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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…