The effects of constant turmoil can be burnout. I’ve experienced plenty in my life and in reality, I have “quit” the ministry many many times. The truth is though, I have never told anyone! This podcast purposes to talk a little about the issue of ministry fatigue, its causes, its purposes and most of all, its remedy.
The teaching of Paul is constantly that the Lord’s servant must be humble, quiet, not given to argument, debate, aggressiveness, etc. The acting on either side of the fence is deplorable to me: those who feel they must “look the part” and “say the part” of either the soft or hard versions of a pastoral culture. Scripture shows what a man is and a man is one who is able to gently and humbly speak the truth so that God is glorified in the message and the power behind the message, not us.
Sometimes I wonder why I ever ended up in the pastorate. From the early days of childhood into high school I desired to be a surgeon, then along came chemistry and I was satisfied in music. Along the way, I’ve become an expert in many subjects and hobbies from illusions/sleight of hand to martial arts. I’ve spent countless hours studying the human mind, quantum physics, defensive logistics, combat theory, chess, and tonal dissonance. Years have taught my body to dance, climb mountains, swim, trackstand on a switchback, and devour ten thousand calories in 24 hours. My mind has learned to foster thought, engage the critics, leave the fight, stay the course, feel the pressure and rest in grace. Skills have prepared me to fix dryers, motherboards, vehicles, bones, restore homes, landscape, hang drywall, frame houses, dig footers, and put in the pipes. I can even sew, hem pants, taper a shirt, prepare a marketing analysis, produce video, graphic design, program websites, and set the clock on the microwave. The point, I’ve done a lot of stuff in my short life and none of it has ever been half-hearted. I don’t understand the purpose of being so-so at anything. Those things that my body did so well have fallen away to a thing called arthritis. What my brain used to manage abruptly wrecked through another harsh and painful experience known as depression. In all of it, I have never found an identity. None.
A common thread has always been stitched into every part of my life. The Word of God, from the earliest of days, has been a source of joy and power for me. It’s a grand example of the grace and mercy of the Lord to work in His children a love for Him through Scripture. For most of my life, I could engage in any forum, any hobby, any point in culture and do well. I’ve learned to shoot, sing, fight, play seven instruments and have done well at a few business ventures but in all of them, I have always found myself in the word, ministering to others, listening and teaching them the truth of Christ. As a matter of honesty, I never really wanted to be a pastor and was content with the idea of being used by the Lord in everything. But God in all His purpose will do with us as He chooses, not how we choose. In the Lord’s “putting” me into the ministry as a vocation I brought a lot of my personality and ‘skills’ to the table. I was taught early on that my ‘tool belt’ was vital to the success of the ministry of the church. Looking to be the best and giving myself the OK to be “all in”, I quickly began to surround myself with successful people who were accomplishing what I felt to be the right fruit.
Historically I have served in many areas of church life having worked with youth, children, music, teaching, seminaries, evangelism, missions, and everything in between. I have witnessed 300 enter the baptismal waters in a year’s time, seen thousands “come to faith” at “services”, and been on staff with church plants and mega-churches, some of the prior becoming the latter. In the end, even “ministry” never became my identity. There is a lot of heartache and pain under my belt for which I am eternally grateful because without it, I would have never truly seen the substance of Christ’s suffering and how we identify with Him. Having written several unpublished works on my journey, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter at the end of all the suffering if we don’t finish well. I’ve also learned that pain is part of progress and thinking that utopic days are our goal is childish and foolish surrealism. There are a few pain points of ministry though that I’ve learned sting much harder than normal. In all the calamities of sorts, nothing has been more hurtful than when friends and loved ones reject the Lord Jesus and love the world more than ever.
- When Family Members Claim Christ but Hate Truth
- When the Fan Base Becomes the Mob
- When the Brother is replaced with Beligerance
Suppose that a life without Christ was blissful with no pain. No poetry in the heart from the labor of pestilence and persecution. A life with no rejection, separation, angst, or problems appears on the surface to be ideal, but my experience as well as the experience of the record of history, including Scripture, is that pain becomes part of the joy. It is the darkness in our lives that makes the light so glorious. To leave suffering in life would be to leave the fellowship of Christ, and in turn, bring suffering all the more as it became an eternal certainty rather than a light and momentary teacher. When bridled with agony, I have learned to lean into Scripture and thus into Jesus. Nothing can take the burden like Christ and His gospel of peace. Rest well in the power of Christ through His Word.
I was always taught that these things were God’s gift for me to use for His glory. Now of course if they are enjoyed they are for His glory, but they are not what is needed by the church. While I have fixed a few computers, renovated a few buildings, and played a few funerals on the saxophone, the purpose of my life is to be a voice that points to the One that matters. Jesus Christ. I had to come to the end of my worth and usefulness and recognize that I was not the powerhouse I was always praised for being. This kind of death is hard on the esteem, but the grace of God, it’s powerful and useful. This means that all those years of training, leadership development, persuasion, influence etc. was all for nothing. Looking back I am thankful for having come through it, but at the time I counted my life as a large failure and a waste of God’s time as far as the ministry was concerned. This type of death makes your ministry history moot. As it should be. After all, didn’t John the Baptist even proclaim that Christ must increase therefore he would decrease? God took his life because the bridegroom gets the bride. So often, the current “church” gets the bride, the groom, the glory and the whole nine yards. They share their programs and people. The music and their measurements as if they are running for Ms. America. After all, isn’t ministry about attracting people to look at us? No. That’s the devil’s job.
Success can be confusing. No matter the field or context of life, measuring success is a dominant desire. This measuring becomes problematic when the matrix is misunderstood. Ignorance of what constitutes success can bring a plethora of issues both externally and internally in the life of an individual or organization. Considering successful ministry can be daunting and I know in my tenure as a pastor I’ve been taught conflicting thoughts on how to know if I am successful. For over 20 years the idea of ‘counting’ heads and money has been the measure of success but if we peer into the pages of scripture, there would be no example of a successful church, pastor, apostle or Savior if that were the case. Others have concluded that success should be based on the experience of the individual or the congregation. They would posit that true success isn’t how many, but rather, how powerful the experience. Again, if this is measured in comparison to the New Testament, there would be no historic picture of success found in these measurements.
There is the room of course, for many conversations of practical wisdom as it relates to dealing with people, communicating, caring and doing life together, but any human being can pull off successful ventures of gathering up people with a common goal or vision. It only takes a brain and a voice. The problem comes when all this discombobulated instruction on success invades the mind of a pastor or congregation and they begin to make strides to ‘measure up’ according to man’s wisdom. While I’ve spoken to these things before, I want to know just put the authority where it should be; the Word of God.
When we want to see an amazing feat we can go to either a magic show, and be deceived and enjoy it, or we can go to a sporting event or daredevil exhibition. Either way, there are many amazing things to behold in the world of daring humanity. If we want our breath to be taken we can listen to a chorale of voices singing the classics of old, a symphony bringing the trills and tonal harmonies to life in our ears, or we can view the grandeur of the sea, the mountains or the beyond! Sadly, all of these things, while awe-inspiring, are not majestic or awesome in comparison to the glory of God. So, in man’s feeble mind, he has tried to find other ways to behold the power of God and then painted the canvas of “worship” and “church” with these silly and boring tactics.
How amazing would it be if I were preaching this Sunday and out of the blue I began to float in the air and fire came from my hands as I read the words of Jesus? People would think they had witnessed a miracle and their hearts and minds would be overpowered by that experience. Likewise, if I walked out into the congregation and touched the ailing and their bodies were actually healed, legs grew back, eyesight restored; people would lose their mind in amazement. What if I were able to know things that were not mine to know or had the ability to provide music that would shudder the soul and cause others to feel, what they thought, the very presence of God? I would submit that all of this, even if it happened in greater detail, would be boring and nothing in comparison to seeing the glory of God face-to-face!
So, if we want to SEE a miracle, it is better to stop looking for the next great “work” of God and realize that there is already a perfect miracle for us to behold every moment of our lives! Jesus in John 6 says, “This is the work of God that you believe in the Son that He has sent.” See, the people of John 6 wanted more miracle food. When Jesus refused to feed them in their hunger and commanded them to be satisfied in Him, they wanted a sign for Jesus to prove Himself as worthy. In the same manner, many professing believers seem to believe in anything they can feel, create, and experience that satisfies their flesh instead of actually believing in Jesus Christ and His finished work of redemption. The point is that success in ministry is not measured by the number of people in the pews, money in the bank, missionaries in the field, miracles on the stage, healings in the clinics, or tongues in the air like cymbals. It is measured by the majesty and glory of God in the face of the people of God, who believe, worship and love each other with all authority. So how then are we to measure this? How is this experienced and evident in the life of the church? Through the Word of God Alone!
God’s word faithfully proclaimed is the only measure of successful ministry.
2 Timothy 3: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
ὠφέλιμος – means valuable, profitable, having worth and bringing a yield. So, the word of God, which is God speaking, is profitable for all things that the church needs. It teaches (doctrine), reproofs (disapproves), corrects (sets right), and trains in righteousness (teaches Christ). The successful pastor is equipped for every good work through the Scripture. That is the miracle of God and a display of His creative power at work. His word being taught, His sheep hearing and heeding, and His people being governed by the Miracle of New Life by His everlasting Grace. Anything else is just boring and of lesser awe than this! Stop seeking out the devil’s measure of majesty and rest in the revelation of God to you.
Rest in Christ!
It saddens me to consider the reality of how many times I have had conversations with church members through the years who swear upon their very lives that they love the church more than anything. But yet, they seem to not love the people of the church, and even worse, they have little desire to be patient and kind and giving of their lives for the sake of another. Scripture teaches us that Jesus Christ came in the flesh in order to put sin away, and for those who trust fully in him, they become like him in his affections. This marvelous miracle of a transformed heart, is one of the grand evidences of the rebirth. John, in his first epistle, actually uses the love for the brethren as the litmus test of true saving faith. Or at least he uses it as the litmus test of the certainty of one not being in the faith-that is if they lack brotherly affection.
Ironically many people adhere to becoming part of a local fellowship without ever understanding what they should believe and what’s required of them as Christians to live in community. That being said, I cannot imagine that the first church concerned themselves with the great detail of so-called “ministry” because they were too busy learning and living together for the cause of Christ as well as loving each other with the love of Christ that they could not imagine anything else. What caused this? Why are today’s Christians not intimate, engaged and focused on glorifying Christ accurately and in sync with the scriptures?
- What we do has replaced who we are. – the church are those for whom Christ died, who believe in Him, who live together for the sake of each other to His glory etc. The church has never been nor will it ever be a place or any program. A body cannot be defined by its plans but its people.
- Spiritual growth now means ministry involvement. Loosely, “ministry involvement” is seen through assimilation and “ownership”. These things do not make growth.
- Taking care of people has been relegated to programs. Long gone are the days (as the norm) where the whole church cared for itself, taught each other and were concerned greatly for maturity, holiness, benevolence etc. Now people with problems and needs are turned over to a system, not a sister. They are pushed off on a benevolence council instead of a brother.
- Church is now a place rather than a people. We don’t go to church. WE don’t ‘have’ church… we are the church. Sad that we’ve lost that focus as a whole.
- Pastors feel the need to make leaders rather than disciples. Leadership development is SO FAR DOWN the list of priorities of a pastor that he should never use the term. Pastors should replicate themselves in other men who will teach the church and teach others to do the same. We don’t need professionals, we need idiots for Jesus.
- Business has taken over necessities. There is always some “business” when dealing with a large family, but it is the major matter in most congregations. People are just a vote or a small part of something GRAND and that grand thing is not even glorious or eternal, it’s just a worldly thing with Jesus stickers on it. There is nothing more grand and glorious than Jesus Christ revealed in the lives of those who love Him: TOGETHER!
- Working in ministry has become “doing church”. Laboring in prayer, study, teaching, love, rebuke, discipline, etc. is no longer the norm. Rather, people say they work in ministry and haven’t done anything with anyone for their good. Planning and vision-casting is not ministry. Promotion is not ministry. Having 1000 people at an event is not ministry. Having more baptisms is not ministry… anyone can do these things; only God the Holy Spirit can bring real ministry into the lives of real people.
- Appealing to the masses and drawing to the “stuff we do” has pushed out preaching. Bring em and keep em… with what will bring em. Nuff said. Reaching people now means getting them to come rather than going out to them with the gospel. As long as people are “in the pews” they seem to be OK “in the Lord.”
How many more could we imagine? SO, how do things like these damage intimacy? Well, where does the “one” get solace in them? Where does the hurt, depressed, injured, angry and maligned find hope in this type of work? What are so often people who need life shuffled around while those who live a false life given bread to eat? The church has lost its bearing and the only correction is to FLUSH it all and get back to the task given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ: TO TEACH everyone to obey what He has commanded….. by His authority and power!
It’s time for a fresh look at our ecclesiology and for the people of God to either reform their families or find actual families that will live and learn and love with them. Because the ERROR has become the NORM, when a church desires to live like they should, it scares many people away. Why are you afraid of intimacy when it is the place you find peace and hope and life; first with Jesus and then with His people.
Something to consider.
As long as there has been sin in the world there have been people with problems. Adam’s first issue was the fact that he was naked and then ashamed; Eve likewise. Since then the problems of humanity have compounded to an immeasurable proportion and it is very likely that things are not going to get better for humanity any time soon. The Good News is that Jesus Christ has suffered temptation, suffered in the flesh and risen from death and ascended into Heaven to “prepare” us for the presence of God (Among Many Things found in redemption…). So, those who know the love of God IN and THROUGH Jesus Christ ALONE can have joy in the midst of the problems. As believers, we know that all things are for our good and in time we will see the outcome of such in all circumstances. We understand that God is sovereign and that nothing is out of His touch and decree and that even in the worst of times His love for us is visible, effectual and known.
To this point then let’s remind ourselves of the love of God. First, God is love. So, He is known as love in His nature, love, holiness, character and actions. Second, if we love God it is only because God first loved us. Third, God’s love is only known through Jesus Christ the Son whom HE (God) put forth to satisfy His judgment against us and bring justice for our sin according to His holiness. We learn that there is no greater “love” than for a man to lay down his life for a brother, therefore, God loved the world in this way (so loved) that HE gave His Son. So, we summarize the love of God in the following way:
- God is love.
- God’s love is only known through the GIVING (sending and killing) of Jesus His Son.
- God loves us in the giving of Jesus Christ to die for our sins in that we cannot pay for them ourselves.
So, if we understand God’s love this way according to scripture, then we can rightly assume that to DISAGREE with God’s love through the Son is to REJECT the love of God. Those who reject the love of God are condemned already (John 3:16-18) and are subject to the wrath of God’s hatred for sin and sinners. Hmmmm….. Let that soak a minute and now let’s move to the point of our conversation.
Ministry often times is man-centered. It can been seen in a selfish light of “I want a friend”, “I want a shoulder to cry on”, “I want someone to pity me.” Of course this is not exclusive nor is it the rule but everyone can resonate with such statements. Let’s consider true ministry as “An attempt or effort to love others as God has loved us.” Thinking this way should have already opened your eyes. So, if God ONLY LOVES in the giving of His Son, then in the same manner (like in Ephesians 5:22-25) we should love each other as God loves us. We are unable to put Jesus the Son on the cross for He has already fulfilled His ministry as the Lamb but we are able to POINT TO THE LOVE of God for us and in doing so we are LOVING each other.
Ministry takes on a whole new light when we think biblically and especially when people come with their problems.1 Thessalonians 5:14 teaches that the church should be admonished when idle, encouraged when downhearted and strengthened when weak.
Everyone needs a good ear from time to time and it is always good when a believer seeks out counsel from a brother or sister in the local family of faith. In this seeking of counsel often times it comes to the point of just listening to someone whine about how bad things are rather than seeking good counsel. In the end it is always improper (according to our understanding of love) to allow someone to just fall into pity and self-centeredness for any reason. Our love for them should point them to the promises of God through His word and in the admonishing of the idle a stern warning comes first to BE IN THE WORD and BE IN THE BODY.
Without these two things no counsel will work, no hope will stick, no joy will arise. To give someone a shoulder to cry on while they live in continual disobedience and rejection of what the scripture teaches on how they are victors is “like” casting a diamond into the sea in hopes it would swim to a new family for their wealth or maybe like throwing a pearl in a pig sty. In other words, it does NO GOOD at all to just allow someone to ignore the power of God and His gospel just to have a pity party.
The answers to life come from God’s word, the power of victorious living come from the word, hope and courage come from God’s word… grace comes from God’s word. The letter of James tells us that those who see and do the word of God are victorious and rest on a solid foundation and just like Psalm 1, their feet will be planted and produce great growth. So, when someone needs wisdom, we go to scripture and show them to “ask and it will be given.” When someone needs comfort we exhort them to believe Jesus Christ when He says, “come to me all who are weary.” When one comes broken in their battle over sin we show them that Christ has suffered in every way and with every temptation but has sinned not. Others come with worry and in need of answers to their problems that they would find an escape and Godly council says, “stand fast in the fiery trials” and “do not be surprised” when they come.
Being out of the word of God and away from God’s people is like asking God to save you from burning as you set yourself on fire. Well maybe not quite as dramatic… but you get the point. At the cusp of this matter lies the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ, who are ambassadors of the living God through the redemption that is theirs in Christ. Sadly, many who want counsel want more than what the Word of God offers or want to be free from the pain of this life and sadly apart from the Word they will never find answers.
So what is the point of this rambling treatise? For all of those who diligently minister to those in need, please remember that the greatest ministry is the ministry of the word and the greatest friend is found in the body of Christ. So as we labor to answer the questions of life for others and we point them to the word of God we put our hope in Christ not ourselves. If we find some who refuse to hear and heed the word but they keep coming back for something else, it may be that we have to just clearly show them we have nothing more for them. Part of the pain of the Father’s discipline is being alone when we reject the Father’s instruction. Not to say we abandon others but we surely have to be clear that there is little we can do to help if they will not hear.
Warn the idle, encourage the downhearted and strengthen the weak through the word of God – if they do not listen, pray that God will cause them to listen and in their silent and lonely search for hope, God the Spirit will guide them back to His written word and back into the intimacy of His Holy People!
Pastors, never forget the fragile state in which we live and serve. We are flesh, all of us, and must depend upon the mighty hand of God in all things. It is God who keeps us and holds us from the schemes of the enemy, the attacks of the world and the lust of the flesh. God in Christ Jesus seals us in holiness and steadfastness, gives us a heart to love the church of Christ with all the affection of Christ and allows us to find the greatest satisfaction amongst the deepest of suffering. We must never move our eyes from the glory of the one who can sit us upon the rock of righteousness and who has snatched us out of death, out of darkness and transferred us to the light of the Son and to the Kingdom therein. When this life is “able” we fail. When we look to our own holiness, we fail. When we feel content in our walk with Christ, we fail. When we subject our calling to the ways and ideals of this world, we fail. But even then oh brothers, Christ cannot fail and He will rescue us from the mundane, the philosophy of our minds, the brokenness of our discipline and the lacking of our zeal. Then our broken shards will cut through the dead flesh of men by the proclamation of Christ who sets the prisoners free by the blood poured from His own broken body. Remember that it is a gift of the miraculous grace of God when we suffer, when we mourn, when we are lowly so that our pride is put behind us and our very souls are endeavored to rest in His supreme hand.
May our boasting be in Christ and may our lives be a sacrifice to the praise of HIS glorious grace; not our own lest we labor for nothing. It is far better to be no one in any historical sense and to have the mount of calvary as our epitaph in an unmarked grave than to be honored by men and praised through generations only to realize we left trash to be burned at the coming of the Lord.
Rise up pastor, bow down pastor… the Lord is true.