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Lonely at the Top

It's lonely at the top. You may have heard that statement before--most likely before you found yourself "at the top" where you lead through ministry. If you're saying right about now, "I'm not lonely at all. I'm surrounded by people all the time", hear me out.

I remember many years ago--far too many than I can fully reconcile in my forever-young mind--being in high school, grappling with the concept of leadership. If you've heard me speak or read my work before, you've heard me share of my reluctance in fulfilling what God was ultimately asking me to do. As an introvert, I'm prone to relish the background. I rather enjoy being behind the scenes and, especially as a teenager, preferred to steer clear of the spotlight. Be out in front? No, thank you. I was already lonely enough.

Introverts are often misunderstood. They often give off the impression that they don't need or desire friends. But while they feed off of solitude, they still need and crave friendship. Shallow socialization? Maybe not--at least, not as much as the consummate extrovert. Nevertheless it was from that place of often alone-ness that I heard the Holy Spirit challenging me to step outside of comfort zone and walk up to the front of the pack. And when I didn't respond directly to Him, He sent my mother to speak a little louder and clearer.

I don't recall a time when I didn't feel "stronger" about things than my peers. As a child and teenager, and then well into young adulthood, I never saw any grey about me. All things were clearly black or white. I can't say I've strayed too far into the grey arena, but what I can tell you is this: the road to destination Leadership and the crowd gathering when you arrive can be downright isolating.

You know what I have discovered? No one really calls me to just check on me.

Even the friends I hold most dear rarely shoot a text to just say "hey". I'm typically the one doing the reaching out. Most days I don't mind. And for the vast majority of my life I've resigned to the fact that I simply care more about authentic friendship than most. But then again, I acknowledge what most of you may have discovered yourselves: it can be lonely at the top.

As a general rule, the leader has quite a few defining differences about her that make her less approachable to the follower, and even her peers in leadership:

  • The leader has to operate in confidence so that others will feel secure in following her. Sometimes confidence is misinterpreted as self-sufficient.

  • A leader is entrusted with confidential information and often cannot disclose the burdens she may be carrying, making it difficult for others to relate to her.

  • Women in leadership have encountered injury by trusting the wrong individuals with the care of their hearts. Authentic, trusted friendships are entirely rare, especially within the communities where they serve and lead.

  • The luxury of being "one of the girls" is not her privilege in most situations as the average church attendee has a hard time just letting her be herself--not the pastor's wife or preacher.

I wish I could tell you I've found the solution to be easy and that I've discovered a eureka of authentic friends I do life with everyday. Truth is--most of my closest friends don't live close by and those who do are even busier than I am. The aspiration to be "normal", like everyone else, where you just do life together and no one is expecting you to be the shining example in every area, is most likely not going to be realized in this life, I'm finding.

Yes, I do have to be selective. I have to guard what I say most days. I do have to rein in my personal feelings and opinions and refrain from airing my dirty laundry on social media. I am required by God's Word to avoid certain social environments and decline the invitation to attend and participate in activities that other believers have now declared to be acceptable.

Not because I'm a leader, but because I'm a follower of Jesus Christ.

And Jesus made it clear that following Him would be isolating in its mildest of requirements.

But the greater truth is that the "feeling", like I am all alone in this life of leadership, is just that: a feeling. There are people out there who care and, when they know I am in true need of their support, are there to offer it. I'm the one who is responsible to lay all my cards on the table and say, "I need you." And can I be honest? You need me.

Feeling lonely today? Like no one out there gets it? Maybe fewer women than you'd like actually do "get it", but there are a wealth of friends awaiting you on the other side of that step out of your comfort zone--yes, one more time--waiting to walk with you. It's lonely at the top, but if you will look around, someone who may also look like she doesn't need someone's support is actually desperate for it.


Lonely at the Top is ENTRY SEVEN in our blog series, Beneath the Surface. Did this message speak to your heart? It would thrill us if you'd share it with the women under your influence and other ministry wives.


Bridgette Tomlin, founder of Sanctuary, and her husband, Chresten, have been married for 20 years and have been in the ministry together for every single one of those years! (whew!) 19 of the 20 years have been spent in full-time evangelistic work, both stateside and overseas. They have two beautiful blonde babies--ages 13 and 8--and base out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like many ministry wives she often feels like the red flag on the tug-of-war rope with the children on one end and her husband and the ministry on the other end! When she finds time for personal hobbies, Bridgette enjoys entertaining, blogging, singing, browsing the local antique shops, and sipping on a cup of hot tea for a few precious quiet moments. Her heart is to lead others to the authentic presence of God--through worship, through Word, and through one-on-one connection.

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