Ministry to Pastors at RISK: Burnout-Is The Church Responsible At All?

Pastor-In-ResidenceUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Pastor: “Hi Frank, have a sec? I just wanted to ask a quick question. Was there some reason my check did not arrive in the mail today as it usually does?”

Church Treasurer: “Um, uh,  pastor, didn’t the Head Deacon call you?”

Pastor: “Uhh…no, he did not.”

Church Treasurer:  “Oh I see.  Well he told me not to cut you another pay check, he said you were done.”

This is harsh, but sadly all too typical of a cut and dried business style of relating in the Church, the Household of God (Eph. 2:19, I Tim. 3:15, I Peter 4:17). The Church is the Bride and Body of Christ and His Family. Shouldn’t we act like we are a family and care for one-another with the family values of our Father, Elder Brother, and Comforter?

This blog entry is a summary of Dr. Charles Wickman’s second chapter on burnout from his book Pastor’s At RISK. The chapter title asks: “Is The Church Responsible At All?” and he answers in the affirmative identifying six church family dysfunctions:

  1. Work overload
  2. Lack of control
  3. Insufficient reward
  4. Breakdown of community
  5. Absence of fairness
  6. Conflicting values

I love this quote from page 18 by G. Lloyd Rediger: “Congregations need to invest in and protect their pastors…when its spiritual leaders are under attack, the ministries by and for parishioners suffer…”

Verses such as the following from Hebrews 13 are very relevant to the matter of church culture and family values:

  •  Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
  • 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
  • 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

(Further, as a convicted presbyterian I believe it is the unique duty of elders to care for their pastor and consequently for the church family at large. In my view elders are the fathers of the family.)

Church consultant Thomas Rainer in a brief article entitled “Five Common Reasons Church Members Burnout” has another list of problems (  There is such a thing as being a victim (although finding our identity in being one is another dysfunction of shame). I have victimized others by misusing my authority and gifts in a manipulative way. I have also been victimized by the sin of others.  Just as Dr. Wickman says, pastors must take responsibility for their burnout, but churches must take responsibility for theirs also.

One of my own most recent stories comes from a situation in which a pastor was forced to resign due to being unjustly accused of adultery; this slander spread like wildfire and because some staff and leadership were discontent with his leadership they were willing to listen. Gossip and slander always needs listeners to give the lie traction.

The Lord says over and over again in verse after verse throughout the New Testament: LOVE is supreme.  In John 13: 34-35  Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you,that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Here is where I say, no matter what we think otherwise, unbelief is always at the root of problems in the church. I am the problem, I lack love, I lack the power to love. Where am I to find the power to love? Where else but the Lord of love and the power of His Spirit? I find this truth in Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Faith union with Him who is love itself, what good news!


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