This week’s reading took a more subtle approach from recent weeks. Last few weeks we discussed the role of secularism but also the transformation of our global culture since the 1500s. Our challenge in this week’s reading as ministry leaders is that of isolation. The word itself suggests loneliness, so we (ministry leaders) have the tendency to label isolation as an infraction to Christian leadership automatically.
In the book Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the of a Leader, Shelly Trebesch describes isolation as “the setting aside of a leader from normal ministry involvement in its natural context usually for an extended time in order to experience God in a new or deeper way” (Trebesch, 10). Although we can take annual vacations, those moments are generally meant for family getaways, so they never replace the need for isolation. The author shows that “while we cringe at even the thought of such experiences, the Bible reveals them as a natural part of life” (Trebesch, 3).
Two books came to mind while reading Trebesch’s book. As part of my weekly mentoring group with my pastor, we are reading The Pentecostal Pastor by Dr. Wayne Goodall. There are several nuggets in his book, but two that I found interesting are:
- “As pastors we must realize that if we do not control our calendars, they will control us” (Goodall, 681, Kindle)
- “Your priorities as a minister should be in this order: (1) your relationship with the Lord, (2) your spouse and children, and (3) your ministry and work” (Goodall, 332, Kindle)
The other book that comes to mind is Replenish by Lance Witt. Our church staff spent a few weeks dialoguing through this book as our pastor wanted to ensure we were leading from a healthy place. Two key things to observe from this book are:
- “Paying attention to your outer life while your inner life languishes is like getting a facelift when you have a malignant tumor” (Witt, 36)
- “We have neglected the fact that a pastor’s greatest leadership tool is a healthy soul” (Witt, 19)
Looking at the core of these books and the one I read this week shows the importance of isolation.
It was a Sunday afternoon on November 12, 2006, when I received a letter in an impromptu meeting. The letter stated very simply, “Please take anything of importance from the sanctuary today because we sold the church building last week and the board has decided to dissolve this ministry. We’ve already contacted a few pastors that are willing to have you serve in their ministry, but we cannot guarantee you a leadership role.”
Over the next two years, I entered into what Trebesch calls “involuntary isolation.” The author states that this involuntary process “refers to isolation experiences which are basically unexpected, which happen to a leader not by his/her choice, which the leader usually has little or no control over and which usually involves negative shaping” (Trebesch, 30). There’s no doubt that I desired to grow in and with God, but I wasn’t ready for this “paradigm shift.” The author shows that God uses isolation for three reasons: “to transform identity, to introduce a paradigm shift, and to deepen his relationship with the leader” (Trebesch, 46). It was during my period of isolation that God transformed my identity, where I shifted from being just a musician and even had the desire for seminary and full-time ministry. I had been serving in ministry for 10 years, but that was based on my rules and regulations.
“Isolation experiences can be painful. They most certainly will be profitable when we recognize God’s working through them” (Trebesch, 8). 10 years later, there’s no doubt that such isolation was necessary to transform me more into the image of God. I remember that church closure vividly because I struggled with God about accepting the call to ministry after that event. It was a broken moment because my life was defined by what my family determined, but the greatest challenge was that the pastor of that church was my brother. Except for one sister, my entire family relocated to another state within a few weeks, and I was left to walk the shameful road alone. I saw the former church members who thought my family stole the church’s finance, but in reality, he gave all his finances.
While I walked this journey alone in Boston, my brother walked it alone in North Carolina. “Leaders often need to be set aside from the ‘doingness’ of ministry before they can realize how driven they are by it”(Trebesch, 73). He had no desire to pastor again after pastoring for 17 years in Boston. We had planted four churches together, but we kept ‘doing’ ministry and never considered the health of our inner soul. My brother is living here in Florida and pastoring a church I helped him launched, as well as overseeing a few other churches here and in Jamaica.
During this isolation, we never felt disconnected or separated from God. The experience taught me that “the Lord removes various identities that ministry places upon a leader and strips the leader down to the core of who he/she has been created to be (the identity that the Lord places in him/her)” (Trebesch, 7). In some sense, isolation is a gift, ‘a blessing in disguise’ but it’s not something we crave; God just bestows it. Isn’t it amazing how God confirms Jesus as His Son at the baptism but immediately after Jesus was led into the wilderness? “While we cringe at even the thought of such experiences, the Bible reveals them as a natural part of life” (Trebesch, 3).