Dodging Bullets: Lonely Larry
Larry is a prototypical youth pastor. Larry doesn’t preach to hundreds, nor does he bore the teens he does speak to. Larry’s events are solid; while they aren’t gangbusters, they aren’t flops either. Larry is respected by his youth and they seem to enjoy spending time with each other. His fellow leaders respect him and think he’s done a great job since joining the church about 6 years ago.
Larry’s Pastor, Len, and Elder Rick have stopped meeting regularly with Larry because he normally has it all together. They both have found that Larry is a self-starter with no need for micromanaging. Larry is also very pleasant to communicate with and Pastor Len and Elder Rick rarely are surprised by anything that happens in the youth group and most of his parents find him approachable and reliable.
Larry senses a disconnect. He’s not quite sure how or why, but he just feels inadequate despite the positive signals he knows he receives. Larry is beginning to grow more disappointed that the more time he spends in his church community the more isolated he feels. Around the Pastor Len and the Elders he feels and acts as a dutiful employee. Around his students, he’s friendly, but is always mindful of the boundary that keeps him a Pastor and not their buddy. Parents also see him as a pastor figure and treat him with the respect he deserves. When he attends his age defined small group, they still treat him with the reverence (and isolation) that a Pastor gets.
Larry isn’t married, which makes his ministry time more difficult. While he doesn’t mind the time he gets to spend in ministry, he would really like a wife also. On the flip side, he has a hard time finding someone because most of his time is spent with church people; he feels awkward and out of place dating one of his congregants and is concerned with the potential damage that this might cause his church. Yet, he finds the alternative of going to a gym or some online site equally unappealing as those will lead to uncomfortable questions.
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.
For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.
But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
Larry withdraws further emotionally from his church, but maintains a healthy and positive outlook to those in the church. Larry starts to have problems sleeping and concentrating; he grows frustrated with his singleness and the lack of other friendships he’s found in the church. This downward spiral continues until Larry leaves after youth group Wednesday night, goes home and takes his own life.
Questions for Reflection:
– How could Larry have fought off the “Pastoral Persona” that encapsulated him in that bubble?
– Where could Larry have gone to get help with his depression?
– Where do you find your relief valves? That is, who are your lifelines?
Youth Ministry can be a very lonely place to serve. The pastorate also can be lonely, filled with people who would rather treat you as an object “Pastor” than get to know you as a human with human flaws. I have yet to meet a youth worker who hasn’t struggled with some of the same symptoms that Larry for which gave his life. Here are a few lifelines for you to grab:
– Try to make friends outside of the church environment, this can be at the gym, through recreation leagues, officiating sports leagues or other types of civic organizations.
– If you aren’t making connections in your church, find a support group of other ministers, whether from national network of youth ministers (nnym.org) or by calling other churches and meeting with their youth teams for fellowship. That commonality often makes a world of difference.
– Reach out into the Internet. There are people online who can be there for you and act as a community for you to belong in. There are groups on Facebook as well as other websites that are developed more specifically for youth workers.
– Seek professional help. If you need someone for a brief conversation, try Simply Youth Ministry’s Soul Care Team on twitter @SYMSoulCare.
– If you are concerned about relationships of yours in the church, talk with a Pastor or an Elder, they may be able to lend some advice on how to navigate relationships inside and outside the church. I’d like to think the majority of them would like to see you happy as well as doing great ministry.