The responses from pastors on my first article on “Burnout” has caused me to go ahead and publish another a little sooner than I had planned. It’s such a taboo subject because it is not understood by either pastor nor parishioner. As I said in my first article, it is a subject that seems to make pastors believe there is a weakness about them which should not be exposed. So, they do not share their struggle with other pastors or covering for fear of being “marked’. Others enter into “self-denial” concerning their present state of heart and mind. This causes burnout to become fertile ground for the enemy to first isolate the man of God and then exploit him.
When does burnout occur?
The short answer is anytime you have fought and fought the good fight of faith and have failed to rest properly in the Lord. I’m saving the subject of “rest” for another full post. I want to concentrate on fighting the good fight of faith. We as ministers of the gospel don’t always realize how much this taxes our bodies, souls, and spirits. Neither do our congregations. Many may expect us to be large and in charge all the time, 24/7 and 12 months of every year, year after year. It’s a vicious trap we allow both people and the enemy of our souls to back us into. Unreasonable expectations are put on us by religious traditions and legalists to perform “flawlessly”. Add to this our own misguided belief system which says we should be that, and well, you have a perfect path headed for eventual burnout.
The reasons for burnout are varied but I believe there are two basic categories that the ministers fall into.
1. Fighting the good fight of faith with no breakthrough.
This one is not that hard to understand. Ministers have tremendous pressure put on them today to perform like the television preacher or to be like the mega church. We go to church growth seminars and ministry conferences and we see what God can do and has done through another ministry. It both inspires us and puts a guilt trip on us. We come home to put we have learned to practice and find ourselves stonewalled by tradition. I have found many people want their church to be “that” but have absolutely no idea what it takes to do “that”. The good fight of faith turns into the wrong battles being fought. It wears on you over time. Our energy is spent on the wrong fight and we never really get to the good fight of faith which should be kingdom expansion.
This is a path to almost certain burnout in one way or another. Facts and Trends published by LifeWay Christian Resources give us some interesting stats. Tenure for pastors in large churches averages 8.7 years. Tenure for pastors in smaller churches is 7.2 years. Burnout is not the reason for all the moving around, but I believe it could be a major factor. Some ministers just get tired of the fight and look for greener pastures…which seemingly do not exist. So they move again and again throughout their career, and not always because God moved them.
I talked to a pastor not long ago who had been in a very strong ministry for over 40 years! I asked him how he stayed that long in one place. His wife quickly replied, “We outlived our enemies.” So incredibly sad, but so true. Even great men of God find their greatest battles occurring much too often inside the house, not outside.
2. Burnout occurs after a major success.
We see this in the scriptures in the story of Elijah. Years of running and hiding from Ahab and Jezebel. Then years of drought. A final showdown with hundreds of prophets of Baal worshipers and then great victory! He calls down fire from heaven, kills the false prophets, and prays for rain which breaks the drought. Finally success. Yet we know the rest of the story don’t we? Jezebel screeches and Elijah runs for his life.
For many years I was “hard” on Elijah. But not any more. Elijah simply didn’t have it in him to deal with an enemy he thought was already defeated. He felt isolated and alone. He ran. Though incredibly successful, he ran broken and fearful. It took God a while to restore ‘ole Elijah. Burnout was caused by “winning” but not having the strength to finish it off. God had to take him into the wilderness to heal him up, get him out of his self-pity, let him know there were others just like him, and then put him back onto a road to finish his course.
I thank the Lord for some great men of God who have shared their stories with me. It gave me an incredible peace in the midst of my own burned out state of mind and body. One told me, “David, sometimes the devil will allow you a measure of success before he takes his best shot. He will wear you out in getting to the victory and then when you are spent, seek to destroy all God has accomplished through you. In that way he has the potential to both ruin you and the work the Lord has done.”
T.D. Jake’s said this in a message I listened to, “Success never feels like success.” That is a profound statement we all need to hear. The reason? The greater the success, the greater the target we become for the enemy. He will never allow you to totally enjoy any victory without some type of counter attack. Your mind tells you this should not be happening…the reality is it most likely will and does happen. Others may look at us and admire our “success”, but sometimes only you know the pressures and battles which are continual within that success.
THIS IS EVEN MORE REASON TO UNDERSTAND THE NEED FOR PROPER REST IN THE LORD!
Resting and refreshing the total man is important. For some its physical exhaustion which takes its toll on both spirit and soul. For others its mental exhaustion which affects body and spirit. The thing I have come to be amazed by is the power of the human spirit with the Holy Spirit. When body and mind say die…the spirit of man and God refuses to accept anything but life. Jesus said I have come that they might have LIFE and that more abundantly.
We must learn to rest in Him even when the battles around us wage on. We must learn that ultimately the battle belongs to the Lord, we simply must do what is right and trust Him to bring the outcome our way.