In my view, most cases of preacher burn out are the fault of the elders, the congregation, or our unchallenged traditions. But sometimes, it’s the preacher.
Preachers can burn themselves out by —
* Not praying enough
* Not taking off enough time
* Not spending enough time in the word of God
* Forsaking his continuing education
* Not having any friends
* Not spending enough time with wife and children
* Not getting enough exercise
And it’s all true. But this list looks like an awfully long “to do” list, doesn’t it? How do you avoid burn out? Well, pray more, take more time off, study more, go to class more, make friends, spend time with family, and exercise. It’s all very good, very sound advice, but I’m not sure it’s really the solution.
To my thinking, the real problem is when reality and ideals clash. If the minister hates his job or if he lacks fulfillment in his work, doing all these things — good things all — won’t solve the problem. Rather, the key to a lack of job satisfaction is job satisfaction. It’s not complicated.
And getting job satisfaction when you don’t have it means either —
* Moving to another church
* Starting your own church
* Fixing the church you’re in
* Leaving the ministry.
That’s about it, isn’t it? I figure most men go into the ministry because they really want to make a difference in people’s lives. Some want to build the next Saddleback, but most just want to have a church they can be proud of — a church that doing pretty well.
But we’ve created a tradition that works against church growth at 100 levels. Our entire way of doing church was invented in the late 19th Century for a very different world, and now Wednesday and Sunday night are holy writ. And the “pattern of worship,” which is really how worship was done in the 19th Century American frontier and not how the First Century church did things, is inviolable. We can’t be anything but what we are.
And in smaller churches, where the members are often less well educated and more caught up in tradition, it’s that much harder to make the changes needed to be effective. And these churches are dying by the thousands.
The preacher is in a no-lose position. The worse they can do is fire him — but if he does nothing, he’ll be miserable and quit. If he fails, well, the church was already on its deathbed. You can’t make things that much worse.
Therefore, I think the cure for burn out is often to courageously urge the necessary changes, by first carefully building the right doctrinal foundation, and then moving from doctrine to practice. It’ll take years, and many young ministers don’t have the patience they need for this to work. But the goal is to keep the ball moving forward — just make a little progress and never, ever regress. After all, the worse they can do is fire you.
If I was in such a place, I think I’d start by developing a network of mentors and counselors who could guide me through it. The last thing I’d want to do is take the task on by myself.
I’d lay out a plan with the help of trusted, older advisors, and I’d patiently work the plan. I’d expect to lose a few members along the way, but try my best to lose not a one — so long as the ball keeps moving forward.
I’d be a game-manager quarterback. I’d not look for 80-yard completions — just no fumbles, no sacks, no interceptions, and the ball always goes forward. I’d be the master of the 15-minute touchdown drive. And if God were to give the occasional 20-yard gainer, I’d praise his name, but the plan would be 4 yards at a time, every time.
If I were under a poor eldership, I’d try to repair the eldership the best I could. But if the eldership couldn’t be fixed, I’d move on. You can’t fix a church if you can’t fix the eldership. Period. You cannot lead around an opposed eldership. It can’t be done. It shouldn’t even be tried. Never work against the elders.
What’s the worst that can happen? You can be fired, marked, disfellowshipped — and that would make you the perfect candidate to lead a church plant. It would. (I think it was a Stadia representative who told me the best churches planters are youth ministers who’d been fired three times!) Sometimes being fired is the best way to avoid burn out. Keeping on doing what doesn’t work isn’t going to solve the problem, no matter how much exercise you get or how much time you spend with the family.