Pastor Burnout Is Result of Idol-Chasing, Lack of Grip on Gospel

Increasing pressures and demands from the ministry coupled with a lack of the Gospel can lead to a common experience among many in the church – burnout.

Hoping to address this ongoing issue taking hold of Christian leaders today, Collin Hansen spoke to World Harvest Mission's executive director, Bob Osborne, to seek his wisdom on the alarming problem.

"When I find myself heading for burnout, more often than not I've lost the rhythms of rest and repentance and start to chase my idols," Osborne shared on The Gospel Coalition.

"I take my sights off of Christ and become self-focused – simply put, I try to take God's place on the throne."

His point was clear: when leaders begin isolating themselves from the Gospel, thinking they could do everything themselves, burnout is inevitable.

"As leaders, we are constantly tempted by a deadly cocktail of narcissism and isolation," the former Peace Corps member affirmed. "And once our faith slips from a tight grip on Jesus and his power, we are trying to do tremendously difficult jobs on our own."

Additionally, when reputation, people-pleasing, control, success, and other idols take hold of the heart, many are "ill-equipped to apply the Gospel to their sin-burdened hearts."

The solution to their downward spiral is simple: repent and come back to that which they lost grip of in the first place – the Gospel, though it is much easier said than done, Osborne admitted.

"[J]ust stopping to remember that all we have or can do is a gift from God and not something we've done ourselves changes everything. Of course, that's often easier said than done."

Practically, in order for leaders to get to that point, they have to be willing to accept criticism and other input from peers and subordinates.

A pastor or other church member who adamantly rejects feedback misses the Gospel and only creates "growing isolation ... paranoia and anger."

It is critical to have faithful and trusted brothers and sisters who are willing to ask "hard questions" and "speak the truth in love when they see ... self-deception." Utmost humility plays a vital role in bringing leaders back to balance.

"This downward spiral can only be arrested by humble repentance – something that always brings joy, shows us sin (and limitations!) but even more, Christ's glory and work and the Father's love."

When pastors are repentant and saturated in the Gospel, they are characterized by flexibility, adaptability, and humility – sure signs of their growth in Christ and not their own ability or power, which helps avoid burnouts.

Because the burnout cycle could always repeat itself, however, leaders have to be intentional and create ways to see their sin more clearly, needing ongoing Gospel mentoring and regular meetings with Jesus.

"I need constant reminders that my Father in heaven loves me and is singing over me because of what Christ has already done and not what I'm achieving in ministry," Osborne concluded.

"I need to trust in Christ's righteousness that is given to me in justification rather than trying to create my own righteousness through my 'success.' And I need to exercise faith that God is at work in my life and in ministry and it's not up to me to accomplish everything."

Benjamin Shin, associate professor of Bible Exposition at Biola University, also shared three ways to prevent burnout, which could affect everything from preaching to important decisions for the church and home: Delegate to others, practice the spiritual disciplines and pay close attention to yourself.

"The pastor shouldn't do all the work but instead should train the congregation members to carry out the ministry," the professor told The Christian Post in an email. Delegating tasks is not only biblical, but also vital, ensuring a longer "shelf life" of the pastor.

Just as well, practicing spiritual disciplines, i.e. prayer, Bible study, fellowship, fasting, journaling, and solitude, or investing in a deeper relationship with the Lord, also helps strengthen and empower pastors and leaders for the different aspects of the Christian life beyond the work of ministry.

"If done regularly, there can be a rhythm developed that will lead to a strong and healthy spiritual life. Once this rhythm is developed then it minimizes the chances for burnout," Shin added.

"We know ourselves well enough to be aware of when we are getting tired and fatigued...When doing ministry, you know when you haven't done your best work. You also know when you approach ministry as duty rather than devotion. For this reason, it will be important to 'pay attention to yourself' so that you can see early signs of burnout."

Though burning out is difficult, recovering from one is harder, Shin concluded.

"It is certainly better to be proactive in these biblical principles than to be reactive once a person has hit rock bottom."

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