Pastoral Burnout and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Ahh….burnout.  Been there.  Done that. Couldn’t afford the T-shirt.

Juggling God’s expectations, a local church’s expectations (even among one group there is variety), and a preacher’s expectations of himself is overwhelming at times. Throw in “good intentions” and Satan, and you get terrible stats about drop-out rates, pornography addiction, depression, failed marriages and broken churches.  You can Google the stats if you aren’t familiar with them. I am going to share from the book and not spend time explaining the problem.  If you aren’t a minister, you might not even understand the need.  If you know, you know.

I really believe that Peter Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality provides a BIG part of the answer. There are at least two facets and both are affected by spiritual warfare.  Many congregations are sick systems.  Traditions and leadership methods which are unhealthy and ineffective are passed down.  Sometimes everyone sees it but nothing changes.  Other times leaders and members are oblivious.  Changing these systems takes a lot of prayer, time, intention.  I think the book would be helpful for sincere churches to make changes as a group but I think the book focuses (and I choose to focus) on the other aspect: the preacher himself.

What can he do to prevent, heal, and continue?

DISCLAIMER:  Yes, I am a counseling student so I am interested in mental health.  Scazzero doesn’t have a mental health background, but 20 plus years of ministry experience, a bad case of burnout, and being on the receiving end of counseling lead him to write this book.

The book actually combines two of my favorite things that I am still learning about but excited about their being mixed up together:  emotional health and contemplative spirituality.

Scazzero had a successful ministry from the outside, from a modern, worldly perspective, but it wasn’t of the Spirit.

Here is the author’s realization:

“It wasn’t until the pain exposed how much was hiding under my surface of being a “good Christian” that it hit me: whole layers of my emotional life had lain buried, untouched by God’s transforming power.  I had been too busy for “morbid introspection,” too consumed with building God’s work to spend time digging around in my subconscious. Yet now the pain was forcing me to face how superficially Jesus had penetrated my inner person, even though I had been a Christian for twenty years.”

If you don’t believe the past affects the present, you won’t like this book (and you will continue to be controlled by your past).

If you feel emotions are dangerous for Christians and should be left out it, you won’t like this book (and you will be missing out on an important part of your relationship.  Also hope to read and blog about Descarte’s Error at some point).

If you don’t accept that healing often hurts at first before you feel better, you might be wasting your time with this book.

If you think being a pastor is all about doing but don’t really think about “being,” you might not get this book.

If you don’t believe you have ulterior motives, pride, bad habits from family/childhood that affect everything you say and do, you won’t like this book and you will never get past the plateaued cycle of burnout.

So, I guess what I saying is: 

if you are about to give up, if you are questioning your ministry, if you are miserable as a preacher, and are willing to consider all options………you will love this book and it will help you.

Some of you know of Jim Woodruff. He was the interim preacher where we worshipped a decade ago.  He told the story of a lady who came to him with this revelation: “all my life I have been a human doing, instead of a human being.”  Or something like that.  I didn’t understand it then, but I do now.

We can emphasize doing and not doing without ever being. Or without ever knowing Jesus. Yes, obedience is a sign of love and totally necessary, but it is soooo much easier to do a lot of good things (and not do the bad things) than it is to really see ourselves as God sees us and allow Him to transform us from the inside by his Spirit. That’s what we should strive for. Being more, not just doing more.

Alcoholics have to recognize the addiction so they can overcome.  Christians are encouraged to get busy doing good, and that will make someone a “good person.” Okay, now I am preaching and rambling.

More to come!!

In the meanwhile, meditate on this phrase from Scazzero: “how superficially Jesus had penetrated my inner person…”


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