Many serious ministers have stepped out of their lane and quit running God’s race for their life because of this pattern.
A divine calling to church ministry gets responded to via enrollment in some form of Bible College, seminary, or ministerial training venue. That divine calling and subsequent education fuels the conviction that God is empowering the leader and that their ministry will change the world (or at least a city or a neighborhood).
However, almost immediately after embarking on a new ministry endeavor the minister encounters conflict and badgering. Some of it comes from direct and outright spiritual warfare, while much of it comes from spiritual warfare hidden inside human misunderstandings, failures, hurt feelings, hard-heartedness, and offense.
If the conflict and badgering continues unabated for too long, the once-eager minister will lose the wonder of their ministry calling and will eventually burnout. Prolonged states of burnout inevitably lead to a dropping out of the race.
Some of the burned out dropouts make a recovery and return to Christian service, but others of them never do. The scars of the pattern just go too deep.
Rather than following this pattern and hoping for the best, what are some steps to ensure that we sidestep burnout, hold onto our wonder, and finish our Christian race well?
Here are two (taken from a clergy gathering with Pastor Jack Hayford):
Walk softly before God, like a barefoot Moses in Sinai.
Engage in life-long, continuing education.
Leaders who survive for the long haul engage in the twin pursuits of cultivating deep interior lives and robust intellectual lives. Humble, adoring devotion to God, and intentional life-long education and training are keys to developing leadership that lasts.
Our hour of history calls for humble leaders, devoted followers of Jesus Christ, who get the help they need so they can make it for the long haul. Let’s heal those leaders and be those leaders!
Do you agree with that statement? Has it been true for you in your ministry experience?
Some leaders renounce that statement, saying that we are only as lonely as we choose to be, and that being a senior level leader does not mean we have to live in misunderstood isolation. They assert that it is entirely possible to find and maintain quality friendships regardless of our position or season of life.
I agree with both perspectives. We absolutely can experience the blessing of deep friendships; however, there are some challenges that are unique to leaders, and that complicate things.
According to surveys conducted by Focus on the Family, approximately 80% of pastors confess that they have few or no close friends. And that’s really a stunning statistic when we consider that the majority of a pastor’s life centers on relating with people. Most pastors spend large amounts of time with wide varieties of people, and yet their common grief is an inability to develop deep, lasting, Jonathan-David type friendships.
I think there are several factors that contribute to this.
1. There are too many people and not enough time. A common stress for clergy members is their inability to adequately connect with all of the people in their congregations. They genuinely love their people, and want to know them in meaningful ways, but they’re spread so thin that they end up maintaining lots of superficial connections while feeling guilty that they can’t go as deep as they would like.
2. Relationships in the church are fragile. Even though the church should be a relational fortress (and for many people it is), it’s not a level playing field for ministry leaders and their congregants. When a pastor develops a friendship with a member of the church, the church plays a significant role in that friendship. If their friend’s experience with the church is great, it strengthens the friendship, but if there is a hurt or a fall-out in some department in the church the relationship can be jeopardized.
3. It’s hard to know when our position gets in the way. Some people love to connect with leaders, but others get nervous or intimidated by them, and it’s difficult to discern when that’s happening. This is especially true in friendships with our staff members. As much as we may adore our team members and desire to build meaningful friendships with them, there is still an employer-employee dynamic that accompanies the relationship, and even if it doesn’t affect us, it’s hard to know how much it affects them.
Despite these and other challenges (like the weight and confidential nature of a pastor’s job), friendships are not only worth the risk, they are essential for our long-term health and success. Here are a few suggestions to help us find them.
1. Ask God for them. Jesus prayed all night before selecting His twelve disciples, and we need to remember that He wasn’t just selecting followers–He was choosing friends. And if Jesus spent a night in prayer before investing in key relationships, certainly we should seek God’s counsel and direction for ours as well.
2. Take the risk. C.S. Lewis aptly stated that the only place free from the risks of love was hell. Quality friendships are worth the risk of disappointment or potential heartache. They’re also worth the time and energy it takes to cultivate them. We may feel guarded from past hurts, and we might not have any surplus time right now, but years from now, will either thank ourselves for making time, or we will lament our relational bankruptcy.
If you are an introvert, many of your relational needs will likely be met through the course of your ministry; however, it’s still important to intentionally cultivate true, covenant friendships whether they are in or outside of your ministry.
3. Be warm from the platform, and walk slowly through the crowd. Even though we can’t become best friends with everyone in our ministry, we CAN love them, pray for them, and genuinely care for them. And if we are intentional about doing these things, authentic care will radiate from both our platform ministry and our brief interactions with people–and it won’t be forced or fabricated. It will be genuine. And people will appreciate it.
The Christian life was never intended to be lived in isolation.
God has a “Jonathan” for you. Let’s be praying for each other that we could all identify and latch on to him.
Is it the greatest job you could ever imagine having, or is it vastly different from what you expected? Does it routinely bring life to your soul, or is it slowly crushing the life out of you and your loved ones?
You’re probably as familiar as I am with some of the gruesome statistics that plague us ministry leaders. From their studies and surveys over the years, Focus on the Family has put out some heart-wrenching numbers. They have found:
80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families
33% believe ministry is an actual hazard to their family
50% feel they are unable to meet the needs of the job
70% say they have a lower self-esteem now compared to when they started in ministry
40% report a serious conflict with a church member at least once a month
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend (and don’t know who they would turn to in a crisis)
50% of pastors’ spouses struggle with varying levels of depression
At any given time, 75% of pastors in America want to quit
And more than 1,500 pastors DO leave the ministry each month
Those are grim findings, and tragically, you can probably relate to some of them.
As you well know, ministry is a tough job on multiple fronts as we face daunting expectations, vulnerable relationships within the church, and the spiritual warfare that rises up in opposition to the preaching of God’s Word. We seldom have enough time, and we’re often pushing the boundaries of emotional burnout. However, despite these and the other challenges and vulnerabilities associated with pastoral service, working in the ministry is the world’s greatest job.
Here are a few reminders of the incredible benefits associated with our callings:
We get to handle the mystery. 1 John 1:1 says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” We get to stand in between two worlds, and bring the sacred mystery in to every day life.
We get to use our greatest gifts and talents. Effective service in a church or ministry compels us to use our best gifts and talents most often.
We experience times of both solitude and socializing. Effective pastoral ministry requires us to withdraw as Jesus did for prolonged times of prayer and reflection, as well as exciting days of public ministry and inspiration.
We get to stand with people during their highest highs and their lowest lows.
Our message is intellectually stimulating and spiritually satisfying. The claims of Jesus Christ are so compelling that philosophers, scientists, notable world rulers, and billions of other men and women through the centuries have wrestled with them. We get to champion and defend those claims in our generation.
Our message is life-giving and impacting. One of the uncontested tenets of Christian apologetics is that wherever Christ is preached lives change for the better. We aren’t offering trendy, self-help remedies to prop up the human ego through our preaching–we are obeying a divine mandate to apply God’s Word to humanity’s deepest needs. That Word still changes lives wherever it is preached.
We get to contribute to the strengthening of the moral fabric of our world. We’re not just delivering sermons to the people who sit in our meetings–we’re sowing in to the foundations of society. We’re proclaiming truth that can save and preserve individuals, families, communities, and nations.
As we begin a New Year, and a new season of ministry, let’s fall in love with our calling again. Let’s enjoy the fact that we get to be organizational leaders as well as spiritual mystics. We get to be highly disciplined and highly creative. We’re preaching a message that is as relevant today as when the apostles first preached it in the book of Acts. Lives will change as a result of our service to Christ and His Kingdom.
Let’s do whatever it takes to find the encouragement and strength to defy the statistics, and live lives of holiness, heroism, and restraint.
Let’s finish our Christian races well.
Let’s have as an epitaph the statement: “Those who knew us the best respected us the most.”
And let’s enjoy the fact that God loved us, invested in us, trained us, and trusted us with our spiritual calling.
Your strengths, gifts, and talents–all of the things that make you well-suited for your particular calling–have a flip side to them. And it’s crucial that we understand it because just as our gifts can bring us success, their flip side can be our undoing. On the one hand they make us effective as servant-leaders, but on the other hand they make us vulnerable to mindsets, hurts, and habits that can undermine the very work that we’re attempting to accomplish.
For instance, if you are a gentle, caring pastor–which most pastors probably are–then you will not only be able to empathize with your people, and love them deeply, but you might also be more vulnerable to hurt feelings and discouragmeent when relationships don’t work out well. Conversely, if you are a strong, visionary leader, then it’s possible that you have to work harder at remembering relationships in your ministry in addition to the mission of your ministry–it’s easy to dream about winning the world while inadvertently overlooking the people we currently have.
Regardless of your personal gift-mix, it might be helpful to spend a little time considering what the other edge to that gifting may be. If your flip side makes you intimidating or unapproachable, you’ll want to know that and compensate for it, and if it makes you a little thinner-skinned and vulnerable to criticism, you’ll want to reinforce that with prayer, perspective, and encouragement.
We need you, and we’re going to need you for the long haul. And one of the things that might help you to make it for the long haul is for you to live in your strength zones while being mindful of the flip side of those strengths, gifts, and talents.