From Christianity Today
By Karl Vaters
It never gets easier. No matter how many times you hear about it.
And we’re hearing about it a lot more lately. In epidemic numbers.
Another pastor announced to his stunned congregation that he couldn’t do it anymore. He loved them. He was proud of the kingdom work they’d done together for years. But he’d gotten his priorities out of whack. He’d put all his time and energy into the church and had neglected his own spiritual and emotional health.
He asked the congregation to pray for him and his family as they faced the next difficult phase of their lives – not knowing what that phase would bring.
Then this pastor gathered the congregation of 20 people to the front of the church to pray together one last time. Him for them. Them for him and his family. They prayed, hugged, cried and said goodbye.
As I write this blog post, that pastor is packing up the family’s belongings in a rental van to move from the small town they’ve called home for more than a decade. For now, they’ll live with his wife’s parents to recoup and recover.
Too Many Burned Out Pastors
Unfortunately, that pastor wasn’t the only one to have such a story last Sunday. Hundreds did. This year, thousands will leave the ministry, burned out and hurting. From big and small churches, growing and stagnant ones.
We hear about the famous pastors when they step down or burn out. That’s the price of fame. And it’s a steep one. Both your successes and your failures are amplified.
But a different price is paid by those who aren’t known to anyone outside their family and small congregation. While the successes and pains of well-known pastors are spotlighted, the successes and pains of the small church pastors are ignored and forgotten.
Both hurt equally. Both bear the burden of the problems that caused them to leave the church, and often the ministry. 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.
Change the Church Success Paradigm
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.
Redefining Success In Ministry
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.
Pray for Each Other
Today, let’s pause. Take a breath. And pray.
Pray for the hurting pastors, known and unknown, who have left a church they loved – and maybe still love.
Pray for the famous pastors suffering under the unbearable glare of the spotlight.
Pray for the unknown pastors feeling lost and forgotten.
Pray for their families who have borne years of pain silently, and who are bearing even more right now.
Pray for the church members who don’t know whether to feel angry, sad or something else.
Pray that the God who promised that his yoke was easy and his burden light, will ease the much heavier burdens we have placed on our own shoulders. And replace it with his peace, his comfort and his hope.
Karl Vaters is pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California.