Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Leadership is a Lonely Place

By Neil Schori

Leadership is a lonely place.  I've been told that by many leaders before, but I hadn't truly experienced it until I became the lead pastor at Naperville Christian Church, where I currently serve.  But, it is so very true.  It is lonely and it can be very frustrating.  Because in order to truly lead, there must be people who "buy in" to your vision, and follow.  And sometimes it feels like you are the only one!

Over 4 years ago, Stacy Peterson disappeared.  She has never been found, and her husband is still the only suspect in her disappearance.  Stacy and her husband, Drew, both attended my church.  I knew that I must stand up and fight for victims of domestic violence, but I didn't know where to start.  I connected with Susan Murphy-Milano, and it all changed for me.

I learned from Susan that 1 in 4 women sitting in my own church were currently being abused.  I discovered that 8 women each day in the United States were killed by their boyfriends or husbands.  I also learned that very few church leaders were doing anything about this at all and because of that, I knew that I had to make a difference.  I was inspired and charged-up, and ready to tackle this horrible epidemic in our nation.

But something weird happened...very few others seemed to care.  Most pastors I talk with about this look at me like I'm crazy.  They usually say something patronizing to me like "that is great that you care about this so much!"  Translation: "Because I don't...and I have more important things to do."  At times I've been very discouraged and started to think that nothing was going to change.  What an isolated and frustrating place!

Maybe you feel this way at times, too...almost as if you are the only voice out there talking about this issue that you care so deeply about.  If that is you, please hear this: KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT!  Tell everyone who will listen to you about the cause that burns within your heart.  If it is truly worth discussing, then keep it up.  You may be the only person talking about it now, but it doesn't have to be that way.  Your persistence will pay off.

This past Sunday at my church, I started off by sharing a couple of dreams that I have for 2012.  One of those dreams is to educate church leaders around the nation about the problems of domestic violence and how the church can make such a huge difference in the rescue of so many women.  I also talked about how our church is a safe church for victims of abuse, and that we'll always take their abuse seriously.  And then, something beautiful happened: a woman who made her way to our church for the very first time, opened up to another woman sitting near her in the service, and told her about the horrible abuse she'd experienced at the hands of her husband.  She found community, and came out from under the shroud of her abuse.  She'll be silenced no more.

Leadership is lonely, but I'm going to keep talking about domestic violence.  At times it may seem as though nothing is happening...but I know that isn't really true.  Hearts will be opened and lives will be changed as we continue to talk about these incredibly important issues.  Maybe today you are reading this and thinking: "this issue is so big, I can never make a real difference!"  If that is you, then let me tell you a quick story.

One day a little girl was walking along a sandy beach.  She passed many starfish that were washed far up onto the sand.  As she walked along, she picked up each starfish she found and gently tossed them back into the water.  An old man watched her and said: "little girl, there are thousands of starfish out here.  You can't save them all.  You can't begin to make a difference!"  For a moment, the little girl felt defeated.  Then she picked up another starfish, and threw it as far out into the ocean as she could, and she looked at the old man and said: "I made a difference for THAT one!"

Today, don't listen to the naysayers or to the voices that tell you that you'll never make a difference.  The only way that will be true, is if you never try.  Leadership is lonely, but keep talking about it.  You may be the only one doing it now, but that won't always be the case.


Neil Schori serves as lead pastor of Naperville Christian Church, and is a remarkable advocate for those in abusive relationships.


  1. Pastor Neil: You have touched my heart and mirrored my thoughts in so many ways with this post! I hope to meet you when our paths cross in the future! You are truly a pioneer in your field. I realize that it is like swimming against the tide, but we must not give up! Your mission and Susan's is all too important! Thanks so much for the opportunity to comment!

    If you care to, see my latest version of intimate partner violence frustration:


    Donna R. Gore
    Homicide Survivor

    1. Donna~

      I look forward to meeting you, one day! Thank you for your kind comments and encouragement. I'll read your post now...

  2. MY husband and I were talking about this this morning. He said it only happens in Africa . I said it happens all the time. This post came up, I told him the statistics, he says sounds like man bashing. Woman kill there husbands also. Give me a break. Like you, I talk about it, but no one wants to hear it. And he is reading his bible as he says that. God does not approve of murder and he hates this. Cannot wait until he answers to God for being a fool.

    1. Your husband would be right if the statistics were falsified. Almost every day, I learn of a new case of violence against women. Now, do women kill, too? Yes, and I'll always speak out against that, too.

      I'll pray for your patience with your husband, and for his eyes to be opened. Hang in there, and thanks for your comments!

  3. Neil, I totally understand how it can feel lonely when your passion is on a subject that most people yawn about. Apathetic responses are often more hurtful than fiery opposition, so let me assure you that there are those of us who stand with you. You are NOT alone, as the tiny glimpses show in the night like fireflies.

    1 in 4? Neil, I've heard this statistic as well. Stand in the pulpit and visually sweep the congregation while reflecting on the fact that of those waiting to hear you speak with some degree of authority, abou 25% of them have deep pain in their hearts. If you're a front-and-center preacher, don't do this visual sweep without first preparing yourself with intense prayer. You're too close to their eyes, the one body part that ALWAYS betrays pain. It may cause you to connect more closely with the congregation, but your eyes also betray emotions in a way that clouds your message.

    Whenever you feel lonely in the pulpit, you need not be discouraged. I remember that for years Charles Spurgeon would preach to an empty church (literally empty, not an exaggeration of sparse attendance) until the last 5 minutes of his sermon. Then he would leave the pulpit and the building, and he would finish his sermon on the streetside to an individual or a few people.

    To be sure, it is a numbers game. As you know, that number is ONE. You may be the reason for the firefly's light to shine in the darkness.

    Blessings to you in your faithfulness.

    1. Charles~

      It is only by walking on this journey with people like you, that makes the loneliness start to dissipate. Thank you for your words of wisdom. I recently read the same thing about Spurgeon.




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