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?

 

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Does It Even Matter If You Care?

A lot of my friends like to poke fun at one another.  Let just say that some are better than others (me…not so good).  One of my brothers in church reminded me in a passing comment that poking fun isn’t a mark of dislike.  In fact, just the opposite.  They true mark of dislike is disinterest.

And it hurts.

Brene Brown says as much in her book Daring Greatly.  It harms our sense of worthiness and confidence when people give all the signs that they don’t care, or that you’re not worth their time.  Now, we can’t give everyone the time of day; and Brown is clear that this sort of thing is bound to happen.  And so we need to figure out how to be resilient despite our hurt.  Still, I think we all can work on caring a little bit more.

In a sermon Adam Hamilton talks about how he joined a panel of religious leaders to discuss the threat of religious fundamentalism.  He responded by saying that he’s not too concerned about the Christian extremists, because their hate is so contrary to Jesus that it’s bound to reveal itself.  What he is concerned about is religious indifference.

My point in writing this was not to convince you to become a Christian (although we can talk about that).  My point is to challenge you to consider the weight of your attention and care — to people and yes, to God.  You may not think so, but it’s actually a big deal.

Want to Know How to Grasp Grace?

Sometimes we remember the most random things.  I remember one day on the way to the babysitter’s.  I looked out of the car as we were driving along to see a boy younger than me sitting in the mud.  Just sitting there with mud all over.

Why I remember that, I don’t know.  All I know is that it’s the first thing that came to mind when I began to think of lament and repentance.  For whatever reason, whether it be our condition or society’s impulse, we are so quick to celebrate God’s forgiveness without first practicing repentance and lament.  We demand others’ grace before we admit our fault.  We skip over Good Friday and head right to Resurrection Sunday.

God is a forgiving God, but don’t let that prevent you from sitting in your mud for at least a little bit.  Enough for you to feel the sting, the heaviness of heart.  Enough to feel your guilt.  And I beg you to do this, not so that you can wallow in your mud for eternity, but to fully grasp your cleansing.  We understand God’s grace only within the scope of how far God has brought us to redemption.

So confess, repent, and lament.  Not forever, but enough.

What Is True Unity/Community?

As I get ready for yet another message in church on unity and community, I find myself struck with a question.  There are loads of people that practice unity across the social spectrum.  What’s so different about the church?  Or maybe another way to look at it: does unity/community just come about naturally as we’re being nice and inclusive, or is it a thing that we practice?

I once had an image in my mind as I was an eager fiance preparing for marriage.  Well, actually there were three images.  The first was a husband and wife back-to-back, facing outward.  This was a symbol of dysfunction, with each having little to no focus on one another.  The second image, seemingly the antidote to the dysfunction, was a couple facing one another…each having their focus obviously on the other.  This is all well and good, but my faith compelled me to visualize our marital relationship in a different way.  It was a couple, hand-in-hand, facing forward together.

I’m not so sure that Christian community is simply avoiding harm to one another or even to be kind.  If we are unified only for the sake of ourselves then we’ve missed it.  True community is that we join arms with a common focus on someone bigger than ourselves, a focus on Christ.

If God’s Presence is So Freeing; Then Why Does It Require Discipline?

We often, I think, hear two sides of Christianity.  One is represented by the gentle invitation to enter into God’s presence.  “Take your yolk upon me,” says Jesus.  And who can resist the lush garden of refuge in Psalm 23?

The other is also an invitation, but a call in a sense to suffer.  Dedication, commitment, and spiritual disciplines are highlighted.  Following Jesus is tough stuff.

The thing is, I agree with both of those…so which is it?

God’s abundant presence that brings peace is indeed light and full of freedom.  But discipline is not essential for resting in the arms of God; it’s essential in protecting ourselves from the wiles of this world…the works of the flesh.  Israelites rescued from the burden of slavery in The Exodus did not trade in one oppression for another as they suffered in the desert.  No, they wandered in the land between slavery and freedom; and as much as they were headed to The Promised Land, they were traveling out of Egypt.  We are disciplined as Christians, not because of God but because of us.  For sure, living the Christian life requires less when abiding in the Holy Spirit.

So the question is: How shall we run into the arms of God’s freedom; and how shall we order a life unshaped by oppression?

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.

Prayer: Where Do We Start?

I’ve met plenty of people that hear the flowery words of prayer from a pulpit or the intensity of emotion from desperate people and simply feel they don’t have anything to offer in prayer.  They don’t even know where to begin.

For my money (which isn’t much) I think Petition is a great way to start out.  It’s a simple request.  It can be as routine as a “Lord be with me today” lifted up each morning, or a “O God, help!” when things have gone wrong.  Then, over time, you might simply want to expand on those petitions…or not.  That’s the beauty of petition; you just have to mean it and God fills in the rest.

 

What to Do When God’s Will Isn’t Clear?

In the scurrying about of our lives and the high-volume traffic of thoughts of our minds, we most naturally envision God’s will as something that must be done –like a soldier or middle management.

It can be sneakier than that.

Once when faced with a difficult dilemma, confused as all-get out as to what to do, someone gave me some wisdom.  Sometimes it’s not as much about knowing what to do, but simply let your tight-fisted grip loosen to allow the winds of the Spirit to take it away.

Intellectually, we can all admit that there is quite a bit that is not in our control.  It’s an entirely different kind of boldness, though, to release it.