I get to be around a lot of pastors and church planters (yes, I did say that I get to be around them). I love to hear how God is working in different church families throughout the region. I am fascinated by hearing about different church models and approaches to discipleship. I often think of The Church (all local collections of believers living life together) as a beautiful mosaic, or one of those pictures that’s made up of a bunch of tiny pictures. Every church has convictions and every church has a model and how beautiful when we all work together to make, mature and multiply disciples.
But, quite often, when I talk with pastors and church planters, there’s a disturbing trend (a disturbing trend besides “Pastor Fashion,” that is). So many pastors and church planters are simply stressed out. Many of them, though in the infancy phases of their church plants, are already wrestling with burnout. Many are ministering out of obligation and struggling to keep the status quo.
It’s no wonder that so many pastors are so stressed out. After all, we’ve created a culture in which inordinate and unhealthy amounts of pressure are placed on pastors. We’ve adopted the “Three B’s” (Buildings, Butts and Budgets) as measures of success and failure. After all, the church with more people must be doing something right, right? And if that’s the case then we’d better adopt a model of church that gets and keeps people in our main gatherings because that’s where we can count them and make sure they give money to make sure that we excel at the “Three B’s.” Once we adopt the B’s or some variation thereof, we are required to “x” number of people in our main gatherings because our business model, uh, er, I mean ministry model is tied to that baseline number of people. And, much of the pressure of getting and keeping “x” number of people falls on the pastor.
This creates all kinds of false expectations about the role of the pastor and what church should look like. Consider this description of a new book on Amazon: “Churches are defined by the weekend teaching.” Wow, that’s a ton of pressure on 35 minutes-1 hour/week (depending on your pastor’s preaching style). So consider the pressure that the pastor now bears: if I have an “off” week, the entire church is in peril. No wonder so many pastors are so stressed.
A few years ago, I remember listening to a message from Tim Chester. He was talking about something very similar; he found himself talking to a lot of pastors who were wrestling with burnout and saying things like: “I can’t wait for my sabbatical; I can’t wait to get away from all of these stresses.” To this day, I remember Chester responding that he simply didn’t understand such sentiments. He loved ministry and felt like ministry was anything but a burden.
I think I finally have a glimpse of what Chester was talking about. Don’t get me wrong, I could use a sabbatical, but that’s more because I want to write several books than I can’t wait to get away from my church family. For perhaps the first time in my ministry life, I can say that ministry is a joy. I mean, come on; I get to see Jesus change people’s lives! I get to see idols exposed and knocked down. Of course there are difficulties. Of course there are problems and even stresses, but I think I’m finally beginning to understand what Jesus means in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
How is it that so many of us and so many pastors feel the Christian life and ministry as a burden? I will labor with all my strength to help the people of Church of the Cross, but their problems are not my burden, they belong to Jesus. It’s not my church, it’s Jesus’ (Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 5:25, etc.) and it’s not up to me to “grow the church,” I’m called to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and to shepherd (1 Peter 5:2) and equip (Ephesians 4:11-13). Ultimately, so many of our pastors are wrestling with burnout because we’ve forced round church in to a square hole. We expect our pastors to be salesmen, PR people, organizers, ralliers, motivational speakers and, above all, business men. That’s a heavy burden. One that we’re not meant to bear.
I wonder how many ministers view ministry as “easy and light”? Not that it’s easy because we don’t care; it’s easy because it’s ultimately Jesus’ burden, it’s Jesus’ church, not ours.
Success or failure in the church should not be measured by buildings, butts and budgets but by transformed lives. But let’s be honest: I’m not going to be invited to speak at a conference because our church contains many people whose lives are being transformed. That’s not sexy but it’s biblical.
It’s no wonder so many pastors are stressed. But it’s insanity to think that we can keep adopting false measures of success and failure and that the church will somehow change.
- Read Sabbaticals, Burnout, Ministry Models and Missional Communities
- Read Sabbaticals, Burnout, and “Leadership”