There’s More to the “Pastor Burnout” Syndrome

This blog has been dormant for a couple years now.  Honestly, I think I just ran out of things to say and felt the pressure of a self-imposed schedule.  But a thought came to me recently that I felt needed to be said, dots that need to be connected.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about a couple high-profile pastors calling it quits due to burnout.  Every article I’ve read describes the rigors of vocational church leadership, issues some warnings, and offers a series of To-Do’s.  These are mostly true and practically helpful, but in my view are missing the larger picture of what is happening.  Actually, I think they’re not missing it at all…they just don’t want to talk about it.

Remember over a year ago when a Pew Research report surfaced, highlighting the demise of the American Christian Church?  “The rise of the ‘Nones'” to the church-world is just as dreaded as “Rise of the Sith.”  Actually, things aren’t all that bad for World Christianity, but our Americentric Gospel can’t really focus on that right now…we need to talk about us.  So what is really happening to us?  Is this really the end?

These questions were life-or-death for both of my small churches in the recent past.  One of them thought they might close their doors when a strong leader brought them out of the depths.  When I began serving as their pastor 5 years later, I shared that role with another church a few miles away.  This other congregation, before my arrival, also wondered if their church would die.  In my interview, it was highlighted that a couple mega-churches in the area had essentially gobbled up all the potential new members they might gain, as well as some of the old ones looking for something better.  In their eyes, large churches were the team to beat.

Large churches do a lot of things well.  Their numbers are impressive and there is always something to be learned for how an entity can speak into the hearts and lives of people so profoundly.  But large churches and their pastors are feeling the pressure too.  Are they even remotely close to dying?  No, but rest assured they’re concerned about a percentage point drop in attendance or a few less baptisms than the year before.  The pressure to uphold their gold standard produces a similar drive as dying churches: We must save our entity.   

Nobody has to drive very far to attend a church.  In many places there’s still a church on every corner, evidence of Christianity’s once prominent place in American society.  But you will never hear a church advertisement inviting you to attend the church closest to you to hear about Jesus.  No, you must attend their church because there’s something different about their church.  They’re not like the rest.  Every church will tell you that their mission is to “make disciples” or “connect people with Jesus,” but nobody’s really honest that much of their decisions are based on growing their entity.  Small churches do it because they don’t want their beloved church to die, large churches do it because they can’t stomach decline.  The insecurity around growing a brand of church is palpable.  Tactics grow more desperate, more outlandish, just to get someone’s attention.  Satellite campuses just happen to pop up in wealthier areas.  Clergy sensationalize a church’s program on Facebook.

I’m not a businessy person, but I’ve learned from watching The Profit to know that the lower a market the higher the competition, and the higher the competition the higher the pressure.  Even Marcus Lemonis and the Shark Tank gurus won’t invest in a company if they feel like the market is low.  Now, I think the market is always high on Jesus, but the research suggests something different for religious institutions, or what unchurched people call “organized religion.”  Religious institutions, big and small, denominational or non-denominational are feeling the tightened market.  And the pressure to maintain existence for small churches, or the arbitrary success for large churches, is choking out even its modern-day heroes.

Why did Pete Wilson and Perry Noble resign?  Is it really because they didn’t honor their day off or take enough vacation?  I’m betting that they asked themselves a question that all of these “nones” asked themselves at one point…a question I and others have been secretly asking: Where is Jesus in all this church activity?



Why do we Christians confess?

One criticism I’ve heard of Christianity and of religion in general is that it’s simply a way for people to constantly feel bad about themselves.  Granted, it can be overdone.  Throughout history Christians have actually been quite creative in how they can flagellate themselves to relieve some sense of lingering guilt.  But this is not confession.

You don’t have to read a Bible to know that “pride goeth before the fall.”  We see it everywhere in our world; and if we’re honest, we see it in ourselves.

So why do we Christians confess?

We confess, I think, because through our faith we are made aware of our limitations, and therefore our dependence.  As we sing of God’s greatness, we also prayerfully devote ourselves to God with a voice that flows from our hearts –a soul-cry that God is God, and we are not.  It’s taken me a long time to understand that humility is a healing balm for this world, and that it begins with me.

How is confession a part of your life and/or faith?

Are You Happy About Mark Driscoll?

I was in seminary when Ted Haggard, mega-church pastor and evangelical figure leading the charge against the ‘homosexual agenda’, was accused of ongoing visits with a male prostitute.  It was drama that we were particularly interested in at seminary, like a broker office during a shift in the stock market.  And we carried a smugness about it.  We never actually said, “I told you so,” or “I knew this would happen,” but I’m pretty sure we felt it.

It wasn’t so much Haggard’s stance on the issue that rubbed us the wrong way, but more of the way that he went about it.  Nearly all of us, in fact, had grown tired of the Evangelical agenda to save America back to the Christian Nation they all wrongly thought it used to be.

In that year our professors were encouraged to have devotion and prayer before class, and so this became the natural topic in my New Testament class.  I don’t remember the Scripture shared or even the exact words from my professor — all I remember is the indictment against us.  Yes, taking joy in the downfall of Ted Haggard was not the way of Jesus.

This week, Mark Driscoll resigned from his church, inducing cries of the same jubilation and self-satisfaction from his critics.  Driscoll was already in hot water as an author, accused of plagiarism.  But when enough elders in his Mars Hill network of churches spoke out against a culture of fear and intimidation, characterizing “Pastor Mark” as a dictator or cult leader, the momentum could not be stopped.

But there are two reasons why I have learned to withhold my joy in Driscoll’s harm.  First, I can see in myself, to any certain degree, the things that I dislike in him.  Bad theology?  Well, I’ve had that; and some people that I care about hold some of those same beliefs that Driscoll has.  Pride?  Yeah that’s me.  Anger?  Uh-huh.  Last time I checked, the “get the plank out of your own eye first” talk in the Bible didn’t have a footnote explaining that it was actually permissible in some circumstances.

And the second is simple, but extremely powerful.  As different as Driscoll and his people are from me, they’re still my family and I will not disown him or them; nor will I take joy in their pain.

When people tell tales of how the church harmed them, it grieves me and sometimes makes me mad.  The world has the Church under a microscope, ready to pounce on every mistake and failure; but that includes how I respond to my sisters and brothers who lose their way.

Are You Doing Enough?

Christianity is about sacrifice.  Jesus tells a story about rich young man who wanted to know the bare minimum of requirements to get into heaven.  Jesus responds with an astronomical task: to sell all his things, give away all his wealth, and to follow Jesus.

This radical call of Jesus can be as overwhelming as it is thrilling.  When does the giving stop?  Is God never satisfied?  And should I live this Christian life with a cloud of guilt over my head, reminding me that I’ve not measured up?

But this overwhelming feeling is only signifying a truth that I too often ignore: following Jesus is beyond me and my power.  The call of the rich young guy, or the example of the widow’s mite, was not to fool me into thinking that I could actually work my way to heaven.  Jesus’ bar was so high that I should know right away that it can’t be done by my power.

Christianity is about sacrifice…and grace.  Giving up his wealth would have been the most incredible thing the young man would do, the rest would be, and could only be…God.

What is a Rule of Life? (part 4)

Ok, so I’ve taken you through a little tool I’ve been using to develop a Rule of Life based on the Greatest Commandment lived out both personally and corporately.  Click to view part 1, 2, and 3.

Now, finally, I’m to loving people corporately.  Here we go.

  1. Connection.  I was going to say ‘fellowship’, but sadly that word has been hijacked by the church bizarre and afternoon tea.  I’m talking about connecting with real people, no Twitter followers.  Of course, that means that I need to let people connect with me too.  In this superficial world, this one can be tougher than we think.
  2. Seeking Justice.  This is en vogue, by the way.  Yes!  Justice for all!  But what does that really mean?  Are you seeking it like you seek the meaningless penny dropped in the couch cushions, or are you seeking it like your relationship with God depended on it?  Because your relationship with God does depend on it (see Micah 6:8).
  3. Practicing Hospitality.  All are welcome into the family of God.  Does my life reflect that invitation?

What Is a Rule of Life (part 3)

I was a little side-tracked last week and wasn’t able to continue sharing my Rule of Life series of posts.  Last week I shared how I’m intending to love God and love people on a personal level.  So I’ll pick back up and explain to you how I’m intending to love God and love people on a corporate level.

First…loving God corporately.  The obvious is corporate worship.  It’s just what Christians do…well, sort of.  Statistics are showing that people’s definition of ‘active,’ as in being active in their faith, is less than the standard weekly attendance.  These days it’s common for families to only come twice, even once per month.  But to me it actually takes more willpower to attend worship in this way.  Left to my feelings on a Sunday morning or evening and whether I was up for going, I might opt for Bedside Baptist.  But a routine of corporate worship as a woven thread in my life is easier.  I just go.  And even if I really don’t want to before, I’m nearly 100% glad I went after.

Another is an extension of worship –mission and service.  If I’m honest, my heart only bleeds like a paper cut.  But one of the best expressions of loving God is stepping forward and declaring, “Here I am…send me.”  Sure, I can do this all on my own and it takes a great deal of personal commitment.  But the saying is true: two heads are better than one, and there is great power in being in mission and service together.

Finally there is accountability.  The goodness that exudes from my life, speech, and attitude, as little as it may be, is only a reflection of God’s goodness.  And so loving God more means to reflect more of that goodness.  Those that know me know that I reflect the goodness of God perfectly through sheer will power and faithfulness (pay no attention to my growing nose).  No, I need the help of others lovingly spurring me on toward a righteousness that shines God’s glory.

That’s what I’ve got!  Tune in (hopefully) tomorrow to get the final post in this series on loving people corporately.

What Is a Rule of Life? (part 2)

In creating a Rule of Life, yesterday I explained what that looked like for me when it comes to Loving God personally.  Today I’m looking at what it means to Love God corporately.

Worship.  Corporate worship to me is the ultimate expression of loving God.  I’ve been in churches and worship services that draw caution to being too emotive or too expressive, leaving all that for the charismatics.  But if we are to love God, how can we not do that with our emotions?  Music is emotive.  Meaningful messages trigger emotion.  So to me, to love God is to show devotion in a corporate worship setting.

Small Groups.  To me loving God is synonymous with growing deeper in my relationship with God.  And there is no better avenue to do this than to meet in a small group with people for prayer, encouragement, and accountability.

One-on-One.  Though this isn’t ‘corporate,’ it certainly pushes me beyond the personal.  I meet with someone in a trusted relationship to share everything…I mean everything.  We pray, challenge one another, and make sure that we’re still on the right path.  I also seek guidance and wisdom from a mentor when I can.  This one-on-one helps me to learn and soak in the depth of experience and wisdom in life and in my relationship with God.

What Is a Rule of Life?

At Catalyst last night I challenged everyone to spend time establishing a Rule of Life.  I gave them a tool for their discernment, a chart that contains four quadrants from two perpendicular continuum.  It’s….uh….well, maybe it’s just better that I show you…


Like the napkin?  Anyways, this chart was simply taken from the Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22.  What’s this Christianity thing summed up as?  Love God.  Love People.  And…we live this commandment out in two ways, personally and corporately.

The task, then, was to fill in a few examples in each quadrant.  In the upper, left quadrant, for example, you would list some examples of what it looks like to love God personally.  For me it was:

  1. Set aside each morning for prayer (typically 30min to 1hr).
  2. Seek solitude for contemplation, clarity, and prayer.
  3. Practice rest when at all possible.

In this blog this week I’m going to talk through each of the quadrants in hopes to discover a Rule of Life.

So…morning prayer.  As a Christian it’s important that I pray, but more than that I want to be a person of prayer.  I’m a morning person, so I’m going with morning prayer.  And I need time to do it, to filter the craziness in my mind.  I also need tools, like a journal or a prayer guide (I recommend Handbook to Prayer by Kenneth Boa).  But the most important part is that I do this each day, because each day is filled with enough joy and difficulty all on its own.

Solitude is an important way for me to connect with God.  My life is busy and filled with one activity after another.  To love God is to retreat away, even just for a couple hours.  A place with a view helps.

And practicing rest.  Here’s the thing; I’m my worst self when I’m burned out and tired.  God instituted the Sabbath for a reason.  We need rest.

Prayer, Solitude, and Rest.  3 ways I can order my life to love God more.

Would You Prefer Happiness or Joy?

Recently Victoria Osteen got into hot water with those that still cared about what the Osteens say.  The quote under fire is: 

“When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourself. Because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. Do good ’cause God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself because that’s what makes God happy.”

Nevermind Osteen’s warped view of God’s love, as if the object of affection (us) is so irresistible that God can’t help but do everything within God’s power to make us happy.  How nice of us to say such things about us.  Really, I’m flattered.  No, what concerns me as well is her aim for happiness.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want to be happy.  God wants me to be happy, but with a slight twist.  Happy in God is different than pure happiness.  There’s a purity and virtue that comes with happiness in God than simple human happiness.  The dollar menu makes me happy, but it’s not good for me.  You see happiness and God’s goodness catapults into a different strata.  Into something called JOY.  Joy is a happy heart despite a present pain or difficult circumstance, and when you see it you know exactly what it is.  It comes from within in such a powerful way those around watching suddenly want it…and feel bad for yelling at their kid for eating the last Pop Tart.

Osteen happy is all about you…and by all means play along and call me when life gets tough.  But joy?  Joy calls you beyond yourself into something greater and more marvelous.  In a heartbeat, I choose joy.

Can We Really Do ‘Diversity’?

Diversity is quickly becoming a primary value for our worshiping community called Catalyst.  “When was it not?!” someone might say.  Yeah…most people say they’re all about diversity.  But we’re beginning to live it…and for a short time I suspect there might be some reality checks, such as “Oh wait…this doesn’t look or feel the same as what I’ve become comfortable with.”

But once the dissonance of mixing styles and preferences and cultures settles down, people living in real diversity pretty much forget about diversity.  They don’t really see diverse people, they just see people.  Getting to that beautiful place takes a lot of sacrifice, perspective, and maturity, which is why sometimes it’s just easier to say it without letting it reflect in our lives.  But…it’s totally, totally worth it.