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Coping with Ministry Burnout

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7  LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8  Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9  But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. 10 . 18  Why was I born? Was it only to have trouble and sorrow, to end my life in disgrace? Jeremiah 20:7-9, 18 (TEV)

13 And there is another reason why we always give thanks to God. When we brought you God’s message, you heard it and accepted it, not as a message from human beings but as God’s message, which indeed it is. For God is at work in you who believe 1 Thes. 2:13 GNT

261    I forbid you to think any more about it. Instead, bless God, who has given life back to your soul.

Two things showed up on my computer this morning.

The first was a copy of the picture above, reminding me that eleven years ago, I was installed as the Senior Pastor here at Concordia. The other, in my devotional reading, was Jeremiah’s words above. Ironically, these were the words I had to preach on the first Sunday after I received the call to Concordia.

It has to make you wonder, when one of the strongest prophets of God whines like that! What had he gone through, what had broken him so badly that he had to accuse God of deceiving him, and forcing him to do something that was,,, more than challenging.

This is month is also my twenty-first anniversary of being a full-time pastor and it is closing on 27 years since I started as a chaplain preaching and counseling in the detention centers of Los Angeles County. In that time, I have felt like Jeremiah more than a few times. Some call it clergy burnout, and if the numbers are still true, over 1000 pastors and priest leave the ministry every month, many because they can’t handle the feeling Jeremiah describes.

So many different things can cause it, to many traumas, such as deaths, or serious illness in the people you are entrusted to care for, and walk beside. Sometimes it is conflict, or maybe a power struggle, or just helping a church go through some significant change. (The number of guys who leave a church after a successful building program is staggering!) SOmetimes it simply builds up over the years, and all of a sudden, you find yourself weary and unwilling to go on.

You just want to shut up, move to someplace no one would expect, and leave the pain and struggle to someone else. Some guys don’t remember Jeremiah, and feel guilty about getting upset at God. Others just bottle it up, and find solace in video games, alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, or they just turn their vocation and calling into a “job” and punch the clock until they can retire.

Some of us are blessed, and have parishioners, friends and mentors that look out for us. (Hint, if you have a pastor, look out for him! Pray for him often!) Others feel like they are almost invisible, when it comes to their needs. Even so, the wear and tear has an impact.

The point Jeremiah ends up discovering and struggling with is the power of the message we are given to share. The message that must get out, even if it has to burn through us.

The message of God’s love, and His desire for us to let Him heal our broken hearts and tortured souls. The message that He will take us back, that He will rescue our people. When all else we are doing fails, when the brokenness is overwhelming, when despair seems to drive out life, He is there. In that moment we need to hear and treasure these words the most….

“and also with you…”

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 692-693). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.


Lord, You Want Me To Preach on What?

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

7 You seduced me,* LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed. All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage I proclaim; The word of the LORD has brought me reproach and derision all day long. 9 I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot! Jeremiah 20:7-9  NAB-RE

If vocation comes first, if the star shines ahead to start us along the path of God’s love, it is illogical that we should begin to doubt if it chances to disappear from view. It might happen at certain moments in our interior life—and we are nearly always to blame—that the star disappears, just as it did to the wise kings on their journey. We have already realized the divine splendor of our vocation, and we are convinced about its definitive character, but perhaps the dust we stir up as we walk—our miseries—forms an opaque cloud that cuts off the light from above.

In the passage I am preaching on this week, there is what is called a gospel imperative.  In other words, a command of God that only can be realized and heard within the fullness of the gospel.  It has to be heard in a life of prayer, a life which realizes we stand on Holy ground.  

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good”  Galatians 6:9

The first quote, from scripture above, is one of my ten favorite passages in scripture.  It probably could be described as my life verse, at least it is one I experience a lot.  For working in God’s kingdom is as wearing as building stone walls, or managing a university bookstore in the first weeks of class. It is worse, physically tiring, mentally exhausting and spiritually draining.

If a pastor neglects God, if he is too busy for time in prayer, if he is too busy for devotional time (as well as the business of studying scripture to preach and teach it) he will reach Jeremiah’s position quickly.  We can reach the point that St Josemaria describes, where the dust we stir up in our journey distorts and even eclipses our view of Christ, our understanding of His love for us.

Of course, this isn’t just about pastors, for we are not the only ones who do good.  It is true for every believer, for every perosn who trusts and depends on Christ.  For that is what the faith is, need to cling to Christ (Jeremiah describes it as our being as clingy as underwear!) because He is our source of life, and of serenity and joy.

The answer to burnout, the answer to not seeing Christ is to know Him, to know the fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within us.  TO depend on that rather than what we see and observe.  It is what saints and mystics call the interior life,  This is why St John of the Cross advises staying where we are at, making no dramatic change.  We are to keep praying, to keep receiving the sacraments even when the storms of life blind us, when Satan assails us.  We need to be patient and seek God, remembering that He is our refuge, our fortress, our sanctuary.

It is from this place that we can find His strength, where we find the dynamo that is the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. For dwelling in Christ we can keep on doing good, we can keep on loving the unlovable, we can be patient with those struggling, and guide them into the very presence of God.

For we know where He is… we know where Holy Ground is.  We know where He has put His Name… fo we have met Him at the cross and been united to Him there.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1146-1151). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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