One Cure for Burnout: Building a Network of Like-Minded Brothers
A couple of years ago, I would’ve told you that I love preaching and pastoring, that I can’t think of anything I’d rather do more. I also would’ve admitted that I wasn’t sure I could do it for another 10 years.
I had no idea how anyone could do this for more than 20 years. Then I read two helpful books: Reset by David Murray and Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash. Both were huge helps in getting me to the place I am now.
But without a network of like-minded brothers in the ministry, I’m not sure those books would’ve been enough to keep me from burning out. Those relationships are vital for me as I pursue a long and fruitful ministry.
In the first year of our church plant, I got a taste of how isolation can make the normal burdens and pressures of ministry much worse. It’s like throwing a bag of rocks on your back for an already arduous journey. I’ve watched guys try and do ministry like this for years. They’re already fighting discouragement at how slowly the church is growing, both spiritually and numerically, and that gets magnified by their efforts to essentially build the church on a deserted island.
They’re alone, and they start believing lies. They know no one who shares their philosophical convictions about ministry—no one to share in their joys, or walk with them in their struggles. They have no one to lift up their eyes from their own ministry and remind them of the larger work that’s God’s doing in his kingdom.
How can anyone persevere in ministry like that? Well, they often can’t. And here’s why.
You regularly need a biblical reminder about the work of the ministry.
The apostle Paul had to remind the Corinthians that the message of the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). The gospel only makes sense to those who are spiritually discerning.
But let’s not forget that Paul feels the need to remind a church of this. Why? Because they were being attracted to the same kind of pragmatic values shared by the world (2 Cor. 11). Pastors are prone to do the same thing, especially when it seems like the gospel lacks power and the work is going slower than we think it should.
Without a network of like-minded pastors, we forget the biblical principles that excited us about ministry, and we more easily turn to pragmatic methods that have drawn crowds in other ministries. But building strong relationships with other like-minded pastors will remind us that there’s more rest and power in a ministry that’s completely dependent on the Lord (2 Cor. 12:9).
You regularly need to take off your pastor hat with a friend for a minute.
C.S. Lewis said that friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another, “What! You too?” We pastors can find good and godly friendships with many in our own church, but there’s a unique responsibility that we carry for those same friends. Always “being on” as a pastor can be exhausting—and if your wife is the only one that allows you to take off your pastor hat for a minute, then you’re going to exhaust her. (And the church didn’t call her to be another elder).
But in a network of like-minded pastors we find the support and encouragement we need to keep doing what we’re doing. There’s something life-giving about sitting down with a friend who can empathize with your struggles and share in your joys as only a shepherd of their sheep can. In fact, sometimes we need them to shepherd us. Sometimes, we need to shepherd them. Friendships with other pastors are part of the way that God takes care of us and gives us spiritual rest (Proverbs 17:17).
You need to feel like you’re a part of something bigger than your own church.
There are probably plenty of things in your church to be encouraged by. But if hoping to have a role in reaching the world and are only looking at what’s happening inside your own church, then ministry is going to feel something like running on a treadmill. You’re expending a lot of energy, but you’re not actually going anywhere.
When you’re only focused on what your church can do, or should do, or isn’t doing, you develop a kind of tunnel vision that keeps you from seeing God’s greater kingdom work. But by being a part of a larger network of churches that pursue the Great Commission together, you enlarge your perspective. Christ is building his church today, and you’re a part of that work.
As pastors, we should be concerned about what’s happening across the world and what’s happening in the pulpit next door. That concern will help us fight burnout. It will keep us from an unhealthy focus on our own ministry, even as it opens our eyes to be encouraged by what God is doing in the larger work that we’re a part of. Furthermore, a widened concern for how Christianity is faring outside the walls of your church building will necessarily lead to the kind of relationships described above.
If you’re reading this as a pastor and you need friends, then email another pastor in your area and ask them to read this article with you. Maybe it will start a life-giving friendship for both of you.
Here are some other ideas: Get more involved with your association. Regularly gather a small group of pastors together if you don’t already. If you’re a church member reading this, then make sure your pastor is encouraged to have friendships both inside and outside the church. Help your church value the ministry he has to other pastors—perhaps by setting aside money in the budget for it. This will not only be vital for your own church, but also for the larger body of Christ.