Yes, he’s serious.
From Monday Morning Insight, by Todd Rhodes,
Forty-eight percent of them think their work is hazardous to their family well-being. Another 45.5 percent will experience a burnout or a depression that will make them leave their jobs. And 70 percent say their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position. They have the second-highest divorce rate among professions.
They are pastors.
Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and … a pastor. …
A shocking statistic of Jimmy Lee Draper, former president of Lifeways Ministries, is that for every 20 people who go into the pastorate only one retires from the ministry.
This is serious stuff. The Churches of Christ are producing far too few capable preachers as it is. If 95% leave the profession, who will be our preachers?
The Telegraph reports,
MORE than half of clergy and other Church leaders have considered leaving the ministry because they feel that the pressures on them are too great.
A survey published today also shows that 38 per cent of clergy feel overwhelmed by the complexity of demands for pastoral care made on them. Stress was identified by two out of three clergy as the most common pastoral issue brought to them by members of their congregations.
Now, I’m sure every denomination is different, but this is all surely true of the Churches of Christ. And I think most of the advice being given on avoiding burn out is (what’s the word?) balderdash. While I’m all for our ministers getting plenty of exercise and hydration and taking time off appropriately, I don’t think that sort of thing is the core of the problem. I think the core of the problem is —
* our elders,
* our congregations, and
* our ministers.
We are the problem.
Therefore, rather than following the usual line — get more exercise, take your vitamins, don’t work so hard — I intend to address what I imagine are actually the biggest reasons for burn out in the Churches of Christ: elders, congregations, and ministers. We start with —
Countless ministers have been brutalized by bad elders. The problem is endemic. We are who we are because we are who we are — if that makes any sense. Years and years of bad doctrine and bad attitudes have produced leaders with bad doctrine and bad attitudes. Of course, a lot of this bad doctrine and attitude has come from … our preachers. That means the preachers have to step up their game and help fix the problem.
I prescribe the following:
1. A steady diet of sermons on grace, with emphasis on the personality and character of God as revealed in Jesus. Phil 2 is the central proof text, but don’t forget the Gospels. Until our churches understand that God is a gentle, loving, forgiving, compassionate God who takes the first step — a painfully sacrificial step — to restore us to right relationship, we’ll produce graceless elders. Bad theology makes for bad leaders.
2. Better preaching on the qualifications for an elder. We do this terribly. TERRIBLY! You see, we focus on how many children an elder must have and whether he can be a brawler and a striker. As is commonly pointed out in these very sermons, the qualifications lists in Titus and 1 Timothy are largely qualifications that every Christian should meet — other than being married and having believing children.
Let me suggest some supplemental sermon material —
(Eze 34:12-15 ESV) 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.
(Psa 23:1-6 ESV) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(John 10:11-15 ESV) 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
(Mat 20:25-28 ESV) 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(2Co 1:24 ESV) 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
(Act 20:28-31 ESV) 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.
(1Ti 5:17-22 ESV) 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
(1Pe 5:1-4 ESV) So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Don’t tell me these passages won’t preach! (I’d do a series, but surely the meanings of these passages are plain.) It’s odd that we have kind-of canned sermons on the meanings of the different words for “love” or for “worship,” but we don’t preach on the meanings of the words used for “elders.” Nor do we preach the whole counsel of God. We routinely skip some of the most important texts.
Worse yet, after doing a pitiful job of preaching the subject, we tell the church they can only object to a nominee for a “scriptural” reason, as though the man would have to be a polygamist or drunkard to be denied the office. Well, he might just need to be gifted by the Spirit for the task, right?
And this is why we are so very wrong to refuse to preach the Spirit from the pulpit. (I’m so frustrated with preachers who believe the indwelling but are afraid to preach the indwelling — and then complain that the church ordains men without the gift of leadership to the office!)
(1Co 12:28 ESV) 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.
The Greek word translated “administrating” is the word for the pilot of a ship — and the way we do things, that’s the elders. Indeed, countless commentaries have concluded that Paul is likely speaking of elders here — but we are afraid to preach the obvious lesson: the only men who should be ordained as elders are men gifted by the Spirit for the work of piloting the congregation.
(Rom 12:1 ESV) 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Leadership is explicitly listed as a gift from God. Same lesson, right? Thayer’s notes that the word can be used of one who protects or a guardian (rather like a shepherd, isn’t it?)
(Eph 4:1 ESV) 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. … 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Shepherds aren’t appointed by the church. They are appointed by God through his dispensation of gifts. We recognize those so gifted and ordain those whom God has given us. I can’t think of another way to read the text.
(1Pe 4:10-11 ESV) 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
We are commanded to use the giftedness we find among ourselves as favors from the hand of God. It’s about more than marriage and fertility. Preach all the word — and you’ll have better elders to work with. Keep preaching a Spirit-less, grace-less religion, and there will be no end to the plague of burn out.