Monday, February 21, 2011

Pastoral Burnout

The following is a reflection from Ricky Jones, a fellow PCA pastor. It is reprinted here with his permission.


I have spent the past few months thinking almost exclusively about burnout. Watching my friends spin out of control and seeing ministers more gifted than I leave the ministry frightened me. Plus, knowing my own heart and feeling the pressure and exhaustion of the past five years has forced me to wonder how much longer I could go on.

What makes burnout such a big deal for pastors? Why don’t I see it in other professions?

Finally, last week it hit me. If a dentist burns out on his job, he can turn away from it, or compartmentalize it with no detriment to his soul. But a minister can’t do that. There is only one source of true life and revival. Jesus is the only fountain of living water; there is no other stream.

When Jesus seems more like your boss than your savior, he no longer provides rest. When reading the bible, rehearsing the gospel and praying feel like drudgery, there remains no other place to go for true rest. You can force your wife to restore you, but she will fail and you will resent her. You can divert yourself with crosswords or puzzles, but the work you put off only increases as does your desire to escape it. Bored, exhausted, resentful and unwilling to turn to Christ, the only respites left lead to death: alcohol, porn, or worse.

What is the answer? Well what attitude got into this mess in the first place?

Luke 15:27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

Somewhere along the way, I felt like the only one who really cared about the church. I started being the responsible one bearing all the weight. Now, for all these years I have served God without disobeying, and I never was given a time to celebrate. No one really noticed. God stopped being my loving father and started being my boss.

So what is the way out? I don’t know for sure, hopefully I’ll know more this time next year. But right now I know where it starts. It starts with repentance, asking God to forgive me for counting the blood of Christ a small thing. I need him to forgive me for considering the ministry a burden and not a wonderful blessing. I need Him to forgive this self righteous pharisee.

A funny thing happens when I repent like this. God stops feeling like my boss and starts being my redeemer again. Prayer doesn’t feel like work, but more like my only hope. And Jesus becomes this dead man’s only source of life again.

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