It isn't fair.
Bill Hybels burned out. He wrote, "The rate at which I was doing the work of God, was destroying the work of God in me." Bill realized this was unhealthy, sought help, reorganized his life, sold a few million books, and achieved, what looked to me, like Pastoral Nirvana.
Rob Bell had around 10,000 people coming to his church when he hit bottom. In Velvet Elvis he wrote, "In the middle of all this growth and chaos was me, superpastor … . It's one thing to be an intern with dreams about how the church should be. It's another thing to be the thirty-year-old pastor of a massive church … People were asking me to write articles and books on how to grow a progressive young church, and I wasn't even sure I was a Christian anymore … It was in that abyss that I broke and got help."
There we go again—same song, second verse. Rob burned out, got help, reorganized his life, wrote a book about an Elvis painting, and his church rocked.
Joshua Harris was in demand as a speaker, writer, and pastor. He too wrote about hitting bottom, reorganizing his life, and attaining redemption. Kyle Idleman of Not a Fan fame shares how he had to re-examine ministry in the midst of exponential growth. In the 2012 winter issue of Leadership Journal Bob Merritt wrote about adding staff, and being courted for speaking engagements outside the church, while at the same time leading the preaching department at Bethel Theological Seminary before his meltdown.
It sounded like a plan to me.
So, after an average first pastorate, we moved from Canada to a church plant of 120 people in New Mexico. I was ready to become a workaholic, see our church grow, have a meltdown, repent of my selfishness, lead a seminary department, and write a best-seller entitled Dogs Playing Poker. Actually, I've never wanted a mega-ministry, but a growing, healthy ministry would be awesome.
I worked like crazy and burned out six years later. So far, so good. The only problem: we were still running 120 people and I wasn't retiring on book sales. When the economy crashed, so did our budget. At the same time a home Bible study got sideways with the church and sucked out both people and energy. Every family that chose to leave caused me personal anguish. Every breakdown, from a video projector to a coffee pot, was a budget-breaker.
I tried harder.
I read more about marketing, went to leadership conferences, and considered getting the cool glasses/tattoo combination to look hip. I silently wondered if we could keep the church open, if I could continue to pay my mortgage. Worse yet, Hybels asked Bono to speak at his Leadership conference for a second time, without asking me once. Not that I'm bitter.
I suppose it's foolish to be jealous of these guys. Hybels is stuck in a world of 1950 flip-charts, Rob needs to use a Topical Bible next time he publicly updates his theology, and Harris is so insecure he covered his face with his hat on the cover of his first book.
But I was jealous, frustrated, and scared. Nothing seemed to be working. These guys had something to show for their burnout. "Please God, let me crash in style. At least then I can write about it. Crashing without something to show for it is humiliating."
It should have been a grand time. My wife JoLynn and I were on an Alaskan cruise for our 30th anniversary. I ended up learning a grand lesson, but I didn't have a grand time learning it.