Saturday, May 9, 2009

Taboo of Clergy Burnout Addressed in New Release

A spiritual director once asked me the most difficult question I've had to answer as a pastor: "Who listens to you?" God and/or spouse were not one of the choices. At the time, I was on an individual spiritual retreat in the mountains far away from my parish, and she was asking one the basic questions that many church leaders, clergy and otherwise, avoid. Are you leading on empty? is another way to ask the same question.

That's why I am so grateful for the bent of Wayne Cordeiro's Leading on Empty. Cordeiro is a successful church planter and pastor. He speaks around the world. The book is a multifaceted approach to the costs not taking care of ourselves, such as burnout and depression. In continually referencing his own story of recovery from suffering a nervous breakdown, Cordeiro, doesn't attempt a "one size fits all" paradigm for health, but rather, offers wisdom and insight as someone who's been there. Moreover, his continued recovery- and struggles- adds authenticity to his account.

Cordeiro's willingness to share his experience is what is so helpful. His physician told him that, in order to recover his health and heal his energy reserves, he would need to take a year off from any ministry role. Arguing that one year was out of the question, Cordeiro's physician then told him to take six months off. They finally both agreed on a three month time line. This fit into the summer season. Much of the book, then, is about what Cordeiro has learned in the recovery, and choosing life-changes necessary for long term health and functioning in ministry.

For example, instead of waiting for a crisis, which most highly functioning pastors will probably experience sometime after seven years of ministry, monitor your energy level. You can do this by finding an aspect of ministry, a mission, that you really enjoy- where the energy seems to flow almost naturally.

Although doing our passion offers a God-given immunity from depleting our reserves, the fire can also burn us up, so certain disciplines are non-negotiable, according to Cordeiro. One is daily time for a spiritual discipline. The book suggests starting with reading a chapter of Proverbs a day for a month. Try the SOAP model daily (read the Scripture text, record or journal your Observations on the text and Actions in response to it, and finally, let the text lead you in what and how to Pray).

Some other non-negotiables are time away, family time, and spiritual counsel. Time away should be a regular practice, and the book suggests something equal to a full day of sabbath once a month, combined with a two- three months each year. Sabbaths are not the same as a weekly "day off." A suggested schedule for the sabbath day includes journaling, reading, study, setting priorities, and calendaring strategically. No phone calls or emails, or text-ing though. Another non-negotiable is time and connection with family and vacationing with them once they are young adults. Seeking the guidance of a therapist and/or a spiritual mentor, companion or director will provide you with what you are offering to others: someone who listens to you in love and who can see what you cannot see in yourself.

We cannot, finally, offer what we do not have. That, to me, is the gift of Leading On Empty. Everyone wants to be able to give from a full cup. Isn't it better to maintain that reserve rather than running until we hit the wall? Cordeiro's book invites us to begin and continue that journey toward wholeness and holiness. Just don't wait for the crisis as he did.


  1. Thank you for posting this Scott. Sounds like a good read. --Lori

  2. This is my first time visiting your site. Thank God for your ministry. This small bit of infor has convinced me that I need to make some immediate changes in my life. Thank you again.

  3. Hmmm? Senior Pastor? Leader?

    Is that in the Bible?

    Is it possible the reason "Burnout" is such
    a problem for today's "Pastor/Leader" is
    they have found themselves with a
    "Title" and "Position" NOT found in the Bible?

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor” in the Bible?
    Was anyone ordained a “pastor” in the Bible?
    Any congregations "led" by a “pastor” in the Bible?

    And every “pastor” I’ve met also had
    the “Title” “Reverend.”

    Does anyone have the “Title” Reverend in the Bible?

    In my experience...

    Titles become Idols.
    Pastors become Masters.

    Heavy weights on shoulders NOT easy to lay down.

    Jesus taught “His Disciples”
    NOT to be called “Master/Leader”
    For you have “ONE” “Master/Leader” The Christ.
    Mat 23:8-10 KJV

    Ezekiel 14:1-7, speaks about "Idols of the Heart,"
    and now God will speak to us according to
    the "Idols of our Heart."

    And other sheep I have,
    which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring,
    and they shall “hear my voice;”
    and there shall be "ONE" fold,
    and "ONE" shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for Truth... Jesus.

  4. Thanks for your comment!

    I generally agree with your comments about titles. Keep in mind that most churches will say that "elder" or "bishop" or "deacon" are all in the New Testament Letters.

    Do you really think that if we did away with such offices that Christian care-givers would not be as vulnerable to burning out?

  5. Scott

    Yes, elders, bishops and deacons are in the scriptures.
    BUT, they all called themselves servants.
    None called themselves leaders.

    I don't believe it's about doing away with the offices we've invented.

    Jesus didn't do away with "The Corrupt Religious System" of His day.
    And He didn't "reform" "The Corrupt Religious System.
    It still exists today. Yes?

    Jesus left the "system" He was the originator of.
    And called others out - into a relationship - with Jesus.

    The “word” pastor/shephered/teacher, and what they do,
    is also in the Bible, Eph 4:11-12.

    BUT, most of what a Paid, Professional, Pastor does **Today**
    is NOT in the Bible. Seems we've "added" a few things. Yes?

    NO ONE in the Bible had the “Title” or “Position” of "Pastor/Leader."

    Can you name **one** person, in the Bible,
    who was called “Pastor/Leader?”

    Can you name **one** congregation,
    in the Bible, “Led” by a Pastor?

    I have seen the dangers of "Titles," and “Position”
    of **Today’s** "Pastor/Leader."
    “Spiritual Abuse” for both the "leader" and those “being led.”
    IMO - The “Title” “Pastor/Leader” is very, very, dangerous for both.

    In my experience...
    No matter how loving, eventually...
    No matter how humble, eventually...
    No matter how much of a servant, eventually...

    Pastor/Leader = exercise authority = lord it over = abuse = always

    I'm not not new to "ministering healing"
    to those who have been “Abused”
    by those who took the “Title” and “Position”- “Pastor/Leader."

    Folks who've been **burnt,** ** burnt out,** ** kicked out,**
    and **crawled out** of "the religious system" most call “church.”
    with it's leaders, submission to authority, tithes and offerings,
    and other unbiblical "heavy weights" put on folks shoulders.

    I also spend time with pastors,
    "so called leaders," who can't do it anymore.

    Trying to please the denominational leaders,
    the congregation and it's leaders, his family,
    and of course Jesus.
    Who is often relegated to last place. Hmmm?

    Searving so many masters, that's tough; Yes?

    Preaching every week... and it better be good, being the CEO,
    the team leader, councilor, marrying, burying, smiley face. etc. etc.

    If **Today’s** "Pastor/Leader." (as we see them today) are of God?
    He's not taking very good care of His gift to us, "pastor/teacher"; Is He?

    This is info from a websites helping burned out Pastors.

    • 77% say they do “not” have a good marriage.
    • 71% have felt burned out or depressed.
    • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
    • 38% are divorced or seriously considering divorce.
    • Over 1600 pastors in the U.S. are forced out of their positions each month.

    # 80% of pastors' spouses wish they would choose a different profession.
    # 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
    ..............Many pastor's children do not attend church now
    ...............because of what the church has done to their parents.
    # 33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.

    This is serious business. Yes?

    Think there might be a problem with **Today’s** "Pastor/Leader?"

    What is popular is not always “Truth.”
    What is “Truth” is not always popular.


  6. Thanks for the post. I'll check those websites out too.

    It seems that what really counts is not that a certain word is or is not in the Bible, but how it's used. You maintain it was about the role or gift, not the title.

    But we can take anything and use it to hurt. Throw away any and all titles, and, in my opinion, we can still use Bible, church, Jesus, faith to do harm.

    For example, I've seen people use the servant tag to manipulate and shame others, just, as you say, "leader" has been used to do the same.

    Thanks again- and peace to you!


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