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).


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

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

Messy Church

2012-11-30-Sun-Country-524x248First was Purpose Driven Church.

Later came Word and Power Church, and Total Church.

Still later, Simple Church.

More recently there was Church Zero.

I have read them all.

All are worth reading.

But none really apply to my church. 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?


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

An Acts 2 Church

If you have  been following my blog for a while you know God has brought some very wonderful Baghdad Christians into my life. I treasure my relationship with them.

The very first Baghdad Christian I met was Rammiz. Rammiz grew up in Baghdad, Iraq. His family left the country because of religious persecution. Through God’s sovereignty, Rammiz found himself as a student in one of my sociology classes. He is now a student at a local university studying to become a dentist.

Recently, Rammiz had to write a short paper, explaining three different experiences he has had in churches in the United States. He uses my church as one of the examples. I can think of no greater compliment than for a person who has experienced religious persecution, and has witnessed the reality of Acts 2 churches, to say that our church is an Acts 2 church and his “ideal church experience.”

Here is what he writes about FCC: Continue reading


I have a confession to make. But first a story.

Once upon a time there were two men who raised and raced thoroughbred horses. Over the years these two men become bitter rivals, always trying to outdo the other. One day they decided to have a race to end all races. Each was to get their best horse and best jockey and have a winner-take-all steeplechase. The loser would get out of the horse business all together. The entire town showed up to watch the spectacle.

As the horses and riders were coming around the last obstacle, they collided and sent the jockeys sprawling. One jockey, quicker than the other, jumped back on a horse and won the race. The jockey, ecstatic, was surprised when the owner of the horse who had hired him to race, angrily approached him.

“What’s wrong?” asked the jockey, “I won the raise.”

“Yes!’ screamed the owner, “But you rode the wrong horse!”

Now, here is my confession. For most of my ministry career I have been riding the wrong horse. I have been pursuing the wrong thing.

I “answered the call” into ministry (whatever that means) when I was 15 years old. I believe I have been faithful ever sense. By no means have I been perfect, far from it, but I have strived to serve God to the best of my ability. I am riding for the right Owner, I’ve just been jockeying for position on the wrong horse.

For a good 25 years I have equated successful ministry with top-notch programs, big budgets, and numerically growing churches. Along the way I have written books and articles and curriculum, won a couple of awards, and spoken at a few national conferences. I’ve wanted to serve God, but I have also wanted to be recognized for my service…all for His glory, of course.

I have tried to rationalize my pursuit of success…

…God deserves nothing but my very best.

…striving for anything less then perfection is letting Him down.

…I only want to be used by God to change the world.

…if numbers are not important, why did God name a book after them?

…God created everything to grow so if my church is not growing (numerically) it is dying.

…if I remain faithful in the little things God will reward me with greater things.

I still believe that last statement to be true. The problem is my definition of “greater” was different than God’s definition of greater.

…the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

…He must increase and I must decrease.

…serving is greater than being served.

…ministering to the “least of these” is the greatest “target audience.”

…giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name is better than being a best-selling author.

…taking care of widows, orphans, immigrants (documented and undocumented), the poor, and the prisoner is God’s definition of greatness.

That’s the horse I should be riding!



In reality, if I truly want to follow Jesus, I should not be riding a horse at all. I should be sitting on a donkey.

Right vs. Relationship

man_question_markQuestion: Is it more important to be right or to have a relationship? Is it more important to win an argument or to win a friend?

Especially when it comes to politics; is it more important to be right politically or to be in a right relationship with one another?

This question, and post, comes out of a conversation I had with a black pastor friend. Theologically, my friend is as conservative as I am. He loves Jesus as much as I do, and he doesn’t like the direction our country is headed in any more than myself. However, my friend is fed up with the  constant barrage against Pres. Obama, and he is discouraged that much of the barrage is coming from white Christians and pastors. To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of if as well. Please understand, it’s not the criticism of the President’s politics, but of the man himself, that is grating. As a citizen of the United States you have every right to question and criticize the President’s policies. But as a disciple of Jesus you do not have the right to attack his person. Everyone, regardless of creed or politics, deserves respect. 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

The Heavens Declare

I watched in amazement today as Felix Baumgartner leaped from a capsule attached to a helium balloon 128,000 feet above the earth with nothing but a space suit, parachute, and a tremendous amount of courage. (Here is a link to the story.) Watching him fall from the capsule was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The picture above, taken just moments before he leaped, has got to be the coolest picture taken this year. Seconds before he jumped, Felix said, “Sometimes you have to go high to see how small you are.” Continue reading