The Isolated Leader: Three Motivations for Peer Community

One of the greatest threats to leadership is isolation.

The threat only grows as a leader rises in his or her status and scope of responsibility. Isolation leaves a leader without necessary data points. These necessary data points keep a leader grounded, humble, and self-aware. Without these points of reference, a leader is exposed to many temptations—the greatest of these temptations is self-sufficiency.

The antidote to isolation is peer community.

Every leader needs multiple sources of community. Peer community is a very critical source. Leaders must be in periodic connection with those of similar leadership responsibility. Only those who have experienced the weight, pressure, and stress of a like-kind of leadership responsibility can offer understanding and perspective.

Peer community typically does not exist within a leader’s normal daily environment.

True peer community cannot take place with those who answer to the leader. Followers will always be challenged to stay completely honest—and every leader needs abject honesty as a regular mirror for his or her soul. Leaders must intentionally seek out peer community. Quality peer community may be close at hand or it may exist a great distance away. But with today’s technology distance cannot remain an excuse to not connect.

There are three primary motivations for developing peer community:

Calling—your invitation to lead.

Calling in the Bible is always an invitation. It is an invitation from God to step into something significant and supernatural. Some callings in Scripture are dramatic and legendary. Some callings are quiet and less well-known. All of these invitations to lead are significant because they have their source in God and they are intended to move God’s agenda forward. I don’t know of a single leadership calling in the Bible that is easy and without struggle. Therefore, callings must be nurtured and maintained. The leader who desires to lead long must have their calling refreshed and renewed by others in community. Leaders must be reminded about why they lead and for whom they lead.

Calling is God’s permission for the leader to have influence over others.


Accountability—your integrity to lead.

Accountability means a leader is known to someone and committed to being transparent about his or her responsibilities. The leader who ignores or refuses a community of accountability will eventually live a duplicitous life. Accountability must be holistic because leadership is an integrated proposition. Often, that which is unknown to the leader, or to others, will be the very thing that destroys one’s platform for leading. Disqualification is often the sad and public result of a leader without accountability.

Accountability is God’s protection for a leader’s sustainability.


Covenant—your promise to lead.

A covenant of any kind is a binding promise between two parties. Leaders are expected to lead. Leaders must lead. And leadership is always a leveraged activity—meaning that a leader’s efforts, and all of his or her decisions, have a multiplied impact far beyond themselves. Because of this principle of leverage a leader can have an impact for great good or great harm. But when willing followers grant you the authority to lead them they expect you to lead them toward meaningful change and to do so with integrity and care. The leader-follower relationship is built around this stated or unstated promise. The leader may carry titled authority but followers will give their best efforts when the leader fulfills his promise to lead well—this leads to what is truly desired by the leader—granted authority.

Covenant is God’s purpose for a leader to fulfill his calling.


King David in the Bible illustrates the liability of isolation and the necessity of connection in 2 Samuel 11. There are three markers within this narrative that show the potential destruction of a leader in isolation.

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. (verse 1)

David was not where he was supposed to be and David was alone. This king was not leading his troops into battle, he was at home. He was not in the company of those who could give personal context for him, he was among only those who served him.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. (verse 2)

David was not living a disciplined existence and he was looking beyond God’s provision for satisfaction. Left to himself, without a presence of any purposeful voice of correction, David was self-absorbed and open to temptation.

David sent …

David abused his titled authority to get what he wanted and to cover up his sin. Beginning in verse one and continuing through the next several verses we find the word “sent” five times. Repeatedly, David used his authority to send others to do his bidding … whether they wanted to go or not and whether it was morally right or not. David “sent” for Bathsheba so that he could commit adultery. David “sent” for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, to try to cover up the illegitimate pregnancy. David “sent” Uriah back to the battle lines that he might have Uriah killed. Finally, David “sent” for Bathsheba, Uriah’s widow, to become his wife.

When a leader is isolated and without honest community, he or she is on borrowed time. But with a community of peers who can feed and strengthen a sense of calling, accountability, and covenant, a leader can be used of God for great impact and His glory.

The Dangers of Isolation

small__5649446983In the winter issue of Leadership Journal there is a fascinating article entitled The Friendless Pastor. Mark Brouwer, pastor at Jacob’s Well Church Community in Evergreen Park, Illinois, does a great job of bringing clarity to a common problem among all spiritual leaders.

“Isolated leaders are a danger to themselves and their churches.”

Here are five specific dangers that Brouwer highlights:

1. Isolated leaders are more susceptible to feelings of sadness and loneliness.

2. Isolated leaders are more susceptible to anxiety and stress.

3. Isolated leaders are more susceptible to discouragement.

4. Isolated leaders are more susceptible to temptation.

5. Isolated leaders are more susceptible to doing stupid things.

While Brouwer writes from a male perspective and a pastor’s perspective, I think the principles are worthy of consideration regardless of gender, and towards any leader in ministry or outside of ministry.

What do you think of Brouwer’s observations? What do you see as other dangers to this leadership issue? What do you consider some possible solutions?

Grab a copy of the winter issue of Leadership Journal. The theme is Fit to Lead? There are a number of thought provoking offerings. And you can take a look at Brouwer’s conclusions and suggested ideas about how to escape isolation.

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The Heart of the Matter

small_2110694486As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. Proverbs 27:19

Sometimes leaders need to take a look inside before they look outwardly towards the mission. Scripture highlights the idea of using the image of a mirror as a metaphor to encourage similar thinking. James notes that someone who only hears the Word of God and does not act on it is like one who looks at himself in the mirror, but forgets his appearance once he walks away. Instead James 1:22-25 holds up the “mirror” of the gospel, the prefect law of liberty, as a right reference point. James is encouraging our gaze at Christ as a transformative center for living life.

There is a proper “mirror” experience that we need to have occasionally. A leader I once served under use to say that we need to live “the gaze glance life”-where we gaze at Christ continually and occasionally glance at ourselves. Our narcissistic culture would have it the other way around, where we gaze at ourselves constantly and look almost nowhere else. But the occasional glance is necessary and revealing. We do need to look inside at times to see what is true of us. We need to look into the mirror of our souls. Proverbs 27:19 uses this reflection analogy to make a point. Just as a reflection in water reveals what is truly there. So the heart of a person reflects what is true of that person. Now this presupposes a Hebrew concept of heart, not a western view. We tend to think of the heart as merely our emotions or passions. But the Jewish mind sees the heart was more holistic. It includes that mind, will and emotions. The heart is the governing center of a person’s life, life is decided. Therefore the heart is the man. And whatever is in the heart will be true of the man, and will be observable eventually.

I want to apply this to leadership. Recently I had the privilege to teach some leadership character principles to a group of staff and interns. They are a talented bunch with great potential for the kingdom. But if they, or I, get this one wrong, that potential will be greatly muted. A leader cannot lead out of something other than who he or she is. What is in the heart will be reflected in a person’s leadership.

As I ponder my own leadership life and that of others, there are three primary enemies that a spiritual leader (or any leader for that matter) must be keenly aware of: fear, pride and isolation.

Again, the Proverbs offers us great insight to these things. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” This was never better illustrated than in the life of Saul, Israel’s first king. I believe his primary downfall was leading from a foundation of fear. Fear can often appear as bravado, but will lead to poor and hasty decisions and great destruction. Proverbs 29:23 says, “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” Notice the play on words. It is about lowliness. One form is chosen and has a reward and one is forced upon you and has devastating consequences. Hezekiah, a king of Judah who started out pretty well, was bitten by pride which led to his destruction. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire, he breaks out against all sound judgment.” We have seen this through the media all too often. This is where moral failure often shows up and ruins a leader’s platform.

When you consider these three enemies you will note that they overlap one another, one easily leading to another. Where does one go to fight fear, pride and isolation? Remember that the last half of Proverbs 29:25 says, ” . . . whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Every leader (and every follower of Christ) needs a foundation of safety to live out our broken, yet redeemed lives. But safety is not found in a place, it is in a person. Safety is ultimately found in the person of Jesus Christ. I believe this is one of the primary messages of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament. And our doorway to that safety is the gospel.  Through the gospel we enter into the atmosphere of grace and forgiveness that will allow us to be authentic and humble, and to chase after courage, humility and community.

In relation to these three enemies, what does your heart reflect? How is it showing up in your leadership life? I know I still have work to do, but I find my hope in the grace of the gospel.

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