A wise, and lonely, leader once told me, “Leadership is lonely, so choose your friends wisely.” I believed him without hesitation because I saw the aching loneliness whenever he was in a crowd, the uncomfortable posture of one who longs for depth and fears it for the work it will bring.
I’ve been reading Paul’s letters from prison thinking often of how long stretches of time alone might have been the fuel he needed to write those letters—and yet, in prison? Alone? In those days, there is no more lonely place I can think of.
Leadership is lonely. It doesn’t look like it, of course, because every leader is surrounded by others, called on by others, even known, in some respect, by others. It seems like all the aching loneliness of being unknown would dissipate if only you stood with the leaders of the pack.
One of the most helpful verses I’ve ever memorized is John 3:30: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
Those six words have meant more to me in the swirling storms of suffering and rejoicing, lack and plenty, contentment and desire, than any other six words I know. They are the mantra of my life, and they are prophetic in a way, speaking future truth into what is not fully realized. They comfort me when I feel the aching loneliness of being both unknown and very known, a nobody and a leader, a friend and a stranger.
Leadership is lonely because decreasing is lonely. The larger the Lord of your life becomes to others, the less they see you, and isn’t that what we all want? Just a bit? To be seen, known, and truly loved? To be unshackled from the collective prison of our minds and hearts, to be free to roam among other commoners, to find our place at the fire or the table, to fit in?
This morning I read an article about a couple who were removed from leadership at a school in New England. They were serving Jesus faithfully, wouldn’t sign a paper demanding more from them than their faithfulness to his Word, and they were given the boot, stripped of their leadership.
And yet, not.
Because the crowning achievement of every kingdom leader is to be the least, the last, and the lowest. To fulfill their mission in the prison of lonely leadership or unrecognized leadership—a prophet who has no respect.
If you seek leadership, know that you’re asking for is a life of service and loneliness. It may not look like the glamorous service you suspect. It may be the simple act of looking others in the face, hearing their stories while knowing yours is ever decreasing. It may be a life of quiet prayer. It may be behind a pulpit, which may be one of the loneliest places of all.
But, good and faithful—and lonely—servant, find your joy not in being known, but in making him known.