The Empty Inner Circle

I help church leaders avoid the pitfalls of spiritual leadership. Overwhelmingly, pastors feel isolated, overworked, unappreciated, and consumed by their role in the church.

The quality of our inner circle relationships is a key foundation for successfully enduring the unique rigors of church leadership and pastoring. We need connection. An outlet. Support and comfort. Sadly, by the time all was said and done with regard to the collapse of my world, my inner circle was completely empty and that hastened the fall.

Some of the emptying was done for me. My wife and I had no connection. She had distanced herself from me and I had stopped trying. The person in the world that I would want to describe as my best friend, my supporter through thick and thin, was instead the person that I felt the most distance with. Rather than being able to offer support and guidance through the crests and troughs of ministry, my sharing sounded more and more like whining filling her with bitterness and resentment toward my job. This resentment was compounded by the fact that it was to my job that I turned more and more of my attention as the distance between us became greater.

Most of the empty inner circle was because of me. Pride is my root sin. In my relationships that expresses itself as a fear of rejection. A fear that if someone knew the real me, my real struggles, the real condition of parts of my life then they would certainly reject me. So I wore my “I’m fine” mask. Acted like everything was great all the time. If questions were asked, I became very adept at deflecting them. Turning conversations to the other. Listen and people will talk to you. That’s not a bad thing until you start using it as a defense mechanism.

What I would look for in any pastor’s answer to the question of who occupies your inner circle would be the proximity of the relationships to the workplace. It is not a bad thing to have some of your close relationships within the church system you lead. In fact, it is likely to happen, especially in an arena as relationally focused as church work. Yet, if that is the only basket that you have all your relational eggs in, that is a danger. Where do you go for an outside perspective of your system. To whom do you have relational freedom to talk about your trials without it being seen as interoffice gossip.

That was my problem. Every one of my close relationships was a church leader. Some who evaluated my performance and to whom I reported to. Truth is, I did make an attempt to reach out and share my marital struggles to one in my inner circle. This is where the pain of someone knowing my weakness was less than the pain of going on without help. So I reached out to one of the elders to whom I was close. Told him what was going on. Asked if his wife could reach out to mine. He did do that, but at the same time, he shared my struggle at an elder meeting and suggested that I was unfit to be a pastor.

Rather than an offer to walk alongside me, possibly even to mentor me as a husband or help me with my ability to perceive what I was contributing to the dysfunction of my marital system, rather than any of that my issues were shared with a large group of leaders. Looking back, even worse, no one did come to talk with me about it. It was kind of shoved under the rug and I was happy for it. There seemed to be a lack of wisdom or desire to confront me and help me. 

In my state of unhealthy spirituality, the effect of that action on me was for me to revoke trust for any of my inner circle. I universalized. I became fearful of losing my job. I did not see the potential benefit that some light could shed on my situation. I’m not even sure the system that I was functioning in was capable of that sort of spiritual intervention. In that assessment I may be wrong, but it would explain why the question on the table was whether or not I should work there rather than what could we do to help.

Be that as it may, I am not attempting to transfer the blame for my actions to someone else or to some other group. The choices were mine and I take full responsibility for them. The fault is mine for not displaying wisdom in the variety of relationships I maintained. For believing the lie of the enemy and succumbing to my pride. For not trusting God and His promises.

But this is the sort of dynamic I work with church leaders to avoid. Who is in your inner circle? Who do you reveal yourself to? Is there someone in your life who can ask you anything and will know if you are blowing smoke? What is the leadership system like where you are pastoring? Getting this right is a part of success that will last.

I work with pastors and the people they lead to energize discipleship and improve leadership development. I am a certified coach specializing in pastoral leadership, relationships, life transitions, and Christian identity. Services I offer are one-on-one coaching, group/staff coaching,  speaking at organizations/churches, leadership workshops, and church retreats. For more info, click here to contact me.

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