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I have a challenge for you. Before you start skimming over familiar Scriptures I would like you instead to take 20-25 minutes to read this article and ask God to speak to you, challenge you, and encourage you in your leadership role.

Jesus was the greatest leader to ever walk on this planet. As I read and reflect through the Gospels about the life of Jesus, the weight of His loneliness feels overwhelming.

At 12 years old, Jesus knew He was different. Every year, His parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover and took Jesus with them. His parents, relatives, and friends started their trip home, but Jesus stayed behind. He taught in the temple courts with amazing wisdom.

My son John-Peter is 12. He's a straight-A student, but the only thing he would be teaching in a church right now is how to beat the seventh level of the latest video game. When someone is truly different, set apart to lead, and they know it, it's lonely. You're not like everyone else.
When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you. Why were you searching for me? He asked. Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house? But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
(Luke 2:48-50 NIV)
Jesus wasn't understood. Have you ever felt that way? In fact, Jesus was misunderstood throughout his entire ministry.

When I served with John Maxwell at Skyline, I remember well a time when John was misunderstood. He made a right, but unpopular decision to release a staff member. This staff member was well-known and loved. No one knew the behind the scenes stuff that comprised the majority of the reason for the decision.

Out of grace, kindness, and strength, John never told the junk of the story. He took the heat alone. Scores of people didn't understand and questioned him, and John only said, "You need to trust me."

Much later, long after the staff member had left, and the truth of his life began to unfold more publicly, one by one, many of the leaders came back to John and said, "Now I understand." They communicated to John their respect for his discretion in protecting the personal life of this person so that healing might take place.

Leadership has lonely moments, but we must walk them with integrity as John did. Not every story has a happy ending, but we must accept the responsibility to live with enough strength of character to walk the lonely walk when we must.

Jesus is grown now and filled with the Holy Spirit and faces incredible temptation.

(1) Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, (2) where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them, he was hungry. (3) The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread." (4) Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'" (5) The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. (6) And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. (7) So if you worship me, it will all be yours." (8) Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" (9) The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. (10) For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; (11) they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" (12) Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (13) When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
(Luke 4:1-13 NIV)

You Must Face It Alone
The weight of temptation as a leader can be crushing. Have you ever noticed that when you are tempted you are always alone? You might be around another person, or even other people, but you are still alone because temptation is something that happens inside you. You must face it alone. Even if you have prayer partners and encouragers, when the rubber meets the road, you must face your temptations alone.

I believe that the forces of evil go after spiritual leaders first. If we can be tempted and caused to fall, the impact is greater. What is your temptation as a leader? Are you winning or losing the battle?

The good news is that you have the spirit of God upon you. And the Holy Spirit's power within you is far more powerful than any temptation thrown at you. "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4 NIV).

This doesn't make it easy, but it does make it possible. Remember that temptation is normal. Surrendering to temptation is the problem. Don't surrender.

When you are alone, don't think that no one will know or that it doesn't matter. It does. Perhaps your temptation is more public. Church leaders often fight battles such as pride, envy, and ego issues. How big is your church? How well do you communicate? Who do you know and who knows you?

For some leaders it's very different. Perhaps you are tempted to get comfortable and coast. Whatever the temptation, these are common battles. Don't give in. God's spirit is in you. You can overcome.

Jesus often faced times in lonely places. Whether he needed to escape the crowds or withdraw into the night for prayer. He often found himself alone.

(12) While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." (13) Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him. (14) Then Jesus ordered him, "Don't tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." (15) Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. (16) But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
(Luke 5:12-16 NIV)

At times when He actually wanted to be alone, the people still came to him from everywhere with their needs. How many times have you been exhausted and yet there was "one more person" to minister to?
Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
(Mark 1:40-45 NIV)
The longer I'm in full-time ministry, the more I'm convinced that the battle is won and churches are built through the power of prayer. My flesh is still weak and I'm tempted not to pray, but work instead. But I know the truth and God has always been faithful to grant favor to my prayers for the sake of His church.

It's a mystery why I don't pray more. Or is it? How about you? When your workload is heavier, do you pray more or work harder? There are many issues at hand here, but certainly among the key issues is that prayer is hard work and it's lonely work. No one pats you on the back for your hours in prayer. No one writes you a thank you note for interceding at 2 a.m.

Let's face it, prayer is not in the spotlight of attention and gratitude. I'm certain that's one of the reasons why God honors it so much! Prayer declares our absolute and utter dependency upon God to accomplish anything that matters for eternity.

The absence of prayer declares that we believe we can do it on our own power. That's a scary thought.

I am currently praying—asking God to bring us a pastor for our high school student ministry. I've gone through well over a hundred resumes, many of which belonged to talented and wonderful people, but none of them was the right one for our team.

It's once again becoming clear that I can't work hard enough to find the right student pastor; I must pray this person in. It's more fun to talk to candidates. It's lonely and hard work to pray. But prayer delivers.

Jesus was betrayed by Judas. That was undoubtedly a devastatingly lonely time for Jesus.
While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?
(Luke 22:47-48 NIV)
One of his inner circle betrayed him. I don't know how it gets heavier than that. After Jesus was arrested, his staff was scattered and He was alone.

How will you handle this kind of loneliness? Will you get angry, will you quit, or will you stay in the game with a Christ-like attitude? No doubt you would be hurt, but the question is how will you handle the pain? Will you strike out and hurt others or go to the Father and your inner circle for healing? The work of the Kingdom needs you, but it needs you fully vested and in the game.

Before Jesus was actually arrested, he went—as He often did—to the Mount of Olives to pray.

(39) Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. (40) On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." (41) He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, (42) "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (43) An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. (44) And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (45) When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. (46) "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
(Luke 22:39-46 NIV)

The guys fell asleep! Jesus is in the midst of His greatest agony and his core team is asleep! Have you ever felt the loneliness of abandonment? Even though by people who would never mean to hurt you? Perhaps it was a board meeting regarding a very tough decision. The leaders stood with you at the water-cooler and in the hallways, but when the chips were down and it was time to speak, they let you down. You stood alone.

Loneliness moves from abandonment to being disowned. I don't know that there is anything more deeply and profoundly lonely than being disowned by someone close to you. Peter disowned Jesus—publicly.

(59) About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean." (60) Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. (61) The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." (62) And he went outside and wept bitterly.
(Luke 22:59-62 NIV)

Things To Think About
The truth is when we study the life of Christ, the stories and related implications of leadership loneliness could fill a book. But let me bring this article to some concluding thoughts.

When it comes to the topic of suffering, which is the larger idea in which loneliness fits, no one asks for it. No one seeks to suffer. No normal person. If I have a choice of suffering or going for an extra piece of chicken at the fellowship dinner, I'm going for the chicken.

Yet, as I study the whole of the New Testament, I have come to believe that our Christian pilgrimage does not exist without some form of suffering. In this article, I'm addressing the suffering of loneliness that leaders face. It's not a popular topic and won't sell many books, but it's real and we must face it.

First, know that it's worth it. When you face a lonely season for the sake of God's Kingdom, it's worth it. The balance of people's eternity is at stake. It is worth it.

Second, remember that Jesus modeled it. This article gives you just a glimpse of what Jesus endured. No doubt you could add more from your own studies. And third, know that you are never completely alone. There will be times when you must carry this burden alone in the realm of the natural world, but Christ Jesus is with you in spirit.

Take heart and carry on.

This article is used by permission from
Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter
The Pastor's Coach available at

Author Biography

Dan Reiland
Web site: 12 Stone Church
Dan Reiland is Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

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