“And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel; They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!” –Psalms 84:5-6
Last week I had two very interesting experiences at the churches I attend. (To play quick catch up, we attend two churches: Common Ground on Sunday mornings, a place where we can just go and be “anonymous”; and The Crossing on Sunday evenings, where we call our church home.) The week before, the assistant pastor of The Crossing gave a “sermon” which was basically a confession that neither he nor the head pastor was in a good place, people really irritated them, they had nothing to offer, and that he essentially drew the short straw to have to speak at all. The community rallied around them to pray for them and figure out ways to better support them. The following Sunday at Common Ground, the pastor confessed that he had “no word” for the people. Yeah, he had studied and prepared something, but it felt like empty words and he didn’t want to have to perform for people.
It’s hard for anyone to be transparent. To fully be who they are, faults and foibles out for public display and consumption. Party because we don’t want to risk appearing like we don’t have our act together and partly because we know that people aren’t fully comfortable dealing with or accepting people in their rawness. It’s especially hard for pastors, a path fraught with greater trepidation as that would mean they would have to live against people’s ideas of how pastors are supposed to be. They are pressed into a place as performer/ear tickler, administrator, care taker, teacher, with all those gifts in equal measurement. I’ve known some great teachers who are lousy care takers and great care takers who are lousy administrators, none of whom are given permission to be transparent and admit that they can’t do what people expect them to.
Back to the two pastors, both were able to be who they are—free to be broken, free to be real, free to be honest—because they trusted the communities they were a part of (and helped shape). They were able to let go of that sense of control and let go of other people’s ideas of how they should be. As pastors, or simply as people of God, there is a tacit pressure to having to appear fixed and perfect, only admitting to “safe” sins, like pride (or maybe anger or maybe slander/gossip … anything you know that just about everyone struggles with).
Do you know that there is about a two year burnout rate on most ministry workers? Pastors, volunteers, any full time laborer, they have the heart of wanting to pour themselves into people, but rarely take into account how much ministry drains the “soul’s battery”. It’s a high wire act with no net, putting ministry above everything else. I know I’ve been in that place of burnout before, emotionally drained, physically running on fumes, spiritually exhausted, because I didn’t take the time to allow myself to recharge. Pride plays a part in this, as we think we’re the only ones who can do the work, just as we also feel guilty when we’re not “doing”. Either way, we get so busy putting out fires that no one’s doing any fire prevention. We get so down, so wiped out, that we have nothing left for others. Nor did others come around, surround, support and protect (because we all know the rule that 20% of the people do 80% of the work, yet we seem pretty content to ride those servant leaders til they burnout). So we end up pushing ourselves beyond our limits, operating out of our own woundedness, until it catches up with you.
Church is supposed to be a safe place, an unusual community of people—In their glory and their ugliness—an expression of the authentic movement of God and love. When it stops being a safe place, people leave. So my question becomes how do you love someone through burnout (and in turn, how does someone allow themselves to be loved through burnout)? I have no answer, because it’s a delicate, interconnected dance.
Being transparent. Back to my two pastors, their authenticity allowed their respective communities to do their job. After all, we’re called to submit to one another despite our (American) top-down business model we apply to church leadership. The community ministers to one another: community to pastor as well as pastor to community, aching for one another during times of hurt.
Being in authentic relationship. It’s easy to do the Christian thing or, for that matter, the pastor thing. It’s easy to go through the motions and put on the right airs and behaviors and not allow anyone to push in on your life. It’s easy to fall into the lie/trap that you have to go through this alone. That we’re meant to be these lone wolf super heroes, individuals who are defined by their ability to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Yet the reality is that we are relational creatures and sometimes we need the power of relationship to carry us through dark times. Sometimes this means surrounding yourself with people who can speak into your life and love you enough to push back on you when you are living out of balance. And we can’t just wait for the invitation to walk alongside someone, but rather be emboldened to “enter into their cave.” Some relationships are not only worth staying with but become forged by folks walking alongside one another even when you don’t know where you’re going.
Being a good listener. Sometimes we just need to vent. Sometimes we just need to feel heard. Sometimes we don’t need people trying to fix us. Not pulling the “God” thing (aka, throw a verse or a platitude at us). We just need a good listening ears, people to just sit in silence with us. Not giving us unasked for advice. At the same time, we need to have ears that hear, because sometimes our friends DO have words for us and can speak into our lives in special ways because they do both know and love us.
Being people of thanksgiving. Because we are naturally people of short memories and notoriously unappreciative, we tend to dwell in the weeds of life rather than rejoice in the good. What I’m talking about isn’t simply a matter of painting a happy face on things, but rather living out our gratefulness in a real way. Creating our own “stones of remembrance” from where we are able to recount the goodness of God and how He has carried us through in the past.
We may often find ourselves in a spiritual desert. It’s a trap we fall into as we try to do things on our own strength and efforts. We don’t often enough leave room to draw our strength and energy from Him, to take refuge in His presence and minister from that place. While we long for the days of refreshment, we need to also be continuing to recharge our “soul batteries”. We live in hope.
“God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!” –Psalm 84:7