Chuck Wickman"At-Risk" Pastors, BurnoutLeave a Comment

I built a fire the other night. It was great to watch. Tongues of flame leaped into the sky as if they were attempting to pull a star into their grasp. The fire’s light penetrated the darkness almost as far as my eyes could see. Its warmth was everything I needed on that brisk autumn night. But slowly, almost before I noticed, that one-time roaring fire became just smoke and embers.

As I pulled my jacket collar around my neck, the fire began to speak to me as if it were a parable about a ministry person or two I’ve heard about (and some I’ve known). The minister began his work as a leaping flame, a bright light, heat warming the scores of those who came within his aura. But then, almost without notice, he became little more than smoke and embers. No flame. No light. No heat.

Many “reasons” are given for such loss, most often-moral failure on the minister’s part. However, I’ve long wondered, could it be that he was simply burned out? How long can a person be superman, answer man and medicine man, all in one and not burn out? As his reputation grew, he had to keep up the image. He worked harder than ever, neglected his personal needs, and attempted to prove what his reputation said he was. Exhaustion grew. After a while, he felt like he was simply going through the motions, speaking the words people wanted to hear and preaching the themes people expected but to him were old and empty platitudes no longer defined by fire in his soul. Perhaps, too, he felt lonely (the crowd is small at the top).

These are marks of burnout: Long-term exhaustion, diminished interest in what once burned like fire within, a reduced sense that the work is meaningful. Values weaken, apathy and indifference grow, focus blurs. Could it be that while other reasons (stale preaching, weak administrative skills, ethical compromise, sexual sin) seem to have put out the flame, it was, underneath it all, in many of its expressions, compassion fatigue commonly called burnout?

BibleWhat prevents burnout? I could recommend a dozen books having good, workable, well-researched, answers. But more than limited space commands something else of me. The answer, fellow servant of God, is what you and I neglect, our secret sin, the devotional and daily intake of the alive and powerful Word of God. I mean the long-term neglect of God’s Word in personal devotion.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps.119:11). “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (Ps. 119:45). “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble” (Ps. 119:165). “…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt. 8:3).

Simple? Yes! In my book, Pastors At Risk, I say more. But I believe that behind and beneath other failure is burnout and if you want to know what leads a once-blazing fire to become merely smoke and embers, it is this: The neglect of the daily and devotional intake of the Word of God.

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