Clergy & Laity: He says he’s suffering from burn out. Is he serious? (The Minister) 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.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Clergy & Laity: He says he’s suffering from burn out. Is he serious? (The Minister)

  1. Anne says:

    Jay, I don't know if you have just not addressed it yet, but one thing that causes minister burn out is the PEOPLE. It is hard dealing with complaining, whining, don't want to work, sinful people on a daily basis. You preach, you teach and people still show up in your office crying "why am I so miserable?". And it never dawns on them, even though they know better, that maybe your drinking, your carousing, living with that man/woman outside or marriage, etc could be causing your problem. And sometimes you have to remind yourself that people are still learning, but when your youth minister is caught cheating on his wife and your secretary embezzles money and you find out one of your members who you had high hopes for and seems so involved, is running around with several women and even beating them up, you start feeling like Moses and want to go strike a rock!
    I understand why Moses and other prophets were depressed and wanted to give up. It is hard dealing with all of these "Israelites". But one day I came across a passage in I Sam 8 that reads "7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you." And that put it into perspective. We only have a job to do and God will take care of the rest and He shoulders the rejection.

  2. Jeremy says:

    You've hit the nail on the head! I only wish the people who need to hear this would read your blog – chances are they don't even touch computers (lol). I am living out what you said (just north of you in Walker county) and fight with the stay or go question at least monthly. I (we) could get our congregations to move away from traditions that don't work to doctrinal practices that will. But, like you said, the Elders are the key. The wisdom is in discerning when to stop trying to change the Elders when they refuse to budge. Keep going until they fire you or recognize it and leave. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. It has been an encouragement to me.

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