On Christian radio, there is a song that begins with a grievance directed toward God about the condition of the world; the poverty, the hatred, the prejudice, the faithlessness. In frustration, God is asked, “Why don’t You do something?” God listens and answers back, “I did! I created you!”
In many different ways, every called worker has responded to God’s call, and with a burning passion in their heart, they answered with joy and expectation. It is that same burning passion in one’s heart that answers God’s call that can so easily lead to burnout and everything that goes with it.
Last month I promised to tell you how I handled the threatening and ministry destroying sense of burnout! Simply put, I considered another call to another church in a different area and situation. I would strongly not recommend this as a way of handling burnout. I went from a small struggling congregation in the Midwest to a large East Coast church with a Christian Day school. Then to a mission church in Northern New Jersey to a specialized ministry in a large church in Texas. To a shrinking large church in New Jersey to a growing and expanding church and school in the Southeastern District. It was quite an adventure, but burnout was never far behind. Considering a call began with concentrated prayer and contemplation. And it felt really good to be wanted. Accepting the call gave me two more weeks of packing and saying goodbye and another two weeks to relocate. It was like an unintentional sabbatical. I would then work “like crazy” until my passion for succeeding brought me again to the point of burnout.
In retirement, I found the benefits of being an “Interim Pastor” that came with a 1 ½ to a two-year commitment. By God’s grace, I did seven interims, always knowing that I could end the commitment when needed. But burnout was never far behind, having never dealt with it in a beneficial way. Don’t get me wrong, I loved ministry, and I loved the people and the places I was called to serve, but burnout was always nipping at my heels. I was blessed and very fortunate to have an understanding wife.
I wish the Seminary would have taught me ways to properly handle one’s passion for the Lord and Christ’s mission. I wish that today’s churches had Wellness Ministries for their called workers. I wish God’s people better understood the pressures and the root causes that bring about burnout. I wish that every congregation personally and seriously developed a wellness team to actively aid and support church workers. And I sure wish pastors and called workers would take more seriously their spiritual, physical, and mental wellness. I believe healthier church workers will strengthen our resolve to be more missional and help our churches become more incarnational and not places of escape to pamper our whims, likes, and dislikes.
“God, why don’t You do something?” “I did,” He says, “I created the church, the very Body of Christ, and I gave to them ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ.’” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Richard Izzard, for Church Worker Wellness
P.S. A good resource for future action is Dr. Bruce Hartung’s book, “Holding Up the Prophets Hands.”