The Burnout Myth

Have you heard about the mega church pastor who suddenly quits? It’s not always a moral scandal or leadership failure that drives them out. Often the press release sites a seemingly simple and even avoidable culprit: “burnout”. I won’t even mention recent examples because I have no case against these men personally. There are pressures unique to high profile ministry assignments, and obscure ones too.

However, the notion that a pastor would feel totally spent is mostly a North American phenomenon. Interestingly it’s not as prevalent in countries where pastors have to work a secular job, battle the challenged of a conflicting cultural religion, or run the risk of government sponsored persecution. It’s in the easy breezy nominally Christian culture of American that most pastors burn out.

My thesis is pretty simple. Burnout is the not the result of work, but of stress over not doing real work. Deep down, what crushes your spirit is the contempt you feel for how shallow your chores have become. I don’t mean mundane, but shallow. You spend your days in meetings, promoting your brand, extending your influence, broadening your network, and pouring over reports you consider performance indicators.

All the while, the infinitely soul satisfying work of real ministry is pushed aside. Inner turmoil results. It comes from being distracted by stuff people call ministry. It comes from believing that you are obligated to be all things to all men. The result is that you become nothing to anybody.

Sifting through the debris of a burnout will likely show a man seduced into thinking he’s a corporate executive, ironically missing the point that the best corporate executives don’t do what a lot of pastors pretending to be corporate executives do.

Perhaps the best remedy would be to remind yourself you are not as important as you think. Get to work on the most important thing, and then work on not working the rest of the time. The ministry will go on without you, and the more often you test this theory, the better off you’ll be. As a further benefit, the church will be healthier too.

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