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Pastor, Are You Isolated, Lonely, Burned Out, or Depressed?

If you are feeling isolated, lonely, burned out, or depressed, you are not alone. I’m always amazed at how many pastors and leaders identify with these feelings. As someone who has been there and found the way back, allow me to share some helpful thoughts.

You are the only one who can reverse isolation, burn out or depression.

When we are isolated, tired, or depressed, we often dream of someone coming to our rescue. We feel powerless to do anything, so we long for someone to do something for us. The harsh reality is, that’s not likely to happen. Most people won’t even notice our struggles. Those who do notice may not know what to do or they may be too tired to help.

If you want to be free of isolation, loneliness, burnout, or depression, you have to take the initiative. No one else can do it for you. Click To Tweet

If you want to be free of these feelings you have to take the initiative. No one else can do it for you. They can’t step into your soul to see what’s really going on. Other people can offer guesses, but you will need to be fully engaged to have any hope of recovery. You can do this.

You will need help.

Don’t listen to the lies that tell you it’s too hard. Don’t give in to the temptation to give up on life. Take at least one step toward recovery. The first step is always the hardest, but it’s the most powerful and healthy move you can make right now – ask for help.

Take at least one step toward recovery. The first step is always the hardest, but it’s the most powerful and healthy move you can make right now – ask for help. Click To Tweet

You may object:

  • I can do it alone.
  • I don’t need anyone’s help.
  • I’m too ashamed to ask for help.
  • I don’t know who to ask.
  • I don’t want people to find out that I’m hurting.

The list of objections is long and varied, but they all have one thing in common: they avoid the reality that you are too weak and tired to do this alone. You must ask for help.

Five things you can do to get help with isolation, burn out, and depression.

There are five relationships that you can easily develop to find help. Start with the one that seems easiest to you, but work to develop all five. Once you have all five developed, be sure to keep them in your life. They will become your lifelines when you face this problem again. If you keep these five relationships healthy, the next time this problem surfaces you can find health much faster. In fact, they can keep you from falling at all.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

1. Find a friend

Find someone who is in a similar situation or who has also faced isolation, burn out, or depression. If you are a pastor of a small church, find another small church pastor. If you are an executive leader, find another executive leader. Look for someone who has walked a similar path. The best guides are people who know the terrain.

Todd Carmichael is a coffee entrepreneur. He used to have a television show called Dangerous Grounds in which viewers would follow him all over the world looking for new local sources of coffee beans. Todd would often enter the country with no knowledge of the language, the culture, or the customs. With a little knowledge of the terrain, he would travel near where he thought coffee would be found, and then he would look for someone who speaks English. His standard line was, “Do you speak English? Great, I need a friend.” He would ask a complete stranger to be his friend, and by doing so, he found the help he needed.

You may need to ask a complete stranger to be your friend. Don’t be afraid. If you know they have walked this road before you, simply say, “I need a friend. Can you help me?” Briefly explain your situation and ask for their story – “I’m feeling really burned out in ministry. Have you ever felt that way? Tell me your story.”

When they tell you their story, they will begin to show you that you are safe to share yours. Trust is established and you are no longer alone. Develop this friendship and let God bless you through it. You can walk the road together.

2. Meet with a mentor

Find someone who is further down the road and ask them to be your mentor. I’ve never had someone turn me down when I asked them to share their wisdom and experience. The key is to ask in a humble and receptive way. Take them out to lunch or out for coffee. Tell them why you admire them and ask for help.

Several years ago I was struggling with isolation and my introverted personality. It had become a crutch for me, and I knew I needed to learn a new way of relating. So, I looked for the biggest, boldest personality I could find. His name is Dave, and he was the pastor of a church in a nearby town. I said, “I need some help. You have experience that I lack; would you be willing to meet with me to help me figure some things out?” He agreed and we met for breakfast nearly every Thursday for five years. I never became as big and bold as him, but I did learn some valuable lessons. One of the best things he did was identify with my struggle. “We’ve all been there.” Those words gave me the most encouragement of all.

3. Hire a coach

Find a professional coach who you can meet with on a monthly basis. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face. You can talk on the phone or video chat over the internet. A good coach will help you by providing a more objective perspective. They will be someone who works with a variety of clients in similar situations. I paid $50 each month for a year to meet with my coach. Now, anytime I need a tune-up, I can give him a call for some coaching.

4. Get help from a spiritual director

A spiritual director is uniquely trained to help you discern what God is saying through your life. They will help you listen to the movements of the Holy Spirit and can give you disciplines to help you find clarity and peace. Meet with your spiritual director as needed, but don’t neglect this relationship. Many spiritual directors will work for free; however, I believe you will find more help if you pay them. There is something about paying for help that makes us take it more seriously.

5. Open up to a counselor

Finally, talk to a professional, licensed counselor. There are many things that can cause isolation, loneliness, burnout, and depression. A counselor will help you determine the source of the problem and treat it at its root. They may ask you to see your doctor to rule out physiological causes. A counselor or therapist has tools to help you reframe negative thought patterns into more helpful ways of thinking, feeling, and relating.

These meetings may be expensive, but your employer or church may offer assistance. If they do, take full advantage of it. You are admitting weakness but you are also growing stronger. This is a win for you and your employer.

Develop these five relationships: friend, mentor, coach, spiritual director, and professional counselor. You will become healthier and happier. Your work will become more meaningful. Most importantly, you will learn how to ask for help, and the asking will become easier. That’s the first step to recovery – ask for help!

If you have no one to talk to please contact a ministry that helps pastors like Pastors in Residence or Practical Shepherding or reach out to a pastor like me. Contact me here.

If you have ever felt isolated, lonely, burned out, or depressed, what relationship helped you recover?



(M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet, and freelance book editor. Together, they have one son.

1 comment on “Pastor, Are You Isolated, Lonely, Burned Out, or Depressed?

  1. Pingback: Climbing Solo: The Dangers of Being a Solo Pastor — The Pastor's Soul

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