Pastoral Burnout

I recently posted two articles on Facebook about the difficulties of pastoral ministry. The first article was titled Statistics On Pastors. The second was titled, Clergy at Higher Risk of Depression and Anxiety. I meet weekly with a group of pastors and these articles were part of our discussions recently. All of this got me thinking about a chapter I wrote in a book a few years ago. The title of the book was, Nelson’s Church Leader’s Manual. My chapter title was “Dealing with Burnout.” Please take the time to read this and pass it on to all of your pastor friends (and enemies).

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burnout 2One Sunday morning a pastor friend of mine stepped behind the pulpit to delivery his weekly homily. Up to that point it had been a normal Sunday. The choir sang, announcements were made, and an offering was taken. My friend stood poised and opened his Bible to begin his sermon when something happened that shocked the entire congregation. He paused, as if searching for his prepared remarks, and then said, “I have had enough. I can’t take it anymore. I quit.” He then walked down the center aisle and out the building, never to pastor again.

When I first heard about my friend, I felt sad and a little sorry. However, I must admit, there was a part of me that also felt admiration. I small part of me thought, “Wow. I wish I had the courage to do that!” I dare say I am not alone. I bet a lot of church leaders have fantasized about telling the congregation how they really feel and then exiting the building.

I have no doubt that what caused my friend to do what he did, and what caused me to think what I thought, was burnout. Burnout is when you are emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted as a result of prolonged stress from feeling overwhelmed, under-capable, and unappreciated. Burnout is the job hazard of pastoral ministry. Burnout reduces your productivity, saps your energy, and robs you of the joy and motivation that led you into ministry in the first place. Everyone has a bad day now and then; and everyone periodically feels overwhelmed and under-appreciated. But burnout is when you feel that way for a prolonged period of time. Continue reading

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Programmed for Programs

Flag_crowdPart of the United States culture is excess. If bigger is better than more is best. We are people of extremes. We think moderation is synonymous with the status-quo. What we gain in initiative we lose in balance.

“Go big or go home.”

“If you’re not first your last.”

“If you’re going to be a bear be a grizzly bear.”

“If it’s too loud you’re too old.”

Our tendency towards extremes, at times, hinders our ability to communicate and discuss controversial topics. Continue reading

What’s Up With Millennials?

millennialsThere has been a lot of talk in the church world lately about Millennials and why they are leaving the church. The Millennial Generation refers to those in the United States born between 1980 and 2000. They are the least religious generation in American history and they are leaving the church in droves. According to Barna Research, 43% of millennials drop out of church before age 30; 59% have dropped out temporarily; 50% report not being has committed to church at age 30 then they were at age 15. Some estimate that 6 in 10 millennials who grew up in church will abandon church by the age of  30.

Reasons given for their departure range from differing political ideologies, attitudes about sexual preferences, social justice concerns, intellectual integrity, and a simple lack of commitment.

I think the reason is simple: Millennials are dropping out of church because they never really went to church in the first place. Continue reading

10 Commandments for Ministry Survival

The other day I found some old files of some of my old writings on an old computer. I wrote “The 10 Commandments for Ministry Survival” at least 10 years ago. I don’t think I have ever posted it on my blog site. As you read them, which one(s) do you struggle with the most? What would you add to the list?

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10 Commandments1. You shall not let other people steal your joy.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and is determined by my relationship with Jesus Christ.  Allowing others to steal my joy amounts to saying joy comes from people instead of God.

2. You shall not gripe and complain when people act like people.

Jesus saw people as sheep scattered without a shepherd.  What shepherd would scorn his sheep for acting like sheep?  When people whine and grumble they are acting like people—doing what comes naturally.  The purpose of ministry is to enable people to do what comes supernaturally.  If people acted like Jesus wanted them to act I would be out of a job.  (NOTE: I am a “people” and I hope others will forgive me when I act like one.) Continue reading

Counter-Culture and the Kingdom

The other day I flew into Raleigh, NC. It was a sunny day and a very smooth flight. I am sure most of you have flown and have noticed how, from the air, all the neighborhoods look the same. The streets are laid out the same, the houses look the same, and all the yards are the same size. It’s all neat and orderly and plain and dull. As I was flying over these neighborhoods I could not help but sing to myself:

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses

All went to the university,

Where they were put in boxes

And they came out all the same,

And there’s doctors and lawyers,

And business executives,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course

And drink their martinis dry,

And they all have pretty children

And the children go to school,

And the children go to summer camp

And then to the university,

Where they are put in boxes

And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business

And marry and raise a family

In boxes made of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

 (Malvina Reynolds; copyright 1962 Schroder Music Company, renewed 1990) Continue reading

There is Hope (by Marwan Odeesh, M.D.)

stages-of-griefIn her book Death and Dying (1969) Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, hypothesized the five stages of human grievance. She displayed a series of survivor mechanisms and reactions, which we use to cope in grievous situations of irreversible or nearly irreversible grades or hopeless events, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, terminal illness, etc.

Dr. Kubler-Ross observed in terminally ill patients that the earliest stage is Denial, in which traumatized people refuse to accept the new reality whether consciously or subconsciously. We often say, “That can’t be happening to me!” The emptiness that is created inside one’s self after the loss often leaves us vulnerable to indigestible resentment.  Anger builds up to fill the emotional emptiness as we try to climb up back the depth of the disaster, hence bringing forth the second stage called Anger.

At the stage of anger we are overwhelmed with feelings of injustice and blame. We can be angry at family, friends, health care providers, ourselves or even God. “I understand the ultimatum, can I buy more time,” we might say. This brings us to the third stage called bargaining. Continue reading

The (evangelical) Boy Who Cried Wolf

Everyone is familiar with the Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried wolf. But in case you do not know the story here it is: Once upon a time there was a shepherd-boy who watched a flock of sheep near his village. Three or four times a day the shepherd-boy would cry, “Wolf! Wolf!” and when the villagers came to help him, he laughed at them for their pains.

The Wolf, however, did truly come at last. The Shepherd-boy, now really alarmed, shouted in an agony of terror: “Pray, do come and help me; the Wolf is killing the sheep”; but no one paid any heed to his cries, nor rendered any assistance. The Wolf, having no cause of fear, at his leisure lacerated and destroyed the whole flock.

The phrase, “the boy who cried wolf” has become a symbol for people who constantly warn of coming doom to the point no one listens to them anymore, even if the doom is a reality.

I wonder if the evangelical church in the United States is guilty of crying wolf? Continue reading