I know, I know, this is not a unique name! Many church leaders are familiar with Chuck Swindoll’s book “The Lonely Whine of the Top Dog.” However, this phrase or a derivative has been around for a long time. As I wrote this article I read an internet article entitled Top Dogs Are Lonely: Confessions of a CEO Coach. This article was written by a CEO coach by the name of Ray Williams. My reason for using this title is to remind church leaders that they serve in a lonely position and to guard against the pitfalls of the position.
This truth is vividly illustrated in Exodus 18. In this text, Jethro, Moses father in law, observed Moses’ ministry to the Israelite people. We read “when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening.”( Vs. 14) This text could be used to make a case for delegation; however, that is not the main point of this writing. The lonely cry is heard in vs. 15. “Moses response, to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God.’ Moses appears to be saying “if I do not do it, it want get done.” As spiritual leaders it is easy to develop an “irreplaceable attitude.”
- If I am not there, the church will fall apart.
- If I do not preach, the service will be a failure.
- If I do not attend the surgery, I am not a good pastor.
- If I do not handle this problem, the church will fall apart.
Jethro’s advice to Moses, “the thing that you do is not good”, is still good advice. He knew Moses was headed in an unhealthy direction. It was not good for his health. It was not good for training new leaders. It was not the best way to break the Israelites from being co-dependent on Moses. (My opinion: Spiritual leaders can become intoxicated with people’s dependency. We can actually encourage such behavior rather than discouraging it.)
This story is a reminder of several truths that pastors and leaders should heed. First, loneliness is inherent in any leadership position. It goes with the terrain. If you do not want to be lonely, do not accept a leadership responsibility. Pastors face loneliness due to professional isolation, congregational expectations, professional peer pressure, competition, perceptions of “the man of God” and the fear of admitting we are human.
Second, leaders should take steps to inoculate themselves against the pain of loneliness. How? If Jethro saw issues in Moses’ future, due to bad leadership choices, will not “ordinary leaders” face similar challenges (and even more)? Day to day decisions such as: learning to delegate, taking time off, taking time to laugh and releasing the guilt of missed responsibilities are pivotal decisions. These decisions will enhance ministry effectiveness, creativity and longevity.
So, what do we do? Much of the cure is in recognizing the problem. However, there are certain practical steps we can take.
- Secure an accountability partner with whom you pray and communicate on a regular basis.
- Do not be reluctant to consult a professional concerning medical, health and emotional issues.
- Be protective of your off time.
- Maintain a healthy quiet time with God.
- Spend time laughing and enjoying life.
It may be lonely at the top; however, it does not have to cripple you. The solution can be as close as the person you see in the mirror.
Photo by Beverly & Pack.