The missiologist and writer Michael Frost posted the image below on his Facebook page the other day. I found it to be a fascinating piece of research, whoever did it and wherever its based geographically. I think it presents a fairly accurate picture of what one might experience at some point in the course of traditional inherited forms of ministry. Have a look:
I have found many of these things to be very true in ministry: there have been dark periods, lonely periods, very stressful periods, plenty of job insecurity and times when my family and marriage have suffered. The common antidote that people hand out for ‘burnt out pastor syndrome’, or whatever you want to call it, is that you must simply take more care of yourself. In other words, the onus is placed upon the individual to ‘pull his/her socks up’ or stop being such a workaholic or something to that effect.
This serves to add to the stresses and strains that a person fulfilling a traditional pastoral ministry has. By that, I mean anyone who is paid as a pastor in any kind of setting.
I believe the crux of the problem is actually very different. I think the reason that many pastors burn out is quite simple because it is unreasonable to expect any normal human being to function in the way that they are expected to function. Full stop. I’ve experienced this in churches from 5 members to 345 members…quite simple, miracles are usually expected from church leaders!
How do we move towards a realism for those who work in this sort of way? Well, much of it, I guess, depends on the ecclesiology of your tradition. A church with a high theology of ordination will continue, in my opinion, to have a high demand upon their leaders, especially in this day and age where less and less people are entering that sort of ministry. In many of the inherited denominations, new and old, many leaders are spread so thinly its hard to believe.
For me, a focus on the ministry of the whole people of God is the only way forward. I believe that in every part of the church, the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher lie dormant in many people and the church is just desperate for these to be a)awakened b)trained up and c) released. That must, in my opinion, be the key focus of any ‘paid ministry.’ Its a return to a missional Christianity…a Jesus movement which is becoming more and more the body of Christ. An equipping and releasing ministry instead of any measure of one-man-band approaches.
I am thoroughly convinced of the need to let a whole lot of people’s expectations down when it comes to ministry. My only experiences is that its entirely impossible to meet them all. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many tasks one person can do, only so many gifts one possesses. And so long as people like me keep doing ministry in the way its been done for much of recent church history, so the real life discipleship if so many capable and sincere folks suffers!
We are, I believe, in days where we need to affirm the great opportunity that these days present us to re-imagine creative ministry for the 21st century. What is there to lose?