Dear Christian Leader,
The office of Christian leadership is one of incredible reward and incredible responsibility. It is a privilege to be able to serve one’s fellow man in ministry and all its various forms, but it is also at times a great burden to carry.
And in the office of ministry, so many are burning out.
The most common statistic I am aware of is that 50% of pastors burn out. That is amazing. That means if you’re a pastor and I’m a pastor, one of us is going to eventually give out and drop the profession altogether due to exhaustion. It’s a very real struggle that so many of us face.
And so dear friend, I don’t know what capacity you find yourself in as you read this. Perhaps you are reading this because you are involved in church leadership but have found yourself starting to wear out a bit lately. Maybe you’ve gone beyond that point and found yourself in a state of constant exhaustion at even the idea of serving in a church setting ever again. Or maybe you are aware of some people in your world who are going through this struggle right now and just want to know what to do.
You may be a senior pastor. You may be a connect group or home cell leader. Maybe you lead worship, run the kids’ ministry, oversee outreach. Maybe you’re involved not directly in a church setting but perhaps in a Christian organization. And maybe today you feel yourself starting to give out. Or maybe you were involved, but have a bad taste in your mouth and a weary heart even years later.
This letter is addressed to you, dear friend.
You are very near and dear to my heart, and I am writing to let you know that you don’t have to remain tired anymore, that someone cares for you, and that you are able to live out your destiny even now. There is a way through what you’re going through, and hopefully this will help light your way.
We burn out in ministry for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it is due to extreme pressure. Sometimes it’s due to a lack of feeling appreciated. Sometimes you’ve just been in a particular office for an extended period of time and you’ve started to lose heart. Sometimes there is conflict or a change in leadership. You may have been a senior pastor and had your board come against you. You may have even just been serving coffee on Sunday mornings and found yourself exhausted in your service.
I have some thoughts for you as one Christian leader to another. I’ve had the honour of being able to serve with different types of Christian leaders in multiple capacities across a number of denominations and age groups, and found that there are some timeless truths that can help you with what you’re going through.
Don’t do it alone
The office of ministry is one of selflessness. You are often using your best efforts and your spare time to invest in people who don’t necessarily deserve your hospitality or concern, and often with people who cannot and/or will not give you anything back. This is the idea we have as inspired by our role model, Jesus.
However, I think sometimes we’re missing a key component of His selfless leadership.
When you think of Jesus, you instantly think of compassion. So many times He would put His own needs aside to serve those around Him.
And yet there were so many times where He would “disappear through the crowds” or “go up to the mountain to pray” or retreat with His disciples. In spite of His deity and His love for people, there were still multiple times where He established some boundaries, took a breather, and retreated into the comfort of His Father and His friends.
You weren’t made to be alone. In fact, Genesis shows that God was displeased with one thing in His creation, and that was the alone-ness of Adam. Adam was great and he had his relationship with God as his foundation. But it was the heart of God, not the heart of Adam, who first is recorded as communicating this lack in his life.
Who are the people in your world who want you for you, not for what you do? Who can you take the mask off in front of? Who are your closest friends? How much about you and what you’re going through, what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, do people actually know?
You can’t lead on empty. You can’t give from what you don’t have yourself. Take a breather and get into the presence of God, and in the presence of those who can invest in you in the same ways you invest in others.
The prophet Elijah, after calling down fire from heaven, ran into the wilderness to hide from Jezebel’s outrage. He felt defeated and alone. He even told God so. “I’M THE ONLY ONE STANDING UP FOR YOU!” On God’s second visit to this topic, God revealed to Elijah that he wasn’t alone at all, and that there were 7000 other prophets like him.
There are a lot of great people that God has put into your world, dear friend. You aren’t as alone as you sometimes let yourself think.
Don’t lose sight of your calling
It’s a horrible day when you start to despise that which you were born to do. So many of us start the office of ministry with such zeal and fervour about what it is we’re involved in. We get to teach the Word of God! We get to inspire kids in their relationships with their parents and others! We get to help those who are in need! We get to meet new people and help them find family in the body of Christ!
Losing sight of your calling is often one of the first reasons why we start to wear out. We get lost in the busyness of the task. All the administration, all the realities of what people are going through – it can be exhausting. And in doing so we lose sight of the hope to which we have been called.
Remember why it is that you do what you do.
Don’t lose sight of who you are
One of my life passages is the story that most label as the parable of the lost son, or the Prodigal Son as he is often referred to. However, Jesus never labelled it as such – He labelled it as a story of father with two sons.
One of the sons you probably know quite well. He’s the son who lost his way, like all of us have at one point or another. He had squandered the free gifts in his life, wasted his resources, rejected his family and friends back home, tried to build his own empire, and found himself at the bottom of his luck.
But there is another son in the story, and he is a great picture of Christian leaders. The elder brother. You know, the Stay At Home Son. The one who knows all the Matt Redman songs, runs a small group every Wednesday night, the one who volunteers when team numbers are down, the one who remains faithful and consistent even when others are off doing their own thing. The one who has been doing it for years.
And this son is completely discouraged when he sees the life of his wayward brother celebrated. The choice that the eldest son made every morning to serve and be faithful was seemingly overshadowed by the return of a whoremonger.
And in all his work, in all his serving, the prodigal’s older brother got lost in the work and forgot he was a son.
And to this heart, the Father speaks – “Son, you are always with Me, and everything I have has always been yours”.
Don’t lose sight of your identity as a son. You’re not in the family because of what you do. You’re in the family because you’ve been called son, and you have everything you could ever need or want in His gracious company.
Don’t lose sight of Jesus
Ah man, let’s never forget who called us in the first place. We were sinners. We were lost. We were so dirty. We were so far away. We were so guilty. And yet He called us, forgave us, brought us home, cleaned us up, and then gave us the honour of being able to help the world around us with the message of this beautiful Gospel.
This Jesus is the one who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.
This Jesus saw you. You were the joy set before Him. And in His heart, you are still of paramount importance.
And man, you got involved in serving in church or in your organization because of how much you know He loves you, and also because you love Him. Don’t forget that.
And so, dear friend, I don’t know what your next step is from here with regards to your service. Perhaps it’s a season for you where you just need to take a bit of a breather, reach out for help, and get some things sorted. Maybe your season at a certain place has come to an end, and the provision of God has moved to a new place He has for you. Or maybe you just need to stay faithful where you are, and remember the sovereignty and love of the One who has placed you there.
Wherever you find yourself, may you find your strength renewed today.
If you know a friend or family member who you think this may be helpful for, please share with them. Together we can all help each other out in this amazing calling.