Something's wrong. We pastors are the stewards, the spokespeople, the advocates of a message of hope, life, and peace. And yet so few of us seem to be experiencing these qualities in our own lives. Something's wrong. In a world saturated with fear, insecurity, and stress, we are to show a different way. And yet those at the center of the church are burning out and leaving ministry at a rate of 1,500 per month. If that's what's occurring at the heart of the church, why would anyone on the fringe want to move in closer?
I've just read an article by two Christian counselors about the soul-killing impact of church ministry on leaders. (The statistic above comes from them.) They note that the pressure to grow the church is a significant factor leading to pastoral burn out. And some pastors "admitted they promoted growth models that were incongruent with their values because of a desperate need to validate their pastoral leadership." It seems too many of us have our identities wrapped up in the measurable outcomes of our work rather than in the life-giving love of the Christ we proclaim. Something's wrong.
I spent last week in western Iowa and met many wonderful pastors and church leaders. These men and women don't lead megachurches. They're not in chic urban or suburban communities where new cultural trends are born. In other words, they're not the people you're likely to see on the platform at a ministry conference. More than one church leader approached me during the week holding back tears. Each confessed he was on the verge of mental/spiritual/emotional collapse. The cause sited by all: the pressure to perform.
Some might say these leaders have failed to nurture their souls sufficiently. We usually want to blame leaders for their own burn out, but when I see the pervasiveness of this problem I wonder if there isn't also a systemic factor. Could contemporary church ministry itself be the problem?
When I peruse ministry books, websites, magazines, and attend conferences I'm bombarded with one overwhelming message: great ministry results are the product of great ministry leadership. If a church is growing, if lives are changing, if budgets are burgeoning - it must be because the leader is doing something right. Conversely, if the church is shrinking, if lives are struggling, if budgets are busting - it must be because the leader is inept. As a result, a pastor's success and self-worth is inexorably linked to his/her measurable performance. Stewing in this toxic brew is it any wonder why pastors' souls are shriveling. Something's wrong.
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