You hear it all the time. It’s sad news every time. A pastor is stepping down in ministry due to burnout, or for even more heartbreaking news. A common reason that comes up with many church leaders, whether clergy or lay, is that they often feel the weight of the whole church they serve is upon them, which can lead to utter desperation and exhaustion.
What is it that makes us feel like we’re called to do so much, with so many expectations, yet it turns out we can only do so little? A common reason that seems to be the case for many who need to step down for a time due to fatigue or quitting ministry seems to be the case of loneliness. Loneliness is often found to be the case for many who are struggling and is one of the many reasons along with burnout and conflict on why people quit pastoral ministry, as they feel they’re doing everything to no end, and are tired of not seeing much progress and little or no help.
Since God by his divine power has set limits to our bodies, we find that we can only get so much done from our work agendas at the end of the day. And if we’re not resting well, there’s a tendency that what we think is work, is actually us just trying to push our way through ridiculous deadlines, and being led by our flesh instead of the Spirit. A few of my friends might think I rest too regularly, but I make it a goal to make sure I rest as well as I can no matter what so I won’t get depleted as often. We’re also commanded to rest by God Himself; because He knows us best and how we all fall into the trap of busyness.
God knows us better than we could ever know ourselves. God knows us not only better, but fully, completely, and even with our many individual flaws and brokenness that we carry, still loves us as He always has, which is why we should trust Him as we endeavor to grow in His grace and be faithful to the Word of God in our ministries.
Though we all have things that we have to get done on our daily checklists when we are exhausted, lonely, and about to give up, we need to understand that God has placed certain people in our lives to help us navigate life better, and to lean into one another when we can’t seem to take it another second! Good and godly friends in our lives might not be the answer to everything, but the people that we have gotten to know can most often carry answers that we keep demanding from God, whether in prayer or thought. After praying about a situation or issue, the most practical thing we can do at times is to approach a godly brother or sister and ask for their advice and help.
This year has been an emotionally tasking one for me. One thing that I realized from first-hand experience this year is how easy it is to get sucked into the busyness of ministry life, and not have people check and see how you’re really doing. I’ve found for myself that when I don’t have someone monitoring me and setting markers for me to assess how I’m really doing, I fall into the snare of pride and legalism.
I’ve also learned my lesson of working non-stop the hard way; I found myself working in the church building for about eighty hours plus when I first moved to Detroit and got ill for a week! I kept saying to myself that I needed to get things done and start off well, even trying to find reasons to stay in the office, and I really think the Lord was teaching me something there. But if I was also open to the words that a few of our own church members had said, such as “taking it easy” and “slowing down myself,” I could have easily learned that lesson from the people God was speaking through.
The Sharp but Necessary Words from Friends
If it were a few years ago, I would have been very defensive when I was confronted or approached about my flaws and things I needed to work on. Even if I knew a person would be trying to help me in love (Prov. 17:17), my temper would get the best for me, and I’d become self-righteous. Those were definitely not the best moments of myself, but I’m now more open to hearing out what my friends have to say.
A friend recently apologized after he heard my issues and addressed everything with me straightforwardly. Since he is more aware himself now of how strong he can come off without knowing, he apologized at the end of our conversation in case I was hurt or offended. Quickly, I replied and said that I didn’t understand why he was apologizing. By him being direct as a trusted friend and guide, he had helped me figure out things better and helped me move towards the correct trajectory. This friend is an example of the type of friend that makes me want to approach him even more because of his balance of humility and wisdom. We all should be praying for God to bring people like him in our lives.
I’ve become grateful for friends in my life who can be honest and straightforward with the stuff in my life who genuinely help me not because they want to correct and fix me, but see me become better competent to handle life in Christ. It’s not as much about having so many friends who are speaking into your life all the time every second, or even having friends in all places of the world (Prov. 27:10) but doing relationship with people who can be trusted with knowing the real you (Prov. 18:24).
Thank God, that when I’m being a pebble instead of the rock that God is calling me to be, I have friends that are tough as iron and can help me along the way, without them fearing I’d be offended! These are friends who really live out Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
The Truest Friend of All
Ultimately, our greatest friend is Jesus, who is also known to us as the Friend of Sinners. Think about that for a few seconds. That someone who is the Second Person in the Trinity, being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, could be a friend of fallen and messed up people like us, and actually desire to still be friends with us though we fail him daily.
I find it amazing that Jesus was perfect, yet chose to befriend people. I would think if I have everything down and know it all, why I would want to be friends with imperfect people? However, since He was also the embodiment of perfect patience, Jesus was not like that. He was and still is a friend to messed-up people like you and me and a brother who laid down His life for His friends.
If you’re looking for an example of a true friend, there’s not a better example than our Lord, who befriended people who would leave and even betray him. At the same time, for all of us who are being sanctified as we become more mature disciples, we need to seek out true friends who admit that they fall short, yet are honest enough to still help and guide you when you need it.
I remember regularly visiting an older member’s home and getting to know him better every time I stopped by. Although he could be very generous and kind, I found out that the more I got to know him, he was also judgmental and bitter at times. Because of his strong opinions on the modern Church and the things he had gone through with different local churches, he chose to isolate himself and only go to churches that did most of what he considered to be a “correct church.” The moment he saw or sensed something wrong, he left without a word, and people were confused by his leaving. It was hard to say people were sad he left though since he never established deeper roots with others.
Though it’s not always true like it was for this man, not having friends or anyone, to be honest, and real with could be a sign that you’re not open to honest criticism and receiving help from people. It could be a sign that you shut down at the thought of being vulnerable, and make excuses for yourself such as “God is helping me get stronger when I’m lonely.” For those who choose to walk the lonely road, not only are you in more danger of becoming puffed up and not able to see your flaws better but failing to learn in a critical area of life: the area of friendship and having godly people in your life to do authentic community with. No wonder the author of Ecclesiastes warns us: “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Eccles. 4:10).
Life is broken, on top of all the baggage that we carry because of our own sin and the wrongdoings done by others. If our call to love others is to be taken seriously, we should fulfill it like Jesus did when He chose to help and serve His disciples, instead of being served, and help the hurting instead of ignoring them.
Friends of God, pastors, lay-leaders, disciple-makers, let’s not do life alone. Instead, here’s to handling one another’s baggage as well our own in love, with the best discernment and discretion, instead of foolishly taking off all alone.