The first sentence of Scott Peck’s best seller, The Road Less Traveled, is, “Life is difficult.” Any manual for ministers should begin, “Ministry is difficult squared.” In addition to being human beings with the normal struggles, trials and dysfunctions of life a pastor is asked by God to carry, “the weight of the churches” as Paul expresses it. Sometimes ministry and life ollide inside faithful pastors with destructive force. When this happens once eager souls gradually find it exceedingly difficult to take even the first step in the morning.
Have the difficulties of life and the weight of the ministry burned you to a crisp? Do you feel used, used up, wasted or numb? Has the spring vanished from your step and the joy from your soul? Is the shiny all worn off the apple and all that is left of you is worn out, wasted weariness?
One pastor who entered recovery was so worn he described himself as, “one step shy of catatonic”. If you are ministering more and enjoying it less, trying harder and covering less bases you may be burned out or approaching it. If you are a struggling leader sliding down the awful spiral of a crumbling soul with no hope or change in sight it is time to seek help. If you are repeatedly telling a concerned spouse, “well, honey when I get through this” you are no doubt headed for or already in burnout. Burnout is the state one reaches when he is physically and emotionally exhausted. Spent. Once you reach this state, it feels like you are running on a treadmill you cannot escape and nothing helps. Mayo Clinic’s on-line resource speaks with clarity on the issue. We invite you to consult this resource directly by clicking on Mayo Clinic.
In this article, Mayo Clinic highlights who may be at risk. They contend individuals in the helping professions, those who seek to be everything to everyone and those who are not balancing the demands of their personal lives and work are at risk. To add to the peril, ministers face all of the above and have the additional pressure of being totally dedicated and sacrificial in their service, “as unto the Lord”. It is worse.
Ministry Professionals also face godless expectations. They educate themselves, prepare, study foreign languages, sense the call of God, go through the daunting process of ordination and being chosen by denominational leaders or congregations and receive job reviews every time they stand to speak. How they live, what their children do or don’t do, how they lead and what they say is constantly under the scrutiny of comparison to the most gifted and anointed speakers in the world. The stars of Christianity through edited messages and powerful charismas teach on radio, television and other media venues and unintentionally create the pressure in every pastor’s life and ministry to be as good as the stars. Pastors are not just compared to the former pastor or the one down the street but to the best of the best. The ones their congregants just heard on the radio on the way to church.
Extreme expectations push every mortal toward burnout and one’s own expectations can be the most lethal. Wanting so desperately to be godly some ministers assume if they are godly they will be honored, loved, more able to serve with skill and build great big churches. Of course this is not reality but ministers regularly fail to realistically evaluate themselves. Pastors stuck in declining communities and congregations far too often assume the problems are about them. A pastor’s internal standards can hurl him into the fire of burnout.
If you are wondering whether or not you are burned out please review the questions below. These are from Mayo Clinic’s Web Site. If you answer yes to any of them you may be burned out.
- Do you find yourself being more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work?
- Have you lost the ability to experience joy?
- Do you drag yourself into work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become more irritable and less patient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you feel that you face insurmountable barriers at work?
- Do you feel that you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you no longer feel satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you have a hard time laughing at yourself?
- Are you tired of your co-workers asking if you’re OK?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you self-medicating-using food, drugs or alcohol-to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by headaches, neck pain or lower back pain?
To whom do burned out pastors turn? Who can they tell? How severely are they fried? What are the next steps? For answers to these and other questions go to Finding Help. You may also wish to email someone who has Been There, Done That, someone just like you who burned out serving the Lord and is on the courageous journey of recovery. You may also contact Dale Wolery by clicking here. You will also find hope, insight and encouragement by reading “Working for God”, an article on this web site. Click here to read it.