you thousands of dollars and headaches years later.  Do not worry, God is faithful to eventually provide you a wonderfully faithful person to take it over, but only if it matters enough to you today that you are willing to do it alone.

What can you accomplish?

You really do have what it takes to pastor the church or lead the ministry that you started.  The size of your city and congregation are not relevant to what you can accomplish.  You just have to be willing to walk the lonely roads and learn to embrace them. 

At our conferences many of our pastors are challenged to dream again while others come secretly discouraged and leave encouraged.  Through what we teach, your horizons will expand.

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