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

Isolation: God’s Plan

Written by: on March 3, 2017

One early morning I was sitting with a pastor friend enjoying a cup of coffee.  I was pastoring in a metro area, and he pastored in a small rural town.  For some reason, he must have thought that pastoring in a city was the pinnacle of success.  I remember him asking me or rather telling me, “Jason, you have had a charmed life in ministry.  I bet you have rarely struggled.”  I was absolutely shocked, and I thought this guy was my friend.  He was in my wedding.  I went on to explain my “dark night of the soul” moments to him.  I explained my failures and that I quit ministry at one time in my life and dug ditches.  I went into vivid detail of the pain, the struggles, the heartache and the loneliness that I walked through in ministry that brought me closer to God and gave me a vision for the future.  Little did I realize that back then I was describing Shelly Trebesch’s book Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader.

               Trebesch does a marvelous job that all of us go through if we are in ministry long enough.  She describes the process as a stripping process, a wrestling process, and a time of new vision.  Trebesch masterfully uses the Word of God to prove her point as she examines the lives of Paul and Jesus and their periods of isolation.

While I do feel that isolation is necessary for the leader, I do not think it should be something that is negative.  Tresbesch tells us, “More than 90% of leaders will face one or more important isolation times in their lives.  Most do not negotiate these times very well.  Knowing about them and what God can accomplish in them can be a great help to a leader who faces isolation (Appendix A).”  While I do agree with Tresbesch, it seems that many times leaders do not do well with isolation because it catches them by surprise.  I do wonder if isolation needs to catch by surprise to be effective.  Rather can we plan periods of isolation in our lives, much like Jesus, and achieve the same results? Would this be healthier for the leader.

Most people do not plan wildernesses, but perhaps connecting Trebesch with Cal Newport’s ideas can be effective.  As a reminder, Newport believed in order to get our best work done we have to unplug ourselves from the world for selected periods of time.  In other words, Newport discusses a planned isolation in order to achieve results.  Instead of letting an event, tragedy, or struggle (which is what happens with many leaders) move us to isolation, maybe we should willingly lean into annually.

As I have connected the dots between Trebesch and Newport, I have begun to explore ways where and when I can force myself into isolation.  I truly believe that if I do this, then perhaps I can avoid the pain of being forced into isolation.  If I structure my life much like Jesus, then I can possibly be more effective for a longer period of time.  After all, that is the goal.

About the Author

Jason Kennedy

I am a pastor of a thriving church in Grapevine, Texas. With two little girls (5,8), and a wife that is a medical doctor (family practice), life is non-stop.

10 responses to “Isolation: God’s Plan”

  1. Nice Jason. Sabbath as another form of temporary voluntary isolation?
    My only issue of the link between Newport and Trebesch is Newport is all about productivity. For leaders in the church, I think it is more about interior formation and freedom than outward productivity. I do see how Newport can inform how we as leaders can explore ways to voluntarily isolate. What’s working for you so far?

  2. Jason Kennedy says:

    I agree and disagree. I see the problem’s with Newport’s because it does rely on tangibles….more papers written…where Trebesch is about formation. My connection is that a forced period of isolation is what is needed. For me, getting a way and just praying and thinking helps. I am trying to do this monthly.

  3. Jason,
    I believe isolation on a beach with just a chair and the sound of waves is a beautiful place to be and with friends. One of the concepts that was presented in this book was to find a community to belong to within the time of isolation. I find it interesting that from the outside with your friend everything looks outstanding but the truth usually is that there are struggles all the time. Being in community that is close knit and where I can just be at ease is so valuable has brought that tension relief in the middle of doing ministry. Where else have you found relief or comfort?


    • For me, I find relief in friendships (with other pastors) where I do not have to be something. I also find solace on a solo run with my head phones on. I am trying to unplug and be alone for periods of time too.

  4. Phil Goldsberry says:


    You hit on something – how do we prepare people for the “isolation” that is to come? We’ve been through it, but how do we affectively prepare people to not be afraid, but to embrace the “dark night of the soul”, knowing full well that they will grow from the episode?


    • Phil,
      That is really difficult. I do not know if you can fully prepare people. I think ministers need to talk about their struggles openly with one another. That way other ministers can know they are not abnormal or strange. I think a book like Trebesch should stay at our finger tips to help people when they need it.

  5. Marc Andresen says:

    Isn’t it amazing to read Trebesch and say, “Yes, I’ve been there!”? Great connection to Newport. There’s quality planned isolation in this connection.

    You wrote, “I do wonder if isolation needs to catch by surprise to be effective.”
    Do you suppose God does different kind of work in planned and unplanned isolations? I had two sabbaticals in my twenty five years at my church here in Corvallis. For the most part they “felt” pretty positive; involving travel and adventures.

    The unplanned isolations involved more pain, but my hunch is that the pain resulted in a deeper work of the Holy Spirit. What do you think of my hunch?

    • Marc,
      I think you are right. I guess my point is that we need to figure out ways to limit the “pain.” In other words, do not wreck your life unnecessarily. I do think sometimes God does bring us through more painful times (see the Bible 🙂 ). But, I think we need to do some planned isolation so we are not wrecked. So, I think your hunch is right.

  6. Garfield Harvey says:

    You suggested that “perhaps I can avoid the pain of being forced into isolation.” I believe there’s still a tension to manage in this area because how do we measure the amount of isolation needed. I remember leaving Boston October 2008 because I made a commitment to God regarding ministry. My pastor and congregation confirmed this process. However, by April 2009 I found myself homeless after surrendering “ALL.” I do understand being tested in certain areas but even in my moment of voluntary isolation, it didn’t remove the pain. Maybe voluntary isolation helps us manage the pain that could occur during any involuntary process.


    • Garfield,
      I think you are right. I think there will always be times that catch us off guard…however, I do think we need to do our best to take some planned isolation periods to help us with clarity and of course allow God to speak to us. Perhaps planning isolation can help us limit the painful periods.

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