I immediately felt sick to my stomach. Another messy issue with a church leader flooded my social media feed. It was smeared all over major media networks. Another black eye for the Church. I read the comments below the article and cringed. I thought of the pain the leader, the family and the church must’ve been going through.
Over the next few weeks I cracked open honest conversations about this situation with half a dozen pastors. Every conversation seemed to echo the same thing; something is systemically wrong. Something is missing. Something is awry. Christian leaders are crumbling while popular culture points and laughs. It stings a little worse each time.
A few months later I sat in a cold plastic chair preparing to speak to a room full of pastors. My eyes bounced around the room as pastors filled the chairs. They limped into the room visibly marked with stress. They dragged heavy burdens that bent the floor beneath them. A few leaders paced in the back as they talked “business” to leaders back home. Others were glued to their screens banging away at sermons and emails. Others collapsed into chairs, their bodies threadbare and aching for a break. Many showed obvious patterns of fast food lunches and forgone exercise sessions, probably in the name of gospel work. The room was absent of smiles and laughter.
If I were a young leader on the brink of discerning a pastoral call I would take one look at this room of pastors and run. I wouldn’t sign up for that. Not today, not ever.
Both scenarios replay frequently in my mind. The first one more blatant, the second one more subtle. Both are glaring markers that something has gone terribly wrong. We’ve lost our way. Perhaps we’ve been distracted by good things and abandoned the best things. Perhaps we’ve taken our eyes off the prize. Perhaps we have no grid for anything different than weathered souls and tired bodies.
If you were going to burn out how would you do it? Every time I ask leaders this question it knocks them off balance like a right hook to the jaw. After a quick stumble they usually tease out an answer. Occasionally leaders tell me, “More of what I’m doing now.” I follow the rabbit hole. I ask, “If nothing changes how long do you have before you burn out?” I get concerned with anything less than six months. I’ve never met a leader who set out to burn out. No one dreams of accomplishing a few milestones and flaming out. We don’t land there on purpose. We have to take this seriously. This is a big deal. Burnout can happen to anyone, that includes you.
Pastor, we love you. You are doing very hard and confusing work. You bear a lot of burdens for others, and it’s hard to ask others to bear yours. You are more than a sum of what you do for others. You matter. We see you. Please put more energy on the health of your soul than the impact of your role. Your emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health is worth investing in. You tell us this on Sundays, but we want to remind you that you are God’s dearly loved kid not because of what you do, but because of who you are.
— Excerpts were taken from The Right-Side up Leader; Choosing Health in the age of Impact by Alan Briggs. It is our gift to you right now. Download it here.