Ministering to Ministers: Taking Care of the Caretakers

There is a growing interest in the health of our ministers. Over the last few years I have seen this conversation crop up in several significant places. I believe this is the case because there are many ministers who are either facing burnout or who want to prevent ever getting to that place.

There are a few places I am seeing this resurgence of interest. First is personal experience. The more ministers I talk with the more we see the need for self-care and discuss what we do to fill our cup back up. Ministers are seeking out groups of other ministers to spend time with and to decompress, get encouragement and spiritual formation through informal regional minister gatherings. Second, I see it in the lectureships. The Pepperdine Bible lectures, which concluded on Friday, had quite a few offerings on ministerial health. Maybe I just noticed it more because this is on my mind but I don’t think so. Third is Barna group. Barna recently partnered with Pepperdine to create a study called “State of Pastors.” Part of that study compared the health of ministers in Churches of Christ to ministers in other churches.

There is a growing interest in this area because there is a growing need in this area. We ministers feel the need to take better care of ourselves. We take care of others and often we are the last to take care of ourselves. Health ministry needs healthy ministers. We feel it. Our families feel it. Our churches feel the cost of ministers who need to spend some time in self-care. It is time we do something about it.

This month’s issue of Wineskins will focus on ministerial self-care. As part of this discussion I am going to be releasing the results of a study that I did of the health of ministers in Churches of Christ, part of which I presented at the Pepperdine lectures. Some of the results are hopeful and other parts show some places where we need to make some improvements. Last, the study not only showed areas of strength and weakness but also assessed practices that can help or hinder one’s health as a minister. I look forward to sharing the results of that study. I found it eye opening and I believe you will as well.

 

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  1. Having been one for 20 years, I feel I have a right to speak to this. If “we” would follow a biblical model, we would do away with paid (professional) ministers, and allow shepherds (elders, overseers) to fulfil their biblical role, we would not need a special program with special professionals to take care of our “burnt out” brethren.
    “We” place an enormous burned on “the” minister. “We” consider “the” minister part of the leadership of a congregation. In that line of thought, “the” minister becomes the counselor for the people with spiritual needs, rather than the elders. “We” target “the” minister if there is a lack of numerical growth, and place the blame fully on “the” minister’s shoulder.
    “We” expect “the” minister to become the spiritual guide for our kids, rather than assuming that responsibility as parents.
    “We” expect “the” minister to teach classes, preach sermons, rather than assuming that responsibility jointly. Remember: When you assemble, EACH of you…)
    “We” expect “the” to be “the” visitor to the sick, “the” one to lean on in times of loss, and “the” one to strengthen and guide us through times of loss.
    And should “we” be blessed by a larger budget, than “we” just go out and “purchase” more to fill these roles.
    After all of that, “we” have the nerve to wonder why “the” minister burns out so quickly.

    “WE” should be ashamed of ourselves!

  2. The comment above by Rudy has some merit, but fails to recognize the Biblical position of the evangelist/minister, especially as seen in the epistles to Timothy and Titus.

    There is a real need for collegiality in church leadership that is seldom seen in practice. We tend to follow a pattern of “one-man leadership” with veto power by either the appointed elders or church “leaders” (often those with the most money or the loudest voices) who have no formal appointment to leadership. The ultimate power of the veto-board (for lack of a better description) is to fire the supported preacher or to intimidate the volunteer.

    For many years, I have believed that a partnership should exist between elders and preachers far beyond what is present in the typical congregation. There is, I believe, a reason the Lord sent his disciples out by twos. I seem to recall something in Proverbs about two being better than one and a cord of even 3 strands not being easily broken. With 2 or 3 working together (or even more), brother strengthens brother as iron sharpens iron.

    Some others have addressed this problem in other ways. For example, in the Catholic Church, they not only have Confessors for the people but also for the priests – and even the Pope has his own Confessor. Of course, the confidentiality of the Confessional is legendary. Few of us have the opportunity of having such an assured venue of confidentiality. Some of the informal ministerial groups Matt mentioned have a code of “what is said here, stays here,” but it is difficult to enforce or to completely trust. Hence, many of us just hold things in too much.

    Smaller “accountability groups” have had some success, partly because they are smaller, usually 3-5 people. With more than that, it is difficult to be able to trust the group enough, though a person in trouble may well have 1 or more in the group that he or she can trust.

    I wish I could offer more helpful solutions. I cannot, though I know the problem well, both from observation of (and listening to) others as well as experiencing “burn-out” myself. In the absence of solutions, all I can say is that we must each take courage from the example of Paul who said he was often knocked down, but never knocked out. Let’s learn to see the good more than the evil in others – and not to expect too much of ourselves or of other people. Let’s learn to trust God more than we trust ourselves – and remember that he who said, “Behold, I come quickly” has great patience while he waits for men to come to repentance. I suspect that much of my frustration has come because I expected an instant harvest – whether of conversions or of the fruit of the Spirit.

    Now, at 77 years of age (and a quarter of a year into my 78th year), I realize that at most I have but a few years remaining this side of the river. I’ve learned that the church only has one Savior – and it isn’t me. I’ve learned that the art of encouraging is one that is most needed and is seldom practiced. I’ve learned that to build others up does not tear myself down; instead, it strengthens me. And I’ve learned that to give away what I have received keeps my cup overflowing with living waters.

    Jerry Starling

    • There is no such thing intended as a local, paid, professional minister, and both Timothy/Titus argue against that. Titus was left behind for a specific purpose: Appoint elders.Timothy went with Paul, and was left behind sometimes – for a short while.

      The modern idea of paid ministers is unknown in the early church, till at least the middle/end of the 2nd century. Ferguson’s writing helps us with that history, and a book, “Pagan Christianity” also has some interesting materials.

      In last year’s ACU salary survey you find at least 14 (FOURTEEN) different kinds of professionals listed. For many congregations, 85% (EIGHTY-FIVE) is spent on buildings and payroll.
      In the early church, 100% was spent on missions and material assistance to members. Does that not make you even wonder?

      Our job (all of us!) is to “preach the good news to those who need to hear.” And the believers (Not the apostles!) went everywhere, preaching the word.

      We see no ministers in the professional sense. I am in the process of doing a word study of the words used for “minister, ministry, servant, service” and how it applies to believers. Interesting concepts!