How Calvinism Makes Fewer Burnt-Out Pastors

Article
07.17.2018

We often hear that sound doctrine matters. It helps a church become stable, strong, and protected from the heretical winds that are always blowing.

Yet we don’t often hear about the importance of sound doctrine to the pastor’s own life—how it keeps him stable and strong over the long haul. Yet good doctrine is crucial for sustaining a pastor, and this is especially true of Calvinistic doctrine.

Calvinism biblically balances God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in a way that should produce healthy and refreshed ministers. It goes a long way toward preventing one major occupational hazard of pastoral work, namely, pastoral burnout.

MORE THAN COMMON-SENSE ADVICE

As in any demanding profession, pastors can burn out due to the sheer amount of work to be done within the few hours each day. The workload can easily become too much for the emotional frame to handle.

Sadly, counselors then advise pastors to avoid burnout with the common-sense advice they give to anyone: take time for recreation and rest; tend to your family; and so forth. It’s the kind of counsel you will find in leadership magazines for any secular organization

Such advice is not bad. As I said, it’s common sense. Yet Christians should look to a more foundational source of help: the gospel we believe in. In particular, pastors should remember God’s sovereignty in all things, especially salvation.

HOW CALVINISM PREVENTS BURNOUT

A Calvinist, said B. B. Warfield, is someone who “believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, and willing…throughout all his individual social and religious relations…” How then does believing that God is God in all our thinking, feeling, willing, and relations prevent ministerial burnout?

To begin with, it’s liberating to know God is in control of all things, especially if we’re laboring on “hard ground” for gospel and biblical truth. We learn to labor faithfully and leave the fruit to God.

This confidence gave the apostle Paul poise in ministry. People compared him to Apollos. He replied, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5–7). He felt no pressure to be like Apollos.

This confidence is equally applicable when it comes to conversions. Calvinistic theology says we are responsible to pray and present the gospel. But it keeps us from thinking that we can do anything to bring about the conversion of sinners. We know that regeneration is a sovereign act of God. We must plant the seed and water it. But God alone gives growth. Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

The knowledge of God’s sovereignty is an all-important counterbalance for conscientious pastors who want to do a good job for the Lord. Knowing that spiritual work is a fruit of the Holy Spirit alone liberates us from the burden of doing something we’re incapable of doing. It removes an improperly-placed weight from the pastor’s shoulders, yet without taking away the responsibility of being faithful.

Lastly, the Calvinist’s passion for the glory of God alone causes a pastor to care less about the opinions of men. This passion involves more than developing a thick skin. Rather, as Warfield puts it, Calvinism is “that sight of the majesty of God that pervades all of life and all of experience.” It’s a positive preoccupation with who ultimately matters in life—God! You are liberated from working to please men, and increasingly work to please God alone.

So instead of only giving pastors commonsense counsel about how to prevent burnout, let us go one step further and encourage them to regularly refresh themselves in the strong old Calvinistic doctrines. That way, we will gaze upon God as we labor in the trenches of ministry. If we do so, we’ll find less burnout casualties in our ranks.