Are Pastors Narcissistic... or Simply Lonely?

A while back, I attended a camp on the Central Coast of California with my Anthem high school crew. I must admit, this is why I do student ministry! I love camps. I love retreats. I love all-nighters. Quite simply, I love any event that gives me more than an hour with a kid. It's the bread and butter of why I do what I do.

During camp weeks, especially as I have become a more seasoned veteran in the camping world, I enjoy allowing a few hours during my week  to get out of the way of my students and let them be kids. This space frees them to meet others without a hovering leader, and it provides space for me to relax, read, and invest in the other camp staff.

While at this camp, I discovered, however, that I am slowly surpassing the age of the other leaders and gradually approaching that of the camp speaker and directors. Thus, I decided to pursue these folks and hear from their perspective.

During breakfast on the second day, I noticed the camp speaker sitting by himself, so I walked over with my coffee, sat down, introduced myself and said, "So tell me about yourself."

Yikes! I must admit. For the next 45 minutes, I thought to myself, "How do I leave this conversation?" Sounds a bit counter intuitive, right? After all, I was with the famed camp speaker, and he was setting aside time for me! But it felt quite the opposite. He seemed to care less about my me and more concerned about self-promotion.

During our entire hour long conversation, I spoke for literally a total of two minutes, so I suppose a monologue better describes our encounter. He told me about every aspect of his thriving student and young adult ministry at his gigantic mega-church in Los Angeles. He told me about his team of volunteers that literally amounts to nearly 100, who manage his schedule, answer his phone, do his laundry… I serve at a church of 325 on a good day — total.  The entire size of our church pales in comparison to the total amount of students involved in his middle school ministry.

Yet, the last 15 minutes of our conversation completely altered my perception about this man. I concluded early on that this man was narcissistic, and with each passing moment, my motivation to leave the conversation grew stronger. Then, after 45 minutes of what seemed like constant verbiage dripping from his mouth, all of a sudden, he paused, took a breath, smiled, looked at me, and said,

"Thank you so much for just letting me talk. This has been my first honest conversation in days."

I melted into a puddle of humiliation. In an instant, everything about my perception of this man changed. I realized quickly that he wasn't simply telling me about his success for the sake of it. Rather, he knew I was a pastor, serving in the same field, and he felt safe with me. I assume that he believed he could trust me with the scarcity of an honest conversation. He had every reason to surmise that I would care enough to listen to him… not judge him… or attempt to take advantage of him, for I did begin the conversation with him.

Like many pastors in our field, he and I share a common quality: we're lonely. In the rare instance that we receive an opportunity to talk with someone safe about our work and emotions, we combust like a balloon. We spew words all over the place. I will agree that one requires a certain amount of ego and confidence to thrive as a consistent and successful camp speaker (dare I also say, a youth pastor?). But it costs a hefty toll: including loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Join me in praying for the continued ministry of this man, along with all of the other youth pastors in the field who remain ever faithful to their God-given call to serve the adolescent community!

QUESTION: How do you work through your loneliness to establish health and wellness in your ministry?