What Being a Loner is Costing You, Church Leader

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I have to admit it. I’m a loner. It’s haunted me all my life and I realized a little over a decade ago that I didn’t want to live out the loner life anymore. It’s cost me plenty.

I’ve been studying the loners of history who have accomplished great things. Their stories are compelling, but I can’t keep from wondering what might have been in the lives and impact of these women and men if they had others speaking into their lives in the way the New Testament encourages us to love one another.

What might General Patton have accomplished if he had someone he trusted to talk with him about his excesses and weaknesses?

But from my personal experience his excesses weren’t his primary flaw. His primary flaw was that he lived the life of a loner.

I’m the expert on being a loner. Introverted, intense, and passionate, for too long I lived between my ears and usually only let others in when I was firmly convinced that they would not encroach on my loner-ness.

Remarkably, loner-ness is often the default mode of the prideful person’s defense mechanisms. Why? It’s just another way of convincing yourself that you’re right. Every group and most relationships have an over-talker so the loner often plays the role of the contemplative thinker as a way of making others in the group look bad and seem unwise. I have to admit that i often used it to manipulate rather than to contemplate.

To be sure, all of us need alone time in this chaotic world.

However, in leadership or simply in following Christ, playing the loner backfires. When I was pastor of a church where I knew I was living in a dangerous place I stuffed those fears and instead came on ever stronger in leadership and one-on-one meetings, hiding anything and everything that was going on in my heart.

You have to move from the inward cry of the loner (the inward cry is a good thing and the only beginning), to crying out to others. And by others, I mean others who have earned your trust. No one person can fulfill all your needs. But that trusted community can hold you up in ways the loner will never know.

Henri Nouwen says, “The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish (and may I say drive, fears, doubts, and dreams), there are human hands that hold you and show you God’s faithful love.”

We can reach out, ask God to reveal those He wants us to entrust our lives to, and then comes the hard work of actually asking them for help. Playing the loner usually degenerates into accusing others of not hearing what God has to say to you that you’re not capable of hearing yourself. Loner-ness is an emotional and spiritual self-protective wall that mutes uncomfortable truth.

Preaching to myself, I know. But hopefully I’ll be taking some of you loners with me on the great adventure of entrusting your life to God and others in ways that protects you from your weaknesses and releases your strengths.

The world needs us to lead in community and collaboration, not isolate and making decisions without accessing the Great Commandment as a receiver of love.