Pulpit & Pew's 2001 national clergy survey asked pastors how often in the past year they had felt "lonely and isolated in their work." About 17 percent said "very often" or "fairly often" and another 51 percent said "once in a while." Only 32 percent said they had never felt lonely or isolated.
Loneliness and isolation were the single greatest predictor of overall job dissatisfaction. Generally, those who had the highest levels of loneliness were the most likely to be dissatisfied in their ministry, while those who reported little or no loneliness had the highest levels of job satisfaction.
Another Pulpit & Pew study also found a strong link between loneliness and clergy dropout. In that study, researchers interviewed ex-Catholic priests who had left the priesthood within five years of ordination. They found that isolation and a lack of close friendships were one of the most important reasons the former priests cited for quitting the ministry, second only to celibacy.
Here are some ideas to get you started in finding some social care in your life:
1. Don‘t burn your former bridges. Keep close phone and/or Internet contact with best friends or close family members.
2. Seek new friendships in social and community settings that fall outside of the boundaries of your local congregation. You will not develop outside of church friendships without actively placing yourself in social situations where friendships may develop.
3. Form cordial and friendly relationships with church members but be judicious about divulging too much personal information. Other church members get jealous of the clergy and spouse‘s ―in church relationships. Also, many a clergy family has felt betrayed by a close friend when church conflicts surface.
4. Seek other clergy (along with clergy spouses) for support and fellowship.
5. Make it a priority to have some personal, outside of church interests, hobbies, sports, or goals. Pursue your passions!
6. Therapy is good for the soul. Don‘t neglect your emotional self, especially if you are in pain.
7. Become part of a clergy (or clergy spouse) support group, lectionary study group, spiritual formation group, book club, etc.
8. If single, date outside of your church‘s membership.
9. If married or in a relationship with a significant other, have a set weekly ―date night.
10. Take all of your vacation time and study leave and make sure it‘s away from your local community.
11. Your calendar is your friend. Schedule your recreation as you would your church committees. Take your weekly days off. On those days,―Thou shalt do no church work! (Eleventh Commandment)
12. If married, make a list of future goals and activities that you would like to experience together (e.g. hiking in the Andes, skydiving, kayaking the Amazon, picnicking in a secluded meadow, bird watching, gardening, etc.).
13. Seek out someone to be your pastor and/or spiritual director. What other creative suggestions can you add? Share these strategies with other pastors and spouses. Be willing to contact your presbytery committee on ministry if problems arise.
This is part one, I will post part two next week.