Monday, August 02, 2010

Even more on pastoral burnout

Hey, even the New York Times is looking at this issue!

Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

Stop me if you have heard this from me before…

I am sure you will be shocked to hear this, but I don’t think the solution is for pastors to “take more time off” or to eat better and exercise (which is probably a good idea especially among Southern Baptist pastors!). The Biblical solution is to lead the church the way the Bible describes, i.e. to equip and release Christians to do the work of ministry. Reports like this are more and more frequent and are the inevitable result of a system where we have professionalized ministry and subcontracted it to a select few. If something bad happens in most churches, the body turns to the pastor because frankly no one else is equipped to handle a crisis. If the majority of men were equipped and understood their responsibility to minister to one another, pastors could feel more comfortable not being on call every second of the day.

The church is not intended to operate in a system where a few men minister to the rest of the local body. It is a system where mature men equip other Christians to do the work of ministry and presumably where those equipped Christians mature and in turn equip others. That is how the church grew in the earliest days and it is how it should be working now. In the beginning of Acts 8 we read of the early church being persecuted and scattered except the apostles. Instead of freezing up because their leaders weren’t around, “those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4) . That is indicative of people who are equipped to minister instead of people who freak out when their pastor leaves. A church with 150 members and a full-time pastor should have 150 equipped or being equipped Christians who are ministering in their community instead of 1 man ministering indefinitely to those 150 Christians. 150 Christians equipped and ministering to their community are going to have far more impact than one man perpetually ministering to “his flock”.

I know pastors are stressed and burned out. They work hard, they carry enormous burdens and the whole church is overly dependent on them. The whole system is one of co-dependency, pastors who are dependent on congregational giving to pay their bills and congregations who are dependent on pastors to do the entire work of ministry on their behalf. Little wonder pastors are burned out and leaving “the ministry” in droves and Christians by and large are incapable of ministering and witnessing, The solution is not to slap a band-aid on the problem by giving them occasional vacations or sabbaticals. It is for Christian men to step up and insist on being equipped instead of watching someone else do the ministering. For that to happen, we are going to need an enormous shift in our understanding of the church, of ministry and of Christian leadership. Thank God indeed that this change is starting to take hold in the Body of Christ!

(HT: Tom Ascol)


Tim Aagard said...

"to equip and release Christians to do the work of ministry"

These are sound words but the existing system cannot accomplish it except for in a tiny percentage of the saints. Why? The clergy system rejects Paul's teaching and example on "refusing the right to be paid" with a passion that says "I would rather die than give up the boast that I ministered free of charge." 1 Cor. 9

The tragic repercussions of the hired clergy system are many, only one of which is burned out and stress clergy trying to wear so many ministry hats.

1. The system is essentially an outsourcing of believers ministry responsibility to an expert. No one will claim this to be true but it is. Saints are paying good money out and expect back services for themselves. The pastor cannot and will not equip believers to do what he does because it's his lively hood. He does not want to give that away.
2. Ministry with even 1 hired expert must be 70 - 150 people in "the flock" to pay a salary. This is a complicated shepherding task that might require a hired guy. No business man or even group of businessmen want to take on that challenge with all the cultural expectations added on. The whole concept of "preach the word" now means lecture the word for 30 - 45 minutes.
3. "THE ministry" as it stands to day, is a deeply accepted tradition complete with all it's stress and trials. They are counted as "suffering for Christ" that will earn them a special reward. I think they have forgotten that the special reward comes from ministering free of charge (1 Cor 9 end section)

Tim Aagard said...

As long as Americans are wealthy enough to afford a hired sermon every week or can gather in large enough venues to afford several of differing expertise, this tradition will continue complete with all it's disfunction, stress and low equipping expectations. The simple, clear revelation in the Word calling for a very different dynamic is not enough to move God's people to obey.