Betty King: You need to find a mentor ? I suggest another vicar senior to you who is discreet. In speaking with your mentor, you do not need to mention names and so are not breaking confidences.
It is important to count the costs of church leadership. As a leader there will be periods of loneliness, as we see in the lives of many biblical leaders, and the prophets. Even our Lord Jesus had times of loneliness. Cultivate a good prayer life and connect with the Holy Spirit, the greatest comforter. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28: ‘Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (NKJV).
Viv Thomas: Discovering a relational place where you’re able to be yourself and explain what’s going on in your heart and head is essential for you ? isolation is one of the great dangers in Christian leadership. I advise every Christian leader to have a spiritual director: somebody who will walk with you in your walk with God. You also need a counsellor. These are two basic professional requirements for people in church leadership and every leader needs them, married or unmarried. You won’t necessarily need to see a counsellor all the time, but you do need to have someone available that you’ve already got a working relationship with, so that when necessary, you can go in and say, ‘this is what I’m hearing’ or ‘this is what I’m seeing’.
If you haven’t got those sorts of people in your life, what often happens is that the congregation becomes your therapy group. As you’re preaching, all the stuff in you starts to seep out in a way that can be destructive because it’s not been dealt with in the appropriate place. It’s not always right to assume that because someone is married that they can tell their partner all of what is going on. I know that’s not the case for my wife and me. There are things that she has to hold that I do not know about, and vice versa. We both have spiritual directors and people who regularly counsel us.
Isolation is one of the great dangers in Christian leadership
There may also be room for some form of group outside the church too; perhaps a supportive network where you are able to talk with friends. But you will need to be careful of what you share in that environment.
Jo Naughton: If, as a church leader, you don’t already have a mentor as mentioned above, pray and ask God to provide one. Even if you feel that you don’t need this support immediately, start to seek that person now. They need to be detached from your ministry; it can’t be a member of your congregation because you can’t be vulnerable with people that you need to lead. You can be truthful and honest with them, but it’s not for me as a parent with my children ? or with anyone I’m leading ? to say, ‘I’m having a really tough time, help me out.’
Although you are not married, it is helpful to talk about my experiences of this issue as a married person. Apart from my husband, I have one friend who I can share anything with. There are things that I wouldn’t want to talk to my husband about, although he’s my best friend and we talk about most things. Having someone who isn’t within the marriage context is really important. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to deal with issues inside of marriage: who are you going to talk to then?
Jo Naughton is Premier Christian Radio’s agony aunt and author of three books including Revive: 30 Day Detox for Your Soul (Grosvenor House). She pastors a church with her husband (jonaughton.com) Rev Dr Viv Thomas is honorary teaching pastor at St Paul’s, Hammersmith and director of Formation (formation.org.uk). He is author of several books including The Spectacular Ordinary Life (Authentic)