Leading In Isolation

When I reflect on various settings I’ve experienced, there are so many moments when the leader shows up alone. As a little boy, no matter the type of support, Mom showed up; as a student in the classroom, the teacher showed up; as a player on the team, the coach showed up; and even as a servant leader within the church, isn’t it really about the pastor showing up?

Do leaders simply show up appearing to be isolated, or do they actually live in isolation? After all, think of the biblical models who have gone before us. In Genesis 12, God begins by telling Abraham to leave everything. God asks him to leave his societal surroundings yet still take his possessions, wealth and support of people with him. Isn’t it amazing how, even in the midst of our leadership call, we can have the favor of company and still feel alone in our crowd of support?

What about in 1 Samuel 16, where we find David isolated yet called to lead sheep? I wonder if many leaders believe that, in order to fulfill their roles, their isolation is justified. Could that be why Peter is asked to get out of the boat? We know Peter’s account of walking on water is a testing of his faith; however, are there times when leaders seek to step out of the boat of community in an attempt to explore the depth of their faith?

With the inclusion of scriptural accounts, we sometimes tend to attach spiritual experiences to justify our choices or make us feel as if isolation is okay.

In my current professional role, I have the opportunity to see and hear the challenges of youth workers and leaders all over the country. Each year our team does surveys to find out the most popular relevant topics desired in a training setting. Strangely enough, whether in a workshop format or allowing it to happen organically, the common response from leaders is their need to network or be connected and a desire to learn how to balance and manage all their relation- al responsibilities. I have learned that what they’re really asking is to help them to prevent themselves from isolation.

At some point we have to be willing to sacrifice for inclusion. The more responsibilities we incur, the more we attempt to run on our own energy. We become so task oriented that we lose sight of the fact that the kingdom is built on rela- tionships. Our focus narrows to the point of execution and bypasses the relational contact in the process.

But even in the Old Testament, God proves that our ac- tivities cannot precede relationship. Our understanding of God as Jehovah-Jireh misses the richness of the meaning of that name. Our routine as leaders in isolation would cause us to focus on executing the activity (Jireh); however, God prefers our priority to be on relationship (Jehovah). We are more apt to complete what’s needed for the ministry, for our programs and for our meetings because we sincerely want to maximize the “experience.” Abraham has a great relationship with God and trusts his commands without questioning his intent.

Today, many leaders focus on building their programs and activities but treat the building of relationships as second- ary. We become so driven toward creating the experience in our ministries without realizing that the kingdom is advanced through relationship. If we could focus more on the inclusion and less on the isolation, it would allow God to create the experiences we hope to realize. This is why the ram ends up in the bush.

Just as Abraham spends time in relationship with God, we should adopt the same commitment as well in spending re- lational time with people. This way we will spend less time alone in figuring out how to provide meaningful experienc- es for our audiences. Let’s leave that up to God, our provider.

I have served as a youth pastor in various churches. I can still see myself on a mission to make sure youth night was the bomb! I searched for the best news article or the most relevant hip hop or R&B song, made sure I had an edgy video clip the students knew, picked out a fun game to play and tried to ensure my talk was plain and cool enough for my audience. I also decided what I wanted to tell my volunteers to do. Yep, I did all that! And after youth night was over, I was all by myself again.

At the end of the day, we cannot expect people to follow leadership at a kingdom level when we limit ourselves from inclusion in the body. We cannot afford to choose spotted moments of relational time, remain stagnant in our isolated state and yet ask God, What about me? When it comes right down to it, we choose to hide in isolation in an effort to protect ourselves from exposure and transparency. Unfortunately, this only limits our effectiveness. It almost equates to when God asks in Genesis 3:9, “Where are you?”

Here’s what I’ve learned on my journey. I perceive isolation somewhat as a first step in one’s calling. As I grow through experiences, I simultaneously try to grow in relationships. The more I commit to outreach, the more God commits me to inreach. My regular moments of purposed isolation are spent in the quiet, early morning hours with just God. Beyond that, I make every effort to allow people to be in- cluded in my life. The more people see that you care for them and care about them enough to include them in the cycles of your leadership capacity, the greater the crescendo of blessings that God will bestow in your lives.

Written by Fred Oduyoye, UYWI
published by Immerse Journal on July/August 2011 Issue

5 Responses to “Leading In Isolation”

  1. Adrian Amparo 07/12/2011 at 11:02 am #

    I’m getting through a period of isolation right now. For seven years God surrounded me by a great lead pastor, an awesome assistant pastor and fellow youth pastors that lived down the street from me. I wouldn’t go more than a few days between hanging out and fellowshipping with these friends. Then seven years into the ministry God called me to move a few hours away from my friends and coworkers. It’s been about 5 years since the move and it’s been hard. Only in the past few months have I begun to see the relationship fruits I’ve been craving since I left. It’s been hard.

  2. Brad Herman 07/12/2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Sometimes the isolation is actually the product of our experiences with those in the church around us. I have been involved from the bottom to the “top” (pastor) and I have found myself within a crisis of faith. Not in Christ, but in His church here in America. I have experienced a lot in the church and I have isolated as a result. I sound weak or whatever but I am not. I just expect more from Jesus’ church. Great article though.

  3. Milton Campbell (UYWI Southeast Director) 07/12/2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I think that many leaders lead in isolation because it is too difficult to build authentic community. We also live in a busy culture and developing deep relationships take time. What I am learning is that to flourish in ministry and life, authentic community is not an option but mandatory. Urban ministry (ministry in general) is draining. It is through community that we find the refueling we need to last in ministry. We need one another to be at our best! Thanks Fred for your insight and reminder.

  4. Fred Oduyoye 07/13/2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Great personal reflections and insights from other experiences! Sometimes I wonder if we’re more cognizant of our isolation as a result of serving in the Kingdom? Regardless, I’m glad that those of us commenting are committed to pressing for community! Let’s do our best to not allow the enemy to maintain a win in maximizing the fruit of relationship with one another. Love you all!

  5. Chyrel Oates 07/25/2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I know that I need to increase my relational activities and I find that much easier to do with my youth rather than with other adults though I know I need that. I agree with Milton that is difficult to build authenitc community. As a result, I find that I tend to walk in isolation rather than live in fake community.

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