“Man, I am so sick of this rain! I’m so sick of…”
It’s funny to me when someone is strained by things they can’t control. I’ve always found it a larger indicator of stress in smaller areas. A man’s wife can be “fine” all day, but when dinner is burned or a hairbrush is dropped unexpectedly you would think World War IV had just started outside. Not even WWIII, no, World War IV is so massive it needs an extra numeral and we couldn’t think of something so massive simply following suit…so WWIV it is. Then it all comes out. Nothing is fine. It is, just not right now, but NOTHING IS FINE, OK, DON’T TOUCH ME I JUST NEED TO DO DISHES FOR THE NEXT 45 HOURS, OK? WHY IS THE STOVE ALWAYS MESSY RIGHT AFTER I JUST FINISHED CLEANING IT. I’M HUNGRY BUT I DON’T WANT TACO BELL FOR THE SECOND TIME THIS WEEK. *dinosaur roar*
This is the kind of turmoil I see in a pastor who is frustrated by something as underwhelming as the rain in the middle of our usual coffee time. He’s burned out, maybe hurt and hasn’t been able to tell anyone. This isn’t the first time since we’ve known each other. It’s not the first time this year. It probably won’t be the last time this year either. The amazing thing to me is when we get to the heart of the matter, and it always takes quite some time, he always blames himself.
It’s not his fault, though, and if you’re a pastor constantly examining yourself in accordance with Scripture and those surrounding you, it’s probably not yours either. Honestly. Half of the older guys reading this are probably being transported to ER right now. Here’s why being burned out probably isn’t your fault:
The Systems (College, Seminary) Focus Heavily On Education and Lack Practical Balance
The other half of the older guys reading this are being transported to the ER.
You’ve been thrown through, on average, six years (!!!) of classes focused on just your understanding of what, who and how God is, works and theologies based on Scripture. And what’s worse, you’re probably Calvinist right now. (Just kidding. Not that you’re Calvinist, just don’t take it personally. After all, God knew you would read this post and immediately react in the manner you just did.)
From all these years of schooling you finally get to take a lead position at a local, thriving congregation.
LOL JK, probably not. You’re statistically set to be in a congregation of 200-ish struggling with other similar churches in the area for younger, sweeter blood who just can’t be bothered to commit to a single church. Because who can be bothered these days, AMEN?! And what a bloodbath it will be for you, young sir. Just try and change anything in your first year. Anything. Even the color of your wallpaper is sacred at this point.
But focusing on the harder to handle aspect of what’s lacking in education is this terrible reality: You’ve been encapsulated in a fantasy world for a majority of your time. You’ve been thrown the ceremonies of achievement when you have yet to achieve anything outside of a 2.0+ GPA, and you’ve been given the books considered most important by people who know you’re going to still have that “Oh crap!” moment your first day in an actual congregation. Why? Seriously, why? They know it, you know it. What’s worse, in a majority of these classes you’ve probably had exactly zero focus on the heavy lifting aspect involving…
The Holy Spirit
You’re going to take part in the best practices of your pro culture, so you’ll put up ads in movie theaters before the previews, you’ll buy billboard spaces with witty slogans, you’ll pimp your church on the street corner dressed up as the latest pop culture sensation to get young families’ attention, and of course you’ll HAVE to get water bottle labels to pass out to all those thirsty and needy people outside the mall who have spent hours slaving away at finding great bargains in Macy’s.
Sure, you’ll have classes on the Holy Spirit in college, but honestly stunts rule your space. What’s worse is your space is running on marketing ideas and strategies from the 90’s, and that’s not even touching on social media. Don’t buy into this. You have such greater opportunity in trusting what is and has been the most effective and personal tool in known history, the Holy Spirit.
Does no one think it’s a little strange that when simple one-dimensional technologies were first crafted (TV, Radio, print even) most were still primarily depending on the power of a supernatural draw on individuals to what was happening? I see it in my own life. When I was constantly seeking and asking, actively looking and listening, I was more in tune and completely out of control…and numbers were not what everyone told me they should be…but everyone was in tune with one another, there was no strife, not a single person cared about the carpet color or the bulletin and fewer still wanted anything outside of what was eternally successful.
Am I saying you should drop all of your plans and programming, singular focuses and strategies? No. But what got you were you are now? And what’s most important in what you’re doing? Baptisms? Salvations? Let’s not be ridiculous, it’s Sunday School or Small/Life/Cell/Community/Discipleship Group numbers, tithing numbers, hierarchy and pleasing the big spenders while also appeasing the 30 and under crowd in your congregation. Be honest, we’ve been trained to think in the modern era that numerical reach is greater than spiritual impact and influence. You’re stuck in a cycle you had no hand in creating, and try and remember for a second with me– what did you think was most important in ministry before you went through your college training?
A few of you will respond with “We do both at our church, and it’s crucial to be able to measure your….” Why? Go back to your 18-year-old days and be a little critical of your stance for five minutes. What’s success? Ask yourself, and understand that you’re also…
Addicted to Gimmicks, and It Is Draining You
Here are just a few of them:
Manipulated baptism services
VBS and sermon themes
Coffee shops on your campuses
Pop culture themes/series (movies especially)
Culture wars (yes, it was a fad and we were stupid to jump in that pit)
Props, light shows, flimsy physical illustrations/object lessons
Stealing other pastor’s gimmicks/flimsy physical illustrations/object lessons
Really anything that tries to make you, your church or your people more relevant to a mass market
You are the new branding kings and queens. Don’t you get tired, depressed, remorseful, discouraged, defeated, etc. just from thinking about how hard you have to try just appease the entertainment value in your people?
Those of you who have the outstanding ability to clearly communicate and apply the Scripture are so caught up in politicking and keeping up with the Joneses that you’re clocked out by Thursday, cruising through Saturday and sleepwalking on Sunday as you promote the next Transformers movie more than you promote the Word of God because you’ve been told this is the most crucial approach in reaching the ‘unchurched’ community. What kind of words and thoughts are these? When was the last time we took a step back and criticized ourselves and our approaches? Do we really believe this back-and-forth recycling of “Method can change, but message remains the same”? What’s going to be our next method, or is this another ideology for mass marketing a spiritual set of person-to-person values?
You can fix this. Really, you can be the crazy guy enjoying his time as a pastor. Take a step back, think about this for a second: what is being stressed in your meetings? Is it numbers and and growth or is it community and strategy for for greater impact and intimacy?
Look and listen to the speech being washed and repeated among your groups.
Are you a hipster black ops organization or a shepherd tending to God’s flock? It’s easy to tell because if you’re the first you’re living just another version of the American Dream, believing your worth is in your boat, your house, your competitive salary, and whatever else is being sold your way in the next pastor’s convention. You are either engaged and thriving in the land of service and reality, or you are continuing to get high on the next gimmick sold and fighting over the same set of unsatisfied people chasing the next high that require less work, gives you a greater sense of fulfillment, requires less time and has fewer emotional side effects.
You can be more than an overgrown startup or MLM group selling the same goods you’ve been sold and grow into a Kingdom-oriented service. You can. You need to start being honest with yourself, and you need to breakaway from this dribble of the next best thing. We have the best thing. You are part of it as His son. Let this be the basis, the gospel of Jesus Christ unto salvation, sufficient as it ever was, superseding all dreams and gimmicks, providing rest supreme to the servants called to carry it to the ends of the world. If this is how you started, if it is what you believe, it’s not your fault.