Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Are You There God? It’s Me, Isolation.

Written by: on March 2, 2017


I very much enjoyed reading Shelley Trebesch’s, Isolation this week. Like Judy Blume’s 1970 teen novel about a young lady searching during adolescence, Isolation is about one major coming-of-age component for every leader. Her short, but powerful, book is a great example of how to write a dissertation. Reading it gave me hope and vision for what each of us in this cohort must complete in the next 10 or 11 months. This book also gave me ammunition for my leadership development paper due next month. My big three content take-a-ways are how she normalizes the experience of isolation, creates a framework for discovering the Lord through times of isolation, and gives a practical developmental process through isolation from Psalm 42.

The New Normal

One of the best parts of Isolation is that Trebesch has done the biblical and historical work to come up with, and show, the stories of isolation for so many great leaders. This has a normalizing effect for leaders and gives us permission to experience times of isolation. Feelings of aloneness, sadness, and even morose are inherent in isolation. What Trebesch does though is tell the stories of leaders who have gone through isolation and lived to tell about it. Isolation is such a common experience for leaders she even says that EVERY leader will experience a form of isolation.

There are examples of involuntary isolation. Trebesch defines involuntary isolation as isolation due to sickness or injury, imprisonment, organizational discipline, war, or natural disasters. There are also three types of voluntary isolation. Leaders choose to go through isolation when we isolate for renewal, education/training, and social base purposes. The study is full of examples of these forms of isolation. Trebesch shows us how everyone from Amy Carmichael, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, The Israelites, Jesus, Paul, to Watchmen Nee, not only journeyed through isolation, but discovered who they really were and who God is. As members of this cohort we are all experiencing some degree of isolation because we have chosen to be in this program.

How really NOT to be Secular

We spent the past couple of weeks having our brains massaged by Taylor and Smith. If Taylor asks the question of how we got to this place from not being able to not talk about God to our current secularism of not being able to talk about God, and Smith offered his explanation of Taylor, I say Trebesch’s process, and fruit, of isolation offers us a way to live out of our current immanent frame and walk in a new social imaginary. Many Christians today feel a sense of isolation and the process of stripping, wrestling, intimacy, and release is helpful for us.

Stripping is the painful process God uses to sand, refine, and expose us. This is usually a time of pain, hurt, confusion and fear. Like Jacob, the next step is to wrestle with God. Most likely you will experience more pain, more confusion, and even some deep questions. This leads to step 3 of increased intimacy with the Lord. In the Vineyard we often simply pray, “More Lord, more Lord.” This is a desire for intimacy. Usually this is when we experience our own brokenness and desperation. We must pass through these steps in order to arrive at the fourth step of release to move forward. This is when we discover a new excitement, peace, and joy. The potential fruit from this process is a true exit from secularism described by Taylor.

There are three fruits of isolation. The first is an inward transformation. As leaders we can experience a deeper humility, freedom and vulnerability. The second fruit is spiritual transformation. We experience this fruit during times of dependence on God, intimacy, and when we have a sense that we are really hearing God. The third fruit is ministerial transformation. The aspects that can accompany this form of transformation is a more purposeful minsitry, sometimes greater influence, and a genuine sense of following the Lord in ministry.

Applying Psalm 42 to the Isolated Bivocational Pastor

Experiences of isolation are common occurrences for bivocational pastors. Trebesch closes her book with six things to do to catalyze transformation during isolation taken from Psalm 42. Each of these activities could work for bivocational pastors.

  1. Be Honest

As Trebesch points out, being honest with our feelings is difficult for any leader. However, I would say it is even more difficult for the bivocational pastor. Walking the steps towards honesty (p58) take time and energy. These are two scarce resources for the bivocaitonal pastor.

  1. Remember

This involves recalling who we are and what we are called to do and even become. It also means to remember who God is. If step one means to look inside, this step means to look back and rediscover our history.

  1. Have Hope – Keep Perspective

This is difficult when taken on face value. Isolation will indeed end. However, in my experience it rarely ends the way we expect it to end. For some bivocational pastors, the end of isolation might mean the end of having that other job. For others though, that will never happen. Having hope and keeping perspective means to hope in other things.

  1. Get a Mentor

Finding a mentor is difficult for bivocational pastors for two reasons. First, there are very few bivocational pastors who have survived the isolation of bivocationalism and have the credentials to mentor a young bivocational pastor. The second struggle is time and money. To do this bivocational pastors will have to be very creative.

  1. Listen for the Voice of God

I loved reading Brother Lawrence’s, The Practice of the Presence of God a few years ago and I am experimenting with “centering prayer.” For me, this step is for everyone whether in or out of an isolation season.

  1. Embrace Isolation

Acceptance is the most difficult phase for us all. For Vineyard bivocational pastors, it is even more difficult. As one leader responded in my survey, “Bivocational pastors are seen as poor leaders and as if something is wrong with them.” Ouch! It took me 9 years of struggling in bivocational isolation before I embraced it as a call. I wish I would have read this book in 2003 when we planted the Hub.

To be continued…

About the Author

Aaron Peterson

I am a working priest which means that I am a husband(to Lisa), dad(to four wonderful children), senior pastor and church planter(The Hub Vineyard Church), and high school social studies teacher(Verdugo Hills High School LAUSD). I am currently working towards a DMIN in Leadership & Global Perspectives @George Fox Seminary.

10 responses to “Are You There God? It’s Me, Isolation.”

  1. Pablo Morales says:

    Aaron, reading your blog gives me a window into what it feels like being a bi-vocational pastor. As you point out, being a bi-vocational pastor has its unique experiences of isolation. When I read your reflection about the suggestion of getting a mentor, I was reminded of something I read from pastor Bill Hybels. He thinks that we should not limit the idea of mentorship to a face-to-face relationship with another leader. Instead, he encourages leaders to learn from other seasoned leaders by reading their work. I had never looked at it from that perspective. Adding this perspective to mentorship has allowed me to delve into wisdom from other leaders by accessing their work more intentionally. It has also helped decrease the feeling of loneliness that is common to pastoral ministry.

  2. Aaron,
    Thanks for your raw interpretations of this book. I have not experienced your viewpoint and this gives me great insight.

    The author encourages the person in isolation to continue to be in community. When I was reading this I thought it was an interesting concept. Since you have “two worlds” that you live in how does this work for you? Can your “one” community sustain you when things are feeling isolated in the other?

    When does it become possible for you to become a vocational pastor? Is there a tipping point where that can happen and is this being communicated to your congregation? Just some of my random thoughts.

    I believe this “community” of our cohort has been vital to expanding my own thinking and moving beyond what could be the bubble that I live in. Over a five year process I have developed relationships that allow me to be open even when things might be in a rather crazy state. What about you? Has this process been helpful for you to discover some new facets to life?

    Thanks for your friendship and your transparency.


    • Hi Kevin. Good, challenging questions. Here we go.
      It has been a tremendous struggle over the years to not feel a degree of isolation from my teaching job and pastoring job. Often times I would find myself thinking about church while teaching and school while preaching.
      The “one” community that sustains me through this is my marriage to Lisa. Pete Scazerro calls marriage our “greatest sign and wonder” and that as humans we lead out of our marriage or singleness, period. So I have learned over the years to put that first.
      I am not sure what you mean by vocational pastor. I see myself as a called pastor and a called teacher. I get to pastor my students and coworkers at school and I get to teach my congregation. For me, it goes to mission and calling. I have room theologically to be called to both.
      In that sense I have communicated that to my congregation and I wish everyone at the Hub saw themselves as bivocational as well.
      Our cohort: Yes, I agree. What a blessing to my life. Our weekly Zooms, our dialogues, our advances have all been really life changing for me.

  3. Phil Goldsberry says:

    When I planted the church in Long Island, NY, there was a season that I was bi-vocational. The wonderful people that I pastored were understanding….it was the people outside of that oikos that gave me a “lifted eye” for being bi-vocational. It was existence in a NY world that brought me to being in that position….sometimes it was there look at me as if why don’t you grow your church and you wouldn’t have to be.

    Looking back I am not sure if that was illusional or reality. I do know that I worked myself to death so many times that it was difficult to balance my family, marriage, and any type of self-care. I wish I could have read Trebesch’s book then and would have embraced a voluntary isolation better.

    Keep up the good work. Kevin asked some pretty touch questions that hopefully will be beneficial.


  4. Marc Andresen says:


    You wrote, “As members of this cohort we are all experiencing some degree of isolation because we have chosen to be in this program.”

    How does this program place us in isolation? Are we not all still in ministry?
    As I think about it, I’m wondering if my entering D Min LGP was a way to avoid the isolation of retirement? I’ll have to think about that.

    • Okay, I’ll use “I” statements here regarding this program. Due to the time it has taken me to do the reading, Zoom, research, etc. I have experienced a sense of isolation from my friends and church. These past couple of years have seen me saying “no” to things I would have normally said yes to if I was not in this program.

      re: retirement as isolation avoidance.
      Quite possible Marc. I would take some time and ponder that. Could be a good experience for you and ultimately freeing.

  5. Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Aaron P
    You shared the three fruits of isolation of which one is Ministry Transformation – Isolation often produces greater “voice recognition.” Its results in leaders better trained to listen to, and trust the voice of the Good Shepherd. Consequently, leaders are trained to not chase their own agenda and their motives for serving are refined.

    But the one who responds to God in isolation processing is a different person afterwards, living life more maturely and ministering out of being.” (Trebesch, p. viii)
    Thanks for A great post, Rose Maria

  6. Claire Appiah says:

    Thanks for a creative blog that integrates the theses of other readings and produces food for thought in the practicality of Trebesch’s book. You stated, “I say Trebesch’s process and fruit of isolation offers us a way to live out of our current immanent frame and walk in a new imaginary. How does this new imaginary impact your isolation process as a bi-vocational priest?

    • Thanks Claire.
      I think a new imaginary gives me hope in the midst of the death of the American Dream of a one income family. At least in urban areas, it is impossible today to raise a family on one income. This book helped me imagine a new way to do ministry. Obviously I am still imagining. 🙂

Leave a Reply