I did NOT write this article. And it’s a TOUGH article. Yet NEEDFUL.
I AM a woman in ministry. I have struggled with loneliness. AND, sadly to say, I have seen women that operate like this. So Sisters, for the healing, for the sake of the truth, and the salvation of your heart and those around you ~ please read Junior DeSouza’s article posted below. It’s excellent. So are the rest of his leadership articles. The link is provided.
The female gender is an exquisite creation. Women are divinely enriched with captivating beauty, emotional versatility, radar-like intuition, and managerial talent. While us guys are grunting, hitting, colliding, shooting, and doing just about everything primitive under the sun (and somehow getting paid for it), the gals perfect every circumstance with delicacy and genius. The soothing balm of a mother’s words, the heartwarming smile of a playful little girl, the romantic strokes of a maiden, the time-tested discernment of a grandmother…could we imagine life without feminine polish?
Yet we find ourselves in a sub-Eden situation, where forbidden fruits, sinful choices, gender confusion, and devilish snakes have produced a subculture of lonely women. This subculture has encouraged extreme feminism, whereby men are less than relevant and destitution is traded for domination. It has empowered pornography, whereby women convert their loneliness into raw cash and social power. It has driven millions of women into exhausting marketplace careers, where loneliness is exchanged for the rewards of vocational success.
Finally, this subculture is surfacing in Christian ministry. While the women of Babylon often look to the aforementioned as their flotation device, the women of Zion are looking more and more to ministry. However, if anesthetizing loneliness is ministry’s major motive, problems and tragedies are imminent.
Two Kinds of Loneliness
Loneliness happens in two main circles, the social (outer circle) and the relational (inner circle). Social loneliness is the feeling or fact of being unconnected to a social niche. A social niche is a mini-community in which mutual interests and activities are shared, like sports, extra-curricular activities at school, volunteer work, book clubs, movie watchers, dancing classes, exercise groups, health clubs, local church fellowships, or simply a handful of individuals with great social chemistry. A niche acts as an ecosystem, whereby essential life-giving interactions sustain all involved. Niches define our social life and enjoyment, our “outer circle”.
Relational loneliness is the feeling or fact of being nonintimate with key individuals. In general, this means three persons: familial (family), fraternal (a close friend), and romantic (a romantic partner). These three types of intimate relationships comprise our “inner circle”, those with whom we share souls and daily life. In these we lose a part of ourselves, only to gain a part of another.
Humans gravitate to drastic behaviors if one or both of these lonelinesses persist. The horrors at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and LA Fitness were all rooted here. You and I personally might not resort to murder, but in all honesty, how many of our reckless, extreme behaviors came from being lonely? It is not enough to be social but not relational (the social butterfly with no intimate relationships), or relational but not social (the social caterpillar with one to three very deep relationships). There must be an outer circle and inner circle, social animation and relational intimacy. Without both, loneliness will linger and affect us in some way.
Providential loneliness There is a season of loneliness that is providential (God-orchestrated). Elijah had one at Cherith (1Ki 17:1-6), as did Jeremiah (Jer 15:17), Jesus (Lk 4:1), and Paul (Gal 1:16,17). In fact, anyone who goes the distance with the Lord will also have lonely seasons. In these times the Holy Spirit is weaning us from our codependence on people, an emotional detox, freeing us from excessive trust in man, attaching our soul at the deepest levels to the Father alone.
Providential loneliness is only for a time though. Elijah was not at Cherith long, Jesus was in the desert forty days, Paul was in the Arabian desert less than three years (he went to Damascus the remaining time). It is not God’s will for a Christian to be lonely for many years still going. This is not the testimony of Scripture. Rather, it is an indication that personal and interpersonal problems exist.
We need to be clear about this. Providential loneliness is brutal yet brief, harvesting better and more wholesome relationships in the next season. Perpetual social and relational loneliness betray character sins needing illumination, sanctification, and transformation. Let us resist using God’s name and work to keep our defense mechanisms intact. For many Christian women, that primary mechanism is ministry.
Ministry, A Powerful Narcotic
Loneliness amidst public service is an oxymoron that aches to the bone. Yet, those of us in leadership know far too well that ministry is a most potent narcotic, capable, for a brief moment, to stop the emotional bleeding caused by loneliness. Tasting the powers of the coming age, joy unspeakable and full of glory, spiritual authority and power, social influence, public admiration…on and on goes the list of ministerial opiates.
Flavoring the bait even more, we are in a time when droves of men are unsubscribing to their leadership call. Like Jonah, they are fugitives of Heaven. This leaves chasmic vacancies in churches and ministries for any semi-talented person to seize. Though it is 100% legitimate, necessary, and biblical for women to be in public ministry, such leadership vacuums are enticing many deeply wounded women to exploit the moment. Many of them are highly unprepared and barely surviving.
A good number of these sisters are genuinely designed and destined for ministerial leadership. That is undeniable. Deborahs, Esthers, Priscillas, and Phoebes are everywhere. However, their unpreparedness and melancholy emotional state put them and their followers in serious danger. As we cheer these alpha girls on in their ministerial exploits, we are indirectly contributing to their eventual implosion! How? By failing to address the overwhelming loneliness that drives them and their ministry.
We have all witnessed high-profile Christian women failing and falling in recent decades. The relational failures, ethical indiscretions, financial extremes, doctrinal weirdness, and questionable choices have left us saddened and confused. We are all capable of such stumbles and falls, are we not? Yes, you and I both. That is why we need to slow down, back up, and analyze the present scene. And, form wise initiatives to protect, prepare, and preserve every daughter of Zion.
I spoke at her church for a few days. Soon after I left her email came. She was a Bible teacher for some twenty years, at her home church and abroad. Marriage had been a revolving door for her, each one accompanied by extramarital affairs. She poured out her grief in the email, confessing her unbearable loneliness and lack of inspiration for ministry. She was on the verge, at risk, borderline. Just enough pressure and temptation would tip her into sinful choices again and recycle her darkness even deeper. She is simply one of an entire subculture of lonely women in ministry. Their stories are all so similar, and so are the signs.
Angry undercurrents One of the most common side-effects of loneliness-driven ministry is anger. If we listen carefully and long enough, we can hear angry undercurrents in her teaching, preaching, and approach. At times she might spiritualize it as “righteous indignation” or “holy boldness”, but time and God almost always reveal a deeper frustration with loneliness and failed relationships.
There is such a thing as righteous anger (Eze 3:14, Jer 15:17, Jn 2:14-17). However, there is a misunderstanding when this alleged anger is excessively recurrent and hesitates to give way to the more tender fruits of the Spirit. Ongoing seething, irritability, hostility, aggression, bitterness, and cynicism is a sign of a problem, not a sign of being spiritual or prophetic, even if it is dressed in such rhetoric. A pig in a tuxedo is still a pig.
Hypersensitivity The lonely have an emotional sunburn, making them overly sensitive, touchy, petty, and hasty judges. Because of the empty void for close companionship, coupled with memorable experiences with rejection, the lonely overreact to the slightest hints that history might be repeating itself–even if the words or actions of others are innocent. In this way they themselves often sabotage the very connections they crave.
Authoritarianism and control Authoritarian themes often run through loneliness-driven ministry. Pet scriptures pertaining to authority are obsessively quoted, preached, prayed, pushed, and guilted on followers. And why? Harping on authoritarianism scares and forces people into staying close, compliant, and controlled–remedying loneliness for a time. Every, and I do mean every, authoritarian leader I have ever known was lonely. Certainly more issues existed, but loneliness was in the top three every time. Alpha girls need to question if they are misusing authority to compensate for non-intimacy.
Difficulty in dealing with men, especially certain types Difficulty in relating with men is a sign many lonely women notice themselves. More specifically, this difficulty often surfaces when dealing with men who resemble previous rejectors, abusers, attachments, or, strong men in ministry who might challenge her personal fortifications. Cross-gender interaction is often a telling one.
Social indiscretions The pairing usually goes like this: lonely woman, sexually dissatisfied and overworked man, and you know the rest. The equation does not always equal a full-blown affair or sexual impropriety, but the preliminary indiscretions are often there. Though both persons are fully responsible, this writing is about lonely women in ministry, so I will have to focus there for now.
A perpetually lonely sister in ministry might convey indiscreet behavior in talk, glance, dress, body language, innuendo, or behavior (one, some, or all of these). Though any one of us can stumble into such folly, these subtle or obvious cues persist season after season in the lonely female leader. The longer the loneliness lingers unaddressed and unresolved, the more likely the social indiscretions will intensify into sexual ones. We’d be terrified at how much this happens. No one would have guessed what the Bible teacher/speaker who emailed me was doing in private.
Attracting other lonely women Leaders reproduce after their kind. We attract and reproduce what we are, not what we say. Our social environment reads our subconscious cues and clues, and whatever we convey determines who comes to us. All this happens at an instinctual, subconscious level. That is why we continually draw the same types of people and spirits into our life, until we look inside by the Holy Spirit and sanctify our deepest self (1Th 5:23, Jas 4:8). Then we will convey new cues and clues to our environment and draw new elements into our life.
Lonely sisters in ministry reproduce after their kind. Their ministries and churches are often filled with other lonely women, much more so than the typical church demographic. In my experience, such fellowships are riddled with drama and pettiness. On the other hand, whole and fulfilled women reproduce after their kind, and they successfully challenge the lonely around them to ascend and transform. Not only this, they draw wholesome men into their world, and successfully partner with them in life and ministry.
Performing in ministry Loneliness-driven ministry often depreciates into a performance. For loneliness to be medicated, the people cannot become displeased with the leader. This would defeat the whole purpose of “loneliness-driven ministry”. What remains is a mixture of gifting and performing to keep people close by. Whether it’s showmanship, stylism, hype, watering down, appeasement, or excessive technology, true ministry becomes compromised by the deeper emotional goal.
Financial extremes Finally, the ministering lonely pull to financial extremes–excessive saving or excessive spending. You’ve heard the saying, All men want is sex, and all women want is money. Of course this is not true all the time, but it is true enough to diagnose gender inclinations.
Many females logic something like this, Men will fail me, people will fail me, but money is something I can count on. I can’t control people, but I can control money. When people fail, money is seen as a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. The result is financial extremes, excessive saving or excessive spending. In a ministry context, this means greater and greater Christianized luxuries and technologies, or, a paralyzing fear of taking necessary financial risks for ministry development. Either way, the most important financial priority–Christ’s kingdom and people’s needs–are marginalized or bypassed altogether.
Overseers, Observe and Care
Detecting loneliness-driven ministry is the jurisdiction of ministerial leaders, overseers, pastors, or anyone superintending other leaders. When our spiritual daughters, sisters, mothers, and colaborers show the signs, we need to care enough and be strong enough to mercifully address it. We need to be observant enough to recognize it in the first place. We cannot ensure that every lonely alpha girl will chew and digest the wisdom of such intervention, but we can have a blameless conscience by being sensitive superintendents. Proverbs 27:23: Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.
I tremble for the archleaders that are more preoccupied with money, popularity, and keeping their machine running than the personal development of those in their sphere. May we be sobered by this truth: superintendents who could have, but did not, intervene in the lonely female leaders around them, when those sisters stumble or fall, the superintendents will also be responsible and have a reckoning with God. There is a serious word from the Spirit to us in Proverbs 24:11,12: Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?
Time For A Time-Out?
To the beloved daughters of Zion, sisters in Christ, and colaborers in the Lord’s vineyard…if you are steeped in loneliness-driven ministry, could it be time for a time-out? Consider taking a season off. Solve and dissolve your loneliness by going back to the basics. Develop a great social life and intimate relationships with a few. I’ve had to do it before, many others have done it, and it spared us a very embarrassing day of reckoning down the road. And your ministry will come back more pure and powerful than ever.
Many ministering females are praying night after night for a best friend, or a husband, or a more enjoyable social life. Could it be that God would answer these prayers immediately if they pressed pause on ministry and play on social life and relationships? Could it be that a season of biblical counseling and interpersonal development would be the bridge into the desires of your heart? It might be time for a ministry time-out. I leave you Proverbs 22:3: A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.
“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
Joseph Fort Newton (1880-1950)