In my early days in ministry I was full of excitement and passion. It seemed that my energy was boundless as I worked as a youth pastor, went to school, and managed to work another part time construction job to pay the bills. As I grew older and God blessed my wife and I with children things began to get more complicated. My energy seemed to wane and I found myself stressed out, burned out, and coasting. The passion and excitement I had in those early days wasn’t gone, but it was on it’s way. I went through a lot of pain, soul searching, prayer, and guidance from mentors before I identified the cause. I’ll admit I still find myself struggling to maintain balance in these areas. Thankfully I have men in my life who will point out when I need to step back and readjust a few things. Take a look and see if any of these are issues you struggle with as well.
1. Let other people determine your worth.
No matter how many people tell me how great the message was on Sunday, just one negative or overly critical person’s voice seems to drown out all the others. The problem isn’t with that one Negative Nelly, the problem is when we derive our feelings of success or satisfaction from people rather than from the Lord. If you are preaching from the Word of God, which is sharper than any two edged sword, sooner or later you will offend someone and offended people often lash out. When they do, it is easy to get down on yourself because of their hurtful words. Pastor Perry Noble when speaking on the issue of critics in the church says,
“When you allow the voice of those who know you the least to define you the most you are in trouble. The voice of the critic does not define you if you are a follower of Jesus and called by Christ. You need to trade in your self esteem for God esteem.”
- Perry Noble
However, by the same token, if your confidence rests on getting “attaboys” from certain people in your congregation you are playing with fire as well. In Luke 6:26 Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.” The Bible is clear, we are first and foremost accountable to God, and our chief aim must be to please him.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV) emphasis added
When we allow the voice of the crowd and their opinion, whether positive or negative, to shape our sermons and leadership we are really allowing them to lead instead of following the Holy Spirit. Pastor you are the called and anointed leader of the church and your family. The Lord has entrusted, equipped, and called you to this task, at this time. Don’t let anyone strip away or diminish what the Lord has called you to.
2. Compare your ministry to others.
This is so natural to do, but it is also destructive. We compare numbers, facilities, budgets, even softball team records and when you do that, either way you fail. You end up either feeling like you don’t measure up or pridefully conclude that your ministry is better or more anointed than someone else's. God wants us to be confidently humble, to be neither in envy of another or prideful over what God has done through our work. 1 Corinthians 3:6 makes it clear when Paul wrote “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” God is the one doing the real work. The first question you need to answer is am I being obedient? I’ll take obedience over numbers any day. People will know we love Jesus not by how many people we cram in our churches, or by how big the offering was, but by how we obey. But I also have this sneaking feeling that obedience leads to health, which leads to making disciples and growth in every significant area in the church. Pursue Christ through obedience, He will take care of the growth.
3. Don’t take care of yourself.
Current CIA Director, General David Patraeus has stated that the human body is the ultimate weapons system, and when well cared for, these bodies of ours are capable of amazing feats. However when we are running on caffeine, subsisting on junk and fast food, and carrying too much excess baggage we find ourselves running low on energy to the point where enthusiasm and passion just isn’t enough anymore. Not only do we have less energy, we are less productive with what we do have. Getting on a whole body health plan that addresses body, mind, and spirit is one of the most challenging things I have ever attempted to do. It takes discipline and commitment to be successful but I find that when I do take time to exercise, eat right, and fill my mind with good things the dividends far outweigh the expenditures.
4. Stay isolated.
Ministry is lonely, but it doesn’t have to be. I have found that because pastors tend to struggle with 1 and 2 they often fail to build real relationships with other pastoral peers in their community. These are the men who know the load you carry, and have been down that same road you are on. Even pastors need relationships so that “iron can sharpen iron”. Younger pastors need to connect with more experienced pastors, and more experienced pastors need to pass on their knowledge and wisdom. Sadly though, there are many that are more dedicated to their pet doctrines than they are to the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-23 and Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4:1-16. We need to find time to lay differences aside and build relationships with other pastors for prayer, fellowship and support. Who knows if pastors led the way in this, entire communities might follow suit!
5. Maintain Poor Boundaries.
As one called into ministry the word “no” is both surprisingly hard to say and seems to be very offensive to people when they hear me say it. But everyone needs to hear it from time to time. After a spate of very early morning and middle of the night phone calls I asked a person in the church to stop calling my home and to only call me during business hours at the office. It’s not that the calls were completely pointless, but they were disturbing to my family’s rest and my family comes before anything but a legitimate emergency. There are people in your church and community that are needy and while they cannot be ignored, good boundaries must be put in place or everything else will suffer. There is simply not enough time or energy available to meet the needs of everyone around you and maintain the things God has called you to. Know where the line is and do not hesitate to draw it.
6. Keep Even Poorer Priorities.
We are called to our personal walk with God first, to our spouses second, our families third, and then to our ministry, in that order. It is easy to get that out of whack and when we do ministry becomes a mistress that attacks our marriages, families, and can ultimately destroy the church. Some pastors allow their walk with Christ to suffer because they replace it with sermon prep. If God is indeed desireous of relationship that is so often described in passionate and intimate terms, there needs to be passion and intimacy in your daily pursuit of Him. The same goes for your spouse. They need to know they are number one in your book and you show that through making time, cultivating that relationship, and doing the little things that matter. Guess what your kids need that same type of relational cultivation as well. One requirement of ministry in both Titus and Timothy was a healthy home life, no you don’ have to be June and Ward Cleaver but you need to take care of your household first, as 1 Timothy 3:5 reminds us, “For if a man does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of the church of God?”
7. Refuse to rest.
This is a big one. We often preach honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy, but it seems that many pastors struggle to maintain a consistent day of rest for themselves and their families. Here are some tips to a healthy Sabbath.
Set aside a day each week specifically for rest.
Attitude - train your mind to stay off the work you need to get done at the office.
Boundary - again, unless it is an emergency, this is a day for you and your family to rest in the Lord.
Bible - Remember this isn’t a vacation away from the Word. The Bible is meant to refresh and reenergize so make time in your day for your own study.
All Together - your family needs to be a part of this rest time as well whenever possible. Plan time to be together.
Teach yourself. I have a stable of preaching podcasts I listen to for my own edification. This is not when I listen to leadership podcasts though. On my days off I specifically listen to preaching so that through hearing the Word my own faith might become activated.
Home - spend some time at home. Unless rest is just impossible at home, spend time around your house. Fix things, garden, take a nap, play with the kids, enjoy time with your spouse, what ever you need to do to relax, find a way to do it at home.
The title of this article is a little tongue in cheek, but seriously any one of these can lead to burning out, stressing out, and watering down your ministry. If you find yourself dealing with multiples of these you may have a real problem on your hands and may need to see somebody. I know where my greatest struggles are and which ones come more easily, but I definitely have plenty of room to grow in all these areas. If you have anything to add I would love to hear it!