Seattle area Pastor, Eugene Cho, recently wrote a blog post entitled “death by ministry” in which he explored the dangerous statics surrounding pastoral ministry. Cho shared with readers many alarming statistics as well as the joys that surround this unique calling. The statistics Cho presented in his blog are an echoing of the numerous articles surfacing lately regarding pastoral burnout and the unhealthy lifestyle many pastors have succumbed too. The New York Times ran an article in early August discussing these dangers including the fact that “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.”1 The startling finds leave me asking the question, does it have to be this way?
As I read the statics I was deeply saddened by the 50% divorce rate among pastors and 40% of pastors surveyed whom confessed they participated in an extra-marital affair. Divorce and affairs are just a few of the dangers pastors are dealing with these days. I believe one of the issues surrounding pastors is too many neglect setting boundaries and are workaholics. The list of dangers for pastors that I believe are directly affected by working too many hours are the following; Pastoral burning out, leaving the ministry, divorce, a lack of close friends, insufficient time with your spouse and family, a stress-related crisis, depression, and a lack of time with Jesus outside of writing your sermons. All of these things I strongly believe are preventative if pastors would begin to set more boundaries and work less. Yes we are called to do our job well, but when I choose to enter into a marriage and raise a family, I also am called to care for my family and not just financially provide for them.
As a pastor one is called to care for others, to shepherd them, and help them deal with issues in their own lives. However I believe that in the midst of caring for others, pastors have often lost sight of how to care for themselves. I have witnessed many pastors who are indeed overworked by the churches they serve, but I have also seen many pastors who knowingly choose to overwork themselves, neglecting the God given need for a sabbath. The Sabbath is a perfect example of an area that we too often neglected as we pursue our ministry calling. The Sabbath is a Biblically based way that we are called to live, in order to allow God to use us for his good. In Exodus chapter 16 Moses states “This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.””2 Pastors, counselors, teachers, doctors, mechanics, etc. we all NEED a Sabbath.
Recently I was reading the winter 2010 issue of Leadership, in which Rob Bell, founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, was interviewed on his unique communication skills. Throughout the article he expresses his opinion as to what it takes to be a pastor and he speaks to the importance of caring for oneself by stating;
"The other part is sustainability. That’s an important word for me. Some pastors think about how to survive the next five years. The better question to ask is, how are we going to thrive? How do we construct a rhythm and pace of life that ensures five years from now we’ll have more passion, more energy, and we will be filled with new and fresh ideas about life in God’s world?"3
In the same article Rob Bell goes on to encourage those he mentors to “take a Sabbath to remind yourself that you’re not a machine, you’re a human”4 To often we forget the fact that we need to care for ourselves, so we can in turn be better pastors to our churches. The sabbath is just one example of a way in which pastors can begin to better care for themselves.
We as a church and as employees of the church need to come alongside pastors and support them as they set boundaries in their ministry. I have witnessed pressure from pastors who are trying to instill a work ethic in a younger generation encouraging them to often work 50+ hours a week. We have seen how this turns out and I am not sorry that I desire to protect my relationship with Christ, my marriage, and my family more than I desire to please my church. My hope and prayer is that as pastors begin to take a stand to lead healthy lifestyles churches will realize the value in these choices and support them out of respect to how we were created by God to live.
My aim is that you will not be discouraged by the statistics regarding pastoral ministry, but rather you would find a reassurance in the fact that things can and should change. Remember to clear space in your life to pursue God, to spend time with your spouse and your children, and may you be reenergized to help lead those around you. I want to close with a quote from Rob Bell in his book Velvet Elvis;
"Jesus wants to heal our souls, wants to give us the shalom of God. And so we have to stop. We have to slow down. We have to sit still and stare out the window and let the engine come to an idle. We have to listen to what our inner voice is saying."5
2 NIV Bible, Exodus 16:23
3 Leadership Journal, Winter 2010 Tying the Clouds Together p. 31
4 Leadership Journal, Winter 2010 Tying the Clouds Together p. 31
5 Bell, Rob, Velvet Elvis, Zondervan 2005
Thursday, August 12, 2010
St. Richard’s Prayer
Thanks be to thee,
my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which
thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults
which thou hast borne for me,
O most merciful Redeemer,
Friend and Brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly,
Thursday, August 5, 2010
The other day I spent my morning quiet time reading Luke chapter 5. I found myself struck by the faith that Simon showed as he interacted with Jesus for the first time. Simon, a fisherman, has spent his entire night fishing on the Lake of Gennesaret and has not caught a thing! He has given up and is now on shore washing his nets after what I am sure felt like a wasted night of fishing.
Jesus approaches Simon and ask him to take him out a little ways from shore in his boat so he can teach people on the shore. Simon does this and Jesus once again speaks to the crowd. After he has finished Jesus tells Simon to “Put out into deep water, let down the nets for a catch”. Simon explains to Jesus that he has been working all night trying to catch fish and has not caught a thing. This is where I am greatly encouraged by Simons faith, because even though he has already experienced failure in the same spot he tells Jesus “but because you say so, I will let down the nets”. Simons shows a faith in Jesus even though his prior experiences tell him that Jesus could be wrong. He trust Jesus and is willing to follow him , doing what was asked of him. Perhaps Jesus is rewarding him for his willingness to take him out in the boat or maybe Jesus is trying to show him that when he has faith in him he will be provided for. I am not sure, but what I am certain of is when Simon trust Jesus, despite not catching a thing all night, he is rewarded with so many fish that his nets began to break.
In a season of my life when I am being challenged daily to trust God to provide I find great encouragement in Simon’s faith. At times my experiences or the way of the world tells me that I need to be making more money this year or taking out more loans for graduate school. However, I find that I want to live more like Simon, trusting Jesus and his calling on my life, even when it doesn’t always make sense. As I continue to work to trust God with everything in my life, my challenge is that you too would trust that God’s provisions and love are larger than ANYTHING else. Too often we put our faith in our finances or our possessions and are left still worrying. Put your faith in God and give him all areas of your life, it’s not always easy, but it puts the role of the provider on God, where it truly belongs.