Originally posted May 10, 2011, at koinonia 21c. Republished with permission of the author.
The New York Times reported in August 2010:
- 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict or moral failure;
- 90 percent work more than 50 hours a week;
- 75 percent report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear and alienation;
- 70 percent do not have any close friends;
- 80 percent say they have insufficient time with their spouse; and
- 50 percent feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
This June is my 10th anniversary of ordained ministry. I’ve only wanted to quit weekly for about the last nine years.
“Should have stayed on the farm, should have listened to my old man,” said Elton John. I’ve thought it, too.
A lonely road
I’ve imagined other lives, other careers, other vocations, lottery jackpot winnings. Why? Because ministry can be lonely.
You can feel like you’re not entertaining enough, not smart enough, not interesting enough. Unattractive, uninspiring.
You can feel unprepared, foolish and unnecessary.
When your work deals with other people’s faith in God and their ability to live healthy spiritual lives, you can feel inadequate.
Ministry is no ego trip. It wrecks havoc on your self-esteem, especially if that’s at all tied to the approval of others. I have seen more people leave church on account of me than I have seen people come to church because of me.
I have been told many times how wonderful some other pastor is. He’s such a kind man or a good preacher.
When people ask me about the church or ministry, I struggle to know what to say. The congregation I serve is not growing. People are dying here.
In six years there are half as many people here. There are fewer young, faithful families. Fewer older adults, fewer young children.
We don’t have inspiring contemporary worship or special programs for people of all ages. We don’t go on awesome mission trips.
We don’t have the best vacation Bible school in northern Lancaster County. We don’t have a large, dynamic staff.
So what do I say? “Yeah, on paper I’m a big, fat statistical failure. But at least I still have a job.” There have been times when the way I have been treated has made me wonder why I spent so much time and money in education/training.
I live everyday knowing that some people, who used to be faithful Christians here, hate me. I judge myself in these matters and wish there could be reconciliation and peace.
But they do not want peace with me. They want me to go away.
I’ve wondered if I would endure and outlast them or not. Ministry includes personal vulnerability and loss. I’ve lost some things and a few people along the way.
After all this, I have to say something else: I have been given many gifts in ordained ministry too. I have walked with families in joy, in sorrow, in worry and strife, in fear, in poverty and want, and in times of abundant blessing.
I have comforted the dying and prayed with the living. I have fed people and given people hope.
I have met some interesting characters and seen some amazing things.
I have seen healing. I have seen people come to believe in God, follow Jesus and become part of His church.
I have enjoyed opportunities to learn. I have made music for kids. I have told stories that made people laugh and cry.
I have spent time in silence. I have observed the church’s year, enjoying the seasons of the Christian life. I have planted things. I have done these things in community, with others.
I have been part of something bigger than myself. I have had help. God’s grace, my wife’s love and my kid’s joy keep me moving.
The right perspective
Finally, to keep a perspective is to realize that I am not at the center of it all. The story of my life is not the main event or the most important thing.
I may burnout or fade away or something else. But life will go on. Because — to paraphrase 1 Corinthians — God is love and love is patient. Love endures all things, bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things. Love never ends.
Love never ends.
So to my colleagues out there, flaming out this week: Thanks for your service, your devotion to the Christian life and your endurance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
St. Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Go and do likewise. Every day.
Find a link to Matthew Lenahan’s blog koinonia 21c at Lutheran Blogs.