I’m going to begin to write about something today of which I have first hand experience. It’s the subject of pastoral burnout. Next to the death of a family member or having a wayward child, I personally know of nothing worse for a minister to go through. Its filled with frustrations, anxiety, depression and self-condemnation once you find yourself in its fiery grip. The reason? According to some, real ministers of the gospel should never burnout. We are to be “stronger” than that, more “spiritual” than that, too “all together” for something as weak as burnout to occur in our life and ministry. If that’s the truth, than don’t read any farther. I wouldn’t want you to read something which you deem to be “unscriptural”. But I will tell you if that is your attitude, book mark this page, you may need it later! Paul said let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. The temptation to believe you are “above it all” is the first step to an ultimate flame-out.
Burnout is real. In fact, I believe burnout may very well be the most effective weapon the devil uses against many ministers of the gospel. The reason? It’s sneaky. It is not something which happens all at once. I have learned if the enemy can’t get you to fall into some kind of sin quickly, he will take his time over much time to bring you to a place of unfounded hopelessness and discouragement. Once you lose hope in your life and ministry, faith goes out the window. Molehills become mountains. What was once solid judgement in decision-making becomes fertile ground for poor choices. Reasoning skills become clouded and leaders may become either “dictators” as we desperately seek to “hold on” in the midst of a burnt out state or we may become doormats which render us useless as a leader.
Know this, others will probably recognize this state in you before you see it or admit to it yourself. They simply don’t know what to call it. All they know is “pastor” may be either “more edgy” than normal or “less energetic” in his ministry walk. They know pastor is “acting out of character” but they simply don’t know why. The worst kind of burnout is when there are no signs at all. The facade has been tightly worn until what’s inside you comes gushing out at a most inopportune moment. The results can be devastating for all involved. The devil may take full advantage of the situation as well.
If you are waiting on me to confess some great “sin” I fell into as a result of burnout, I am thankful to God there is none to report to you. There was just a major flame-out of emotions and a breaking of my inner man like none I have ever experienced before. Having said that, I have much mercy and grace towards others who may have fallen into some moral sin because of burnout. We must never excuse genuine sin, but I fully understand how the enemy may lay a moral snare of some type before God’s men when they are burnt toast…and they step into it.
In studying the subject of pastoral burnout and knowing my own situation, I am quite certain burnout occurs for different reasons in different people. For some it may be a life which is simply out of order. For others it may be a perfectionist attitude. For still others it may be the sheer volume and weight of the ministry load we are under. We will look into all these things in coming posts. Oh, and understand the size of your ministry does not have to determine whether you may burnout or not. My first “flirtation” with burnout came as a young minister while doing a church plant. But for the grace of God my whole ministry career could have ended in a grocery store building.
For now, I will give you a brief understanding of my burnout experience. It is something I have had to walk through and I now have my legs under me well enough to speak about it for others benefit.
…Simply put, I had been in a virtual non-stop building program for some twenty-seven years. In all those years I can honestly tell you there was not a week which went by that I was either not in the planning stage or in construction mode. My first church asked me to come and immediately go into a building program. We raised the money and then I spent the next year literally helping construct that parsonage. Immediately after that, land was donated for an expanded church facility. The second was a church plant which began in the basement of some folk’s home. The next seven years were spent looking for buildings to rent, a building to buy and renovate, and a land search for expansion. The third church told me if I became their pastor, the first thing they wanted to do was payoff a land mortgage and begin a new church building in a new location. I took the challenge at the Lord’s leading and in three years we were in a brand new building.
It didn’t stop there though. As soon as we got in the new multipurpose building, we began the planning stage for f further expansion in the building of a new sanctuary. The only thing which stopped us was VDOT. They informed us road construction would take part of our property. So what did we do? We started another land search. It took us almost three years to find and purchase some 45 acres of property in another location. It then took us another ten years to payoff the property plus raise enough money to begin building an entire ministry complex on that property. Then the economy tanked right in the middle of the project.
All this caused more than heartburn.
Add to this the normal struggles of ministry, the raising of a family and getting them through college, and the failure to learn how to properly “rest” and you have not just burnout, but flame out. Well deserved thank you very much. One of the things which brought me the greatest peace in all this was listening to a pastor preach and he stopped in the middle of his sermon and said, “There is a pastor watching today and you are in the midst of shear burnout. The Lord says to tell you, “You earned it…now go rest awhile and don’t be condemned about it.”
I cannot tell you how much I and my wife needed that word from God.
You may need that same word from God today. I tell you it’s yours too.
I have much to share with you concerning this subject, so keep checking in, but one last thing. The catalyst for this portion of the website comes from hearing other pastor’s stories. When I was “large and in charge” no one ventured to tell me their stories of burnout. They were too embarrassed. When I was hitting on all cylinders I never even considered burnout. Now that I have fallen victim myself, others have come out of the woodwork sharing their experiences with me. It has been more than comforting, it has been God-sent! But now I’m a tad bit aggravated no one talked to me about burn-out before! I’m not saying I would have really listened at the time, but at least I would have been more aware. 🙂
I’m listening now and I’m writing from my own experience…for your benefit. Burn-out happens, but it doesn’t necessarily have to if we will guard our hearts and minds properly. It doesn’t have to happen if you learn how to “rest” in the Lord even as we continue on. It does not have to if we will listen to God rather than negative people. You will NEVER do enough to please people so you must learn to please God and God alone. Then rest in it and let the proverbial chips fall where they may. You can not control other people…only yourself before God.
Pastor, if you find this article speaks to you, don’t hesitate to contact me through the contact information page provided. The email address is private and only I read it. I’m here to help.
…More to come. May the peace of the Holy Spirit surround you dear pastor. You are never alone unless you choose to be.