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Sprinting a Marathon

I found out this year what makes a pastor jealous. Tell a pastor about a vacation you just had, a sabbatical you have coming up or how you’ve taken time to rediscover the weekend, and you’ll find another pastor wrought with envy. It’s more than just the usual person mildly amused that someone they know has some vacation days ahead. The pastors and leaders I am meeting are desperate for someone around them to call timeout so they can finally catch their breath.

Some are aware of the condition of their mind, body and soul. The ones who are aware they need a break of some kind seem to make incremental, as well as intentional, steps in healthier directions. The question is whether that slow change will happen in time to keep them from developing high blood pressure. I don’t know what it says that most pastors I know have suffered from physical heart pains of some kind. Have you ever wondered if a more radical shift of rest is necessary so you can stay the course, or even stay alive?

We’ve all seen the numbers, but we usually drive through them like a red light at an empty intersection on a country road. According to statistics released by PastorBurnout.com, 75 percent of pastors report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear or alienation. In case your seminary didn’t make you do fractions, that means three out of four pastors in your church, your city and your denomination are begging for someone to keep them from drowning.

We’ve told ourselves over and over that the stress we feel is the “spiritual nature of what we do.” We have bought the myth that says we carry a “special” weight due to the role we play within the Church. That is a lie from the enemy that is meant to make us feel superior and entitled to sin when we feel overwhelmed with the pressure.

I’d like to speak plainly on this: We carry heavy burdens with us as pastors because ultimately we don’t trust Jesus. We don’t trust the way He lived His life. We brush off the rhythms of fasting and solitude, we excuse patterns of rest from our lives because the machine of ministry (that we are responsible for creating) needs to keep moving. If we trusted Jesus, we would do as He did when it comes to patterns of rest.

Jesus once said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We as a pastoral community are not rested. Yet we are promised rest by the Rabbi we follow. It’s obvious we’ll all be weary and burdened at some point, but He is saying if we aren’t rested, we have a Jesus problem. If we aren’t rested, it’s because we aren’t pastoring our churches with Jesus. You’re tired because you’re alone working on your church without Jesus. Don’t blame me if you don’t like that. Blame Jesus for saying it.

We’re carrying our churches as if people’s spiritual formation rests on our shoulders. We carry the responsibilities of God into every message we preach, leadership team we develop and counseling session we do. The reason we feel like a failure, the reason we feel as though we may not be able to make it is because we have refused to come to Jesus.

PastorBurnout.com reports that every month, 1,500 pastors leave the ministry because of a moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches. An additional 57 percent say they would leave if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do. Did you know clergy have the second highest divorce rate among all professions? These are not just stats. These are people you and I both know and love.

I think it’s because we’re trying to sprint a marathon. We want to get ahead. We tell ourselves God needs us now. We’re only a certain age for so long.

See Also

Somehow I think it isn’t as much about what we’re doing as it is how we’re doing it.

There is something broken about the system we’ve created that says “this”—this ridiculous pace of meetings, expectations, book writing, visitations and so on—is what it looks like to pastor a successful church.

The Church is facing massive challenges—and God needs healthy, inspired leaders. More than that, He calls leaders to a life of rest—in Him.

If you are exhausted, it’s because you haven’t gone to Him. So go.

This column originally appeared in the April/May 2011 issue of Neue. To read the rest, as well as other articles that can help you handle the pressures of ministry and pastoral burnout, view the digital issue here

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