Every job has its occupational hazards. Loggers lose fingers. Businessmen go bankrupt. Wrestlers grow cauliflower ears.
What about pastors? Pastors experience burnout. Burnout isn’t so much about physical depletion, though that may be a variable. It’s about spiritual depletion. You spend all day ministering to people. But now you don’t possess the emotional and spiritual resources to continue ministering. You’re like a gas station with no gasoline left. Or a candle whose wick has burned down low.
I’ve had conversations recently with church members who raise their eyebrows at the topic of burnout. And understandably so. Paul speaks of laboring day and night (1 Thess. 2:9). He poured himself out like a drink offering (2 Tim. 4:6). He experienced beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger (2 Cor. 6:5). The man left it all out on the field.
But today, website after website talks about protecting pastors. And so here is 9Marks with our own contribution to this growing field of literature. Maybe our industry is growing soft? Maybe seminaries are churning out snowflakes?
If you’re someone looking for a safe space, separated from the world’s trauma, the pastorate is not for you. Nor is this 9Marks Journal. Pastoral work is and will remain emotionally grueling, physically exhausting, and spiritually fraught. Different men have different capacities, but you should give whatever you have as a sacrifice of praise. You should pour yourself out.
Christ expects this of every Christian (1 John 3:16). And yet, as a minister, you will model it for others (see 1 Thess. 2:8).
With those cautions firmly in place, however, you remain finite. You will reach the end of yourself. The psalmist, too, often reached the end of himself: “I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God” (Ps. 69:3). Maybe “burnout” is just our pop-psychologized way of talking about where the psalmist so often lived. And the psalmist’s cries, remember, point typologically to the One who spent everything (Ps. 69:7–9, 21).
Did Jesus, the Good Shepherd, experience burnout? I guess it depends on how you define burnout. But, no, he never lost the desire to minister, to give, and to love. And that’s good news for you and me. You and I aren’t Jesus. Only he perfectly rested in the Father, and only he was perfectly filled by the Spirit. Though Jesus tired physically, he always burned bright with love and grace. Worship him!
The end of burnout, the revivifying of your soul, won’t solely come through physical rest or a Sabbath. It will come through resting in the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 11:28–30; 12:8).
Therefore, of all the commendable pieces in this Journal, start with Nick Roark’s. He lays out passage after passage from his favorite Puritans, those old doctors to the soul. Each of them speaks to the burned-out saint, and each ministers by pointing to nothing other than Christ. Christ is our refreshment, our ministry, our fire, our life.