Forty percent of pastors make it to the five-year mark in ministry before they are ready to leave. Burnout is a natural temptation for anyone in the helping professions.
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I pastored for five years and was under the impression Monday was my off day. It was when I stopped pastoring that I realized how a day off was an illusion. Though our staff took every Monday off, we were never really off because pastors cannot walk away from pastoring. It is a burden you carry regardless of whether you are on the clock.
Biff is 46-years old. He has been pastoring for nine years. He is burned out and is ready to leave the ministry. He comes to you for counseling. What questions do you want to ask him? Where do you want to go with Biff?
My fictional Biff has not rested in nine years, and he is ready to quit the ministry, or possibly try to find those proverbial greener pastures, which he believes is somewhere in his future.
What would you want to know about Biff? Here are nine questions I would ask him, with the hope of helping him through his discouragement. I recommend he bring his wife along for more objective analysis and dialogue.
A Comprehensive Question:
How does he define ministry? One of the things I would want to know is how Biff describes ministry. Does he see ministry as what he is doing for a living or as an all of life responsibility? Being a Christian and doing ministry are uniquely tied together. To be one is to be the other.
Many people in our church culture have defined ministry more like a vocational pursuit, rather than a way of life. Jesus ministered the gospel everywhere He went. Doing ministry is less about a job and more about a lifestyle.
This kind of thinking helps in several ways, one of which is it releases him from spending too much time on the job as though his work is all that matters in his life. Work is only a fraction of Biff’s overall ministry.
- Does Biff have a comprehensive view of ministry or a vocational view of ministry?
- Is Biff ministering to his health needs? Is he getting rest? Is he exercising?
- Is Biff ministering to his wife and family? How can you tell?
A Character Question:
Does he struggle with selfish ambition? Men are susceptible to the work trap. The work trap is finding your identity or your significance through what you do rather than who you are as God’s child. People in ministry are prone to this sin.
Power, prestige, superiority, self-worth, and reputation are some of the bad drives that feed the selfish ambition construct. One of the things I would want to understand about Biff is how much of his identity is wrapped up in his job.
Is he searching for significance through his job? If this is true, the ministry could be the carrot he is chasing. Because work was not meant to bring satisfaction the way Christ can, Biff may be tempted to press too hard, while expecting too much from ministry.
If this is true, Biff is chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He will never be satisfied. Should he quit his current job, he will be a repeat offender: in five years his job dissatisfaction will motivate him to leave again.
- Can Biff be just as content in a blue-collar job as in a white-collar job?
- How much does Biff derive his identity and significance from what he does?
- What kind of grip does Biff’s job have on him? Can he walk away from it?
A Capacity Question:
Is he working above his grade level? There are different kinds of gifting or gift mixes for pastoral ministry. For example, the gift mix for a planting pastor is distinct from the skills necessary for a pastor of an established church.
There is a different gift mix needed for a pastor of 250 people versus a pastor of 500 or 1000 people. Sometimes a pastor can start a church, but as it grows, it expands beyond his ability to bring proper care to the people.
Maybe the Lord has given Biff a unique gift mix for a particular people group, who are in a unique season of church life. One of the reasons some churches do not mature well is because the leadership is not equipped to take them to the next level.
- Will Biff allow himself to be carefully and practically assessed to see if he is the right fit for his church?
- Have the needs of the church outgrown Biff’s ability to care for them?
- How well does Biff flex and grow with the progression of the church?
A Calling Question:
Is this what Biff is supposed to be doing with his life? Calling can be misused in our church culture today. Sometimes it is used dogmatically: “God called me to do this.” That is subjective analysis at best.
The wise and humble person will refrain from that kind of dogmatism while holding what he is supposed to do in life with a looser grip. The only way to be entirely sure of what you are called to do is to look back at your life. The “rearview mirror” will reveal your calling accurately.
The only things we can be sure of are the things that have already happened. Thus, the calling question is similar to the capacity problem in the previous section.
- Is Biff good at what he is doing? Is he a good shepherd?
- Though he may sense an internal call, is there an external call: do others see a particular work of God in his life that affirms specific gifting for a specific task?
- Two common signs of a confirmed calling are (1) contentment in the soul and (2) maturation of the ministry. Is Biff content? If not, why not? Is the church he leads maturing?
A Contentment Question:
What does he want to do? Contentment is key to any person’s life. It is the key that reveals your real walk with God. Not to be content is to not live in the transformative work of God, which the gospel brings to you.
Discontentment is a powerful way of saying, “God’s Word is not true for me.” If Jesus came to give you a better life by regenerating you, but grumbling and complaining characterize your life, it means your heart is out-of-line with the gospel.
Discontentment perverts a person’s thinking. It sounds like this: “I could be happy if ________________.” The only right answer to this statement is, “I could be happy if Jesus saves me.” (See Deuteronomy 33:29) If He has saved you, your position in Christ should be greater than any position you could have in this world.
- Your contentment comes from the Lord. If Biff is not content, you must ask why.
- What would make him content? If the answer is anything other than Christ, idolatry is in play in his heart.
- Doing what you want to do is a perk rather than a right or a guarantee. Some people work jobs because they have to, not because they want to, and they are content.
A Control Question:
Does he delegate ministry? If a ministry is going to grow, it becomes essential for the leader of the ministry to delegate his responsibilities. If he does not do this, three possible outcomes could happen to him and his ministry:
- The leader will not allow the organization to grow beyond what he can control.
- If it does grow beyond his ability to control it, he will have to change or suffer the consequences.
- Those affected by the ministry will become more frustrated by how he manages things.
Ultimately, a person who cannot delegate does not trust others. Usually, they have a way in which they want things to happen. Rather than risking things not happening according to their expectations, they do not delegate.
If they do delegate and things are not the way they wanted them to be, they can give those doing the work a hard time. This tactic creates a lot of relational conflict within staffs and ministries.
This self-reliant controlling can stunt a ministry as well as the motivation of others to work well with the organization.
- Does Biff lead by delegating and equipping?
- Are those under him thriving because of his ability to envision and equip them to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12)?
- Does he hold his job loosely, knowing he is merely warming a seat for the next guy?
A Collaborative Question:
Does he work well with others? Tied to the controller issue is the “does he work well with others” question. Ministry was never meant to be a lone ranger pursuit. Even the Savior of the world discerned the need to build a team.
Team building is not just for the accomplishment of great things in God’s world. Team ministry should first of all be a reciprocal-sanctification-benefiting-context where the team can mutually encourage each other.
Even if the church is small and does not have a supervisory board, the wise pastor will begin identifying and isolating potential future leaders and begin the process of equipping them so they can come alongside him to care for and encourage him.
- Does Biff have a team who can come alongside him?
- Five years are typically long enough to identify, isolate, envision, and equip leaders. What has this process looked like for Biff?
- Who are the people caring for his soul? How competent are they?
A Church Question:
Has he envisioned his people? The small church characterization is the preacher has to do everything. This mindset is as antiquated as it is unbiblical. The pastor’s primary job is to equip the church to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
The pastor should not be doing the hospital visits, soul-winning, counseling, and having meals with all the members. The pastor cannot be everybody’s personal life coach.
The pastor is an equipper. If he does not equip and replicate himself into others, the church will not grow. The pastor is not detached from his staff or his congregation but is engaging his sheep by envisioning and equipping them.
- Biff has had five years to envision his church. How has he done?
- Who are the people he is replicating according to 2 Timothy 2:2?
- How are they carrying out the work of the ministry that he has instilled in them?
A Counseling Question:
Who is allowed to speak into his life? A pastor overwhelmed is different and more dangerous than a regular church member being overwhelmed. He is God’s man serving as God’s under-shepherd to a local manifestation of the body of Christ.
Frankly put, he is leading them, and if he cannot handle it, the church is in a precarious place.
One of the more common things I have experienced in serving ministry leaders is the multi-faceted dangers of being alone. They may live a considerable portion of their lives in the public domain, but the community is rarely caring for them well.
- Is Biff teachable, correctable, approachable, entreatable, moldable, and counsel-able?
- Is Biff open to correction?
- Are there people in Biff’s life who are perceptive and discernible enough to see what others may not perceive about him?
- Are there people in Biff’s life who have the grace and courage to counsel him according to who he is and what he needs?
Call to Action
There are over thirty questions sprinkled throughout this article. Biff and his wife need to take their time and be deliberate, prayerful, and reflective as they examine the issues, their hearts, and God’s Word. I would appeal to him to share this article and what is going on in his heart with some trusted people in his church.
If no one at his church can handle this level of truth, I suggest he find someone outside his church to be part of his care team. He should meet, pray, and talk about these questions. If we can be part of this call to action, by all means, join our community. Let us care for you.
Perhaps you are a church member who has observed some of these things in your pastor. If so, I appeal to you to take this article and your thoughts to the Lord. Ask Him to give you the grace, the wisdom, and courage to respond in such a way that will serve your pastor and your church.
Also published on Medium.