Be strong. Keep a stiff upper lip. Emotion is a sign of weakness. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions when similar instructions have been aimed in my direction. Supervisors, coaches, colleagues and others have endlessly reinforced the need for me to be a “strong leader” by limiting displays of emotion and never showing signs of vulnerability.

Like many others, I often listened. But at what cost?

While I may have achieved a satisfactory level of competence as a leader, I have also sacrificed greatly in one much-needed area of life—authentic friendship. Some might find that surprising, but I know others who could confirm this confession, and even offer an anecdote or two about just how inept I can be at forming genuine friendships. Ouch!

I am not referring to the people I am friendly with at church, work or my local grocery store or community event. Instead, I am referring to true friendship, with people I can trust and confide in without reservation. I am lacking people in my life who will hold me accountable when I make mistakes, encourage me when I need support, celebrate my family’s successes and maybe even show up unannounced with butter chicken and warm naan bread “just because.”

This is a problem because we are not designed to navigate life alone—we are designed to live in community with one another. Even though we can find solace in connecting with God and knowing that we are never truly alone, there is something extremely valuable in forming deep connections with others. We all want to feel seen, appreciated and valued.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one who has struggled in this area. In 2021, a report from Barna Group revealed that 38 percent of American church leaders considered resigning from their positions in the previous year. Many of them followed through and became part of what has been labelled the “Great Resignation”—yet another socioeconomic change partly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Certainly, there are many factors and stressors that have contributed to so many church leaders leaving, but without a doubt, one of them is loneliness.

Why is it that church leaders who minister to hundreds of people regularly feel lonely? Why is it that a “church family” often feels like anything but? Why is it that I have thousands of social media “friends” yet sometimes feel like nobody (apart from my spouse) really knows who I am or the concerns of my heart? The answer is fear.

  • Fear that my offer of friendship will be rejected.
  • Fear that my weaknesses will be used against me if revealed to others.
  • Fear that if my inadequacies are made public, they will prevent me attaining a certain position or appointment.
  • Fear that my congregation will not respect me or even like me if they knew I, too, had questions or doubts.

I admit that it is hard (even embarrassing) to reveal such truths about myself to a broad audience, but until we put aside the “stiff upper lip” mentality and stop pretending our lives are perfect and we have everything figured out, we are going to continue to struggle with a lack of genuine friendship—that very thing (in addition to God) that offers us the deep connection we so desperately crave.

I was recently invited to join another man on an evening jog through our neighbourhood. As I did my best to keep up with his pace, we talked about all sorts of wonderful things—the accomplishments of our children, our work, the health of parents and even our favourite foods. Eventually, we returned to my driveway and continued our conversation. It was there that I decided to let down my guard and be vulnerable. I shared my concerns, some fears and a few present ministry challenges with him. I offered an out-of-character glimpse behind the curtain of my doubts and weaknesses. And guess what? He listened. He did not run away, pretend to have all the answers or solutions to my challenges, or make me feel foolish. He was simply present in the conversation, and it was enriching.

No doubt some will read these words and think them not very “macho” or “manly.” But God created me to be in relationship with him and with other people, and I can no longer view vulnerability as a sign of weakness. Instead, it is the space where authentic relationship begins. Want to be friends?

Major Sheldon Bungay is the corps officer at St. John’s Temple, N.L.

Photo: FotoDuets/iStock via Getty Images Plus


On Monday, August 29, 2022, Aimee Patterson said:

Major Sheldon has written a timely article on the importance of friendship for Christian leaders. While nearly everything in the piece can be embraced by leaders of any sex, the article title indicates the crisis lies with a lack of male-male friendship. It is suggested that men may have more difficulty than women in admitting their need for friendship. I find it telling that, judging by first names, the three comments offered are made by women. As I rarely hear from men on this matter, it would be helpful to read comments from men regarding their experiences with friendship.

On Friday, August 26, 2022, Sherri Anderson said:

It certainly isn't comfortable being vulnerable and "open". It is hard to let down the defenses that make us feel safe, but if we don't we will forever be lonely. "Well done" on starting to trust and taking steps to have real, authentic conversation with someone you trust.

Thank you, again, for writing another insightful article, I can hear a collective sigh from all those that read it and know exactly what you are feeling. Thank you!

On Friday, August 19, 2022, Kay said:

This article should be posted on every social media site, the writer described what a majority of people are experiencing no matter what age, ethnicity, belief, socio economic status, level of education etc. Refreshing from a faith based perspective too.

On Friday, August 19, 2022, Jackie said:

Beautifully written Sheldon. I would say there are many in the same boat as included. We have tons of church friends, work friends but lack in the area of authentic friends who you can confide in, those you can cry with, those you can “unload” with. We certainly live in a different world where people just drop by for the sake of saying hi. I sure do miss it and often find myself wondering why???

Leave a Comment