This week, Pastor Pete Wilson’s name is coming up on newsfeeds after he stepped down as Pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville. Pete’s a great guy and handled his resignation in a positive way. He stepped down, primarily because of exhaustion and burnout. He’s tired. He’s broken. He’s not okay. But he is in the good hands of a good Father.
Unfortunately, over the last month or two, dozens – perhaps hundreds of pastors, have stepped down from their positions because of burnout. It’s epidemic. And that’s the point Karl Vaters addresses on his blog, Pivot, this week…
The pain of one pastor is intensified under the unforgiving glare of the spotlight, while the pain of another is ignored. Both hurt equally…
The pain of the megachurch pastor is intensified by failing under the unforgiving glare of the spotlight, while the pain of the other is amplified by failing in anonymity. Forgotten by almost everyone.
Both scenarios are toxic. They break the heart of Jesus, they damage his church, they devastate pastors’ families, they ruin ministries and they make it harder for church members to trust a pastor again – or to trust God again.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way.
We have to let go of the unbiblical expectations that have been placed on pastors’ shoulders. That we’ve placed on our own shoulders.
Pastors were never meant to carry this big a burden. No one person is capable of being the preacher, teacher, vision-caster, CEO, leader, evangelist, soul-winner, fundraiser, marriage counselor, and all-around paragon of virtue that we expect pastors to pull off – many of them while working a full-time job outside the church walls.
But it’s been done this way for so many years, it sometimes feels like a runaway train that can’t be stopped.
It must be stopped.
No one can stop this runaway train but us, pastors.
We have to say no.
For some of us, that means saying no to the unreasonable expectations of our church members, deacon boards and denominational officials. But for all of us it means saying no to our own unbiblical expectations of ourselves. Saying no to a paradigm that we have built and perpetuated around a combination of our own egos and insecurities.
We are not the builders of the church, Jesus is.
We are not capable of working ourselves to the bone emotionally and spiritually without something breaking inside us.
We can’t keep pushing ourselves physically with too little sleep, too much food and too little exercise.
We can’t keep neglecting our spouses and families while we burn the ministry candle at both ends and not expect that everyone – our families, our churches and ourselves – will pay an enormous price for it.
We have to redefine what success in ministry looks like. Because too many good people are being hurt as we pursue our current, unsupportable version of success.
I was there once. My wife has had reason to worry about me in the past. After reading about Pete’s experience and knowing that he’s fourteen years into what we would deem a very successful church planting effort, she thought about that possibility that I could reach the precipice of burnout again, as I have done once before.
I’m in a healthy place at the moment – not because things are going well circumstantially, mind you – but because I’ve been discovering over the last few years the power of God’s grace, the healing found in confession and repentance, the burden-easing blessing of being vulnerable and having friends, and the enormous support that Angie is to me on a daily basis.
But I could be there. If I drift from Jesus… if I fall out of rhythm again… if I fail to tap deeper into the gospel… it could be me. It’s been too many of my friends and of our brothers and sisters serving the flock for God’s glory.
If it’s you, reach out. Talk to your spouse. Talk to a friend, a mentor, a coach, a counselor. There’s never shame in leaning on the support of those who are gifted and sent into our lives to help us bear the burden of our calling.