A strange phenomenon happened in the Pacific Northwest. Large patches of trees were dying in an Oregon forest. Scientists determined the problem was a single breed of mushroom that covered 2,384 acres, about the size of 1,600 soccer fields.
Apparently the white tentacles of the mushroom wrapped around root systems and tree trunks and robbed the trees of nutrients, carbohydrates, and water. In other words, the mushrooms choked the trees to death.
Is ministry your mushroom? I talk to ministers every week who relate to the trees. While everything looks okay on the surface, hidden stressors suck the life out of them. Left unchecked, the consequences are disastrous. For instance, according to multiple surveys …
… Pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in churches.
… Many pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry but have no other way of making a living.
… Far too many seminary and Bible school graduates who enter ministry leave within the first five years.
… A majority of pastors fight depression.
… A high number of pastors admitted the only time they spend in God’s Word is sermon preparation.
If you’ve noticed any of the following conditions, there is a good chance you could be experiencing some level of burnout.
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling isolated
- Growing apathy toward the work
- Pessimism, cynicism and critical attitudes
- Lacking any interest in success
- Developing health problems
- Persistent thoughts about leaving the ministry
- Feeling unappreciated
- Dreading going to the church
Here are seven ideas that I hope will move you from feeling choked to flourishing in life and in ministry.
Forgive quickly. Hurting people hurt people. You deal in ministry with wonderful people, but you also deal with carnal people. People will do things — intentionally or unintentionally — to you and your family that cause hurt and pain. Forgive quickly. You cannot have a right relationship with the Lord without forgiving others. Jesus said, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that have sinned against us.”
Stay focused. Have a few strategic priorities. If you add something, remove something. It is impossible to do everything with excellence. When you boil it down, what makes the cut as the most significant things you do? Focus your efforts there.
Love your family. I visited more than 600 families during the first 18 months after I arrived as pastor of First Baptist Church, Morristown. One evening my wife, Jeanne, said, “I know about the other woman in your life.” She then explained the church was getting my best and my family was getting leftovers. Jeanne’s accurate observation was a defining moment in my life and changed, for the better, how I pastored my people. There is a balance. Find it. If you lose your ministry, you still have your family. However, if you lose your family, you lose the primary ministry the Lord gave you.
Live filled. God-honoring ministry can only come from the overflow of the Holy Spirit in your life. You are always one prayer away from forgiveness and restoration, so seek God’s grace. Confess sin, bury yourself deep in God’s Word, be obedient, pursue God with all your heart and let Him fill you.
Laugh daily. Take ministry seriously but don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t find the humor in yourself or in the world around you. When the Bible says “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:12), God knew we needed a good laugh on a regular basis.
Chill out (relax). Too many pastors (and ministers) burn it at both ends believing they have to be the Mighty Man of God. If that’s you, get over it. Chill out. Seriously. Chill. Out. When God told us to rest on the Sabbath, He meant rest. He knew we’d need a regular time of separation and renewal if we are to manage His flock well.
Finish well. John Steven Ahkwari was a Tanzanian marathon runner in the 1968 Olympics. Just an hour into the race, he fell and badly injured his leg, shoulder, and head. Those attending him pressed him to withdraw, but he pressed on, limping through the darkness as the only runner still on the course. He entered the stadium more than an hour after the winner had received his medal. A reporter asked why he had not quit because 18 others had. His response? “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
God never said He expected you to be first to the finish, but He does expect you to finish well.
Ministry is a labor of love but is not without its challenges. The journey can be rough at times, but it is my joy to be on the journey with you.