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I’ve counseled a lot of pastors over the years, which is a privilege, but can also be heartbreaking. Pastors are human, and they struggle with the same pressures thateveryone does. Yet there can be an unspoken expectation that pastors have to be perfect.1 Timothy 3:2, indicates that a leader should be “above reproach” and “must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation.” Paul sets the standard high, and we are wise to follow his instruction, but we tend to drain all grace out of these guidelines. Apart from Christ, the New Testament doesn’t present spiritual leaders as flawless, even after they receive the Holy Spirit. Paul lost his temper and got into a disagreement with Barnabas that became so intense that they split ways (Acts 15:36-41). Peter turned away from those who needed the gospel in order to appease the in-crowd (Galatians 2:11-14). External pressure proved to be too much and they caved in. These examples are not an excuse for sin, but we need to be aware of external pressure so that we don’t give into internal temptation to sin. With all of the pressure to perform, some pastors succumb to stress, burnout, and even scandal.
It’s easy to become absorbed in a frenzy of activity. Leaders often take on too many responsibilities, or other people’s problems overwhelm them. A lot of ministers absorb the anxiety and stress from their congregants and staff. They say “yes” to too much and overstep their own limits. When the focus is on taking care of other people, time with God and family can fall by the wayside. How do we prevent burnout?Here are three tactics that I suggest for pastors and ministers that are feeling the strain:
1. RestFind time for rest. While we don’t have to follow a strict observance of the Sabbath, the general principle is still beneficial and restorative. In the words of Christ: “’The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27). I suggest resting daily, weekly, and every few months.• Have a daily sabbath time, where you cut off all work at a certain time in the evening.• Also, take whole days off every week. You want at least one day off, but ideally two days off in a row. Two sleeps in a row, without having to wake up to work, can really help you recover from the week.• Take a vacation every few months. Get out of the house and get away.• If you can’t get out of town, at least plan a “staycation”, where you stay at a nearby hotel or someone’s home to get away from the distraction of work. Create space in your life so you can breathe.2. Nourish Your Spiritual LifeFocus on feeding your soul. Do this by connecting with God, connecting with family, and connecting with close friends.• Have alone time with God on a regular basis. Implement silence with prayer so that you have time to listen for God’s voice.• Make your family a priority. Carve out time to date your spouse as well as other times to spend with the kids as a family. These don’t have to be expensive outings. A trip to the park is sufficient for family day. An evening drive to get ice cream can be a memorable date. The point is to intentionally connect with your spouse and your kids. This reflects the passage we mentioned earlier where Paul makes the point that “if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5).• Develop deeper friendships with two or three other believers. It’s great if you have friends within your congregation, but it can be beneficial to have friends outside of the church who are detached from the nitty-gritty of what’s going on. Connecting with your loved ones in meaningful ways will go far in feeling less alone.3. Set LimitsFinally, you want to set boundaries. Get over the messiah complex—you cannot do it all.• Become accustomed to saying “no.”• Don’t be afraid to delegate and ask others to take over certain responsibilities. This means letting go.• Consider getting a personal assistant to answer emails and to screen phone calls.• When you counsel your parishioners, don’t get overly involved in their problems. Only meet with them for two or three sessions, then refer them out to a Christian counselor or a trained lay counselor in your church.What should you do if you are on the edge?• Get away. An emergency sabbatical is better than just quitting on the fly. What your soul may be wanting and needing is a break.• Get some counseling. Find a Christian counselor who has experience working with pastors. Online counseling may be an option if you live in a small community, and you don’t have a counselor close by.• Don’t make any major decisions until you are able to step back, get some rest, and hear from God.• More than anything, be prayerful.• Gain some wisdom from other leaders you respect.Take good care of yourself, so that you can more effectively tend to God’s people.Tres Adames is Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and a counselor with Leader Care. He is the founder and director of Arizona Christian Counseling in Phoenix, Arizonawhere he has been counseling for the past 5 years.
I recently listened to a Replant & Revitalize podcast by Thom Rainer and Mark Clifton. In that episode Mark made a statement regarding the flaming darts the adversary likes to throw at us. He noted we have been given the armor we need to protect against such attacks. Unfortunately, the problem is that far too often we neglect to wear the armor God provides.His words seized my mind and I basically missed the rest of the podcast. Unfortunately, I think Clifton’s statement is more than accurate far too often. I want to take a moment and unpack this idea a little further.
In 2006, I was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. On our patrols, we were required to wear a substantial amount of personal body armor. While it was designed to protect us, and it often did, we found in many situations the armor to be cumbersome. My boss and I would lament this fact, desiring to one day enter the battlefield unhindered, allowing us increased freedom of maneuver and to attack with greater speed. Eleven years later I can see the foolishness in our desire. Unfortunately, I exercise a similar recklessness in my own spiritual life even to this day. In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul writes of the conflict the child of God faces with the devil. There, he defines the battlespace, describing the enemy and their weapon systems. At the same time, Paul also clearly explains the manner in which God’s soldiers withstand attack. In applying each piece of armor Paul describes, it is possible for those serving God to stand firm and accomplish the mission of proclaiming the mystery of the Gospel.
Pastor, planter, replanter, ministry leader, I encourage you not to enter the fight without first strapping on the full armor of God. Leave no piece behind! How foolish would it be for a soldier to endanger his battle buddies by entering battle unprepared? How much more foolish for you and me to enter a battle that has eternal consequences only to be defeated, leaving innocent lives stranded, all because we choose to neglect what God has graciously provided.
At the height of it’s popularity, 1948, there were in excess of 4,000 drive-in theaters across America. Many of us can recall spending the night at the movies on the original big screen. Sometimes we sat listening from a silver box hanging on our door. Later, you could clip something to your antenna and listen through your stereo. What a step up! Some are old enough to remember when drive-ins included play grounds where kids could entertain themselves. And who can forget the dancing hot dog jumping into the bun! For some, there are a lot of memories attached to the drive-ins. But, alas, for many, drive-in movie theaters are themselves a memory.
Today there remain approximately 330 theaters in the country. In Arizona, only one remains, the West Wind Glendale 9. I have some memories from that place! It was here I saw Wrath of Khan, Rocky and Where the Buffalo Roams (not a great movie by the way). What got me thinking about drive-in movie theaters was seeing the former Apache Drive-in in Globe. I passed it on the way to Burton, Arizona for a conference. There it sat. The screen still stands, as does the snack bar and projection building. Though the weeds have over taken where the cars once parked, you can still see the poles for the speakers. As I looked at the place, I grew nostalgic. It was kind of cool that at a place with multiple screens, you could peak in on other movies without having the purchase another ticket.
What led to the demise of the drive-in theater? Simple, the increasing quality of walk-in movie theaters. When people realized they could have the same experience at a walk-in theater, drive-ins started declining. Now, in general, people don’t even consider the possibility of waiting until dark and sitting in their car on a warm or chilly evening, when they can go to an air conditioned/heated theater at any time of the day and experience superior sound and optics.
But, get this, what happened to drive-ins, is transpiring in walk-ins as well. Since the 60s attendance at walk-in theaters has been on the decline. Over the last 10 years attendance at the movies has decline by over a million people. Why? Because of varying methods of consuming movies. Now people can entertain themselves at their homes, with a high quality image and phenomenal sound.
What is interesting to note is that over the last 70 plus years, despite the changing venues and methods of consumption, one thing has remained. People’s desire for entertainment. Most no longer go to drive-ins, but they still wish to see movies. They aren’t going to walk-ins as much as they used to, but, people still watch movies at home or on a portable device. They may not buy DVDs as once was the case. However, the amount of gigabytes of entertainment that is streamed continues to rise. People want their movies and TV shows. They’ve just altered the method of delivery.
It has been said of the movie industry that attendance at walk-ins over the last 50 years has been stagnant or declining. As a ministry leader, does this sound familiar? We are constantly bombarded with news of the majority of churches facing the same phenomena. For many decades, people have been reluctant to show up on Sunday nights. Even fewer on Wednesday. But, now we are witnessing a decline in the prime time hour of Sunday mornings. We take this to mean that people are not interested in God or things spiritual. I don’t believe this to be the case.
Like with entertainment, people continue to be interested in the spiritual. A search of internet data reveals this. They may not turn to orthodox spirituality. But, people are still seeking an answer to the spiritual aspect of life. Problem is, Christianity is not the only option presented for answering their questions, for filling their void. People seeking answers will encounter Buddhism, Wicca, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Transcendental Meditation, Ba’hi, Scientology or any other host of pseudo-religious systems. But the fact of the matter is, people still have questions and interest in the non-corporeal, the spiritual.
Those who turn to God as revealed by His son Jesus, will not necessarily seek Him in the ways previous generations have. They may meet in a house church or on a time other than Sunday morning. They may not show up to Sunday School, but they’ll gather with a small group in their homes. People looking for answers may be inclined to push back more and not accept the religious platitudes which were once accepted without question. Instead, they seek deeper more meaningful answers to their questions. But, however they approach the issue, they still seek truth and an encounter with God. People will never give up the search for God, even if they aren’t sure that He is who they are seeking.
As disciples of Jesus, we are resources of spiritual life, not advocates for a particular method of distribution for someone to find eternal life. Maybe when you came to know Jesus, it was during a two-week revival accompanied by a fantastic song leader. Possibly the case with you is discipleship is a group of men similar to your age meeting in a classroom on Sunday mornings at a church building. This helps you experience new life. But, those were simply the means of finding Jesus. They are not a sacred path all must walk in order to find him.
A lady once commented to me about how people “texting in church” disturbed her. Then I pointed out that some folks, such as my wife, consume the Bible on their phones. You could see her wheels turning and she responded “Oh, I never considered that.” The “times, they are a changin,” there is no mistaking that. Unless we, as followers of Jesus, embrace our responsibility to be salt and light and cease from being advocates for a time long past, we will fail to fulfill our responsibility to make disciples.
People may not come to church. But, if we are faithful to our Lord, people will continue to come to God and discover that new quality of life He provides.
The Grand Canyon is one of my favorite places. A friend and I visited the South Rim recently, and spent the day among the hundreds of other tourists milling about. We rode the shuttle to a couple of the lookout points. We stopped by one of the museums, and wandered through the park store located at the visitor center. Visitors from everywhere were able to shop for souvenirs, eat dinner, rent bicycles, or spend the night at the lodge.
There was so much activity along the rim that the canyon itself almost seemed to be beside the point. The people we saw had a much different experience from the ones who were there to hike the canyon – the people who actually decided to get off the rim and go deeper.
Luke’s gospel details the events of Jesus’ ministry. People from all over heard about how he had cast out demons, healed the sick, and preached about the kingdom of God. At one point the crowd was pressing in so much that Jesus climbed in a boat and had them push it out from the shore so he would have the space to teach them.
As Luke describes the growing crowds, you can almost feel the tension when he says, “But the news about Him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16)
I think for ministry leaders it would be easy for us to see the crowds, and feel the pressure to fix things, or put out fires, or deal with whatever the crisis of the day was. The description of us might look more like, “she felt like she needed to step away and pray, yet the crowd was so large, and the needs were great.”
If we have been leading for any length of time, we often become too proficient for our own good. We know how to lead a Bible study, or write a sermon, and so it would be easy for us to do those things out of habit or out of duty, rather than to go deeper and to explore the ways God is trying to speak into our lives.
How intentional are you about seeking time alone with God? Of course there are very real and very big needs in ministry. True ministry, though, grows out of intimacy with God. God desires to spend time with us. He desires to shape us through time with him and his word. Our service to others grows out of that time with God. It should never replace it.