The Secret to Church Burnout! Knowing the Cross is more than Atonement
Thoughts driving me to Jesus and to His cross.
Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. 13 Go and find out what is meant by the scripture that says: ‘It is kindness that I want, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” Matthew 9:12-13 (TEV)
If a pastor finds himself resenting his people, getting petulant and haranguing them, that is a sign that he or she has quit thinking of them as sinners who bring “nothing in themselves of worth” and has secretly invested them with divine attributes of love, strength, compassion, and joy. They, of course, do not have these attributes in any mature measure and so will disappoint him or her every time. On the other hand, if the pastor rigorously defines people as fellow sinners, he or she will be prepared to share grief, shortcomings, pain, failure, and have plenty of time left over to watch for the signs of God’s grace operating in this wilderness, and then fill the air with praises for what he discovers.
The presupposition seems to be that God’s intention even originally was to relate to us in terms of law and justice, but that this intention was frustrated by sin. The sin subsequently has to be “paid for.” Jesus is sacrificed to God instead of us to make such payment.
There is a subtle but profound difference, however, when one understands the “for us” to mean that he was sacrificed to do us to death as old beings and raise us up to newness of life in faith, when one assumes that God’s intention all along is to relate to us in terms of love and mercy.
If you are part of the church – you will burnout.
It is not if, it is simply when.
I don’t care if you are a pastor, a lay-leader, or someone who shows up once or twice a month, you will burn out. I guarantee it, based on 25 years of ministry as a pastor and 33 years where I was not a pastor.
We will realize we are the broken, we are the outcast, we feel let down by people, and often the leaders who we look up to, forgetting that they all struggle with sin and temptation. Peterson is absolutely correct in his analysis – we are sinners, and we interact every day with people who are also sinners. As they accidentally or intentionally betray us we contemplate leaving. Frustrated, we wonder why these saints (for certainly they are also that) can’t be trusted, and we find ourselves scheming to counteract their actions. Which frustrates us even more, causing even more burnout.
So the question then is not avoiding, hiding or denying burnout exists, but is embracing it and surviving it, depending on God to do so. Understanding Peterson’s point is crucial – that we need to anticipate that our people are indeed sinners, in need of grace.
Forde takes is deeper, reminding us the cross is more than where our sins were pain for, it is where we die and are raised with Jesus. It is where we realize the law that condemns was a temporary system to drive us to Jesus- not the old plan of how we should live and atone for our sin. The cross is where true fellowship starts, as we share in His death, in order to share in His resurrection.
The new life is not completely revealed yet, it will be on the day of Jesus’ return.
Until then, we strive to know Jesus more, to give Him the sin which burns us out – for He promised to cleanse us from our sin and all unrighteousness. This cleansing leaves us where we are supposed to be – confident in His presence.
Forde, Gerhard O. 1990. “The Preached God.” In Theology Is for Proclamation, 129. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Peterson, Eugene H. 1989. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. Vol. 17. The Leadership Library. Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: