It is difficult to hear! This week we heard of another pastor that fell due to burnout, depression, or hopelessness. Each one falls differently - some into immorality, some just disappear, and some decide to end their lives. Leading a church is difficult and risky.
Several years ago, Rita and I became overwhelmed with the number of Christian leaders that were falling. It was not just a bunch of TV evangelists with big-time ministries, it was happening around the corner in that small church down the street and It was happening in our ministry groups and even to friends.
We are not psychologists nor psychiatrists but have had experience in the subject with which we are dealing today. At the time, we had a platform - though relatively small. So we decided to use it to try to make a difference. We began to research the issues - reading, talking to counselors and interviewing some of the people involved. Armed with this data, we put together a workshop for pastors and church leaders and presented it at several conferences in Southern California and Washington State with strong participation.
Today I want to offer some of the things that were included in the workshop to equip clergy and laity to identify the signs of trouble in their leaders and what to do and what not to do to help prevent these kinds of things from occurring. It is important to point out that because of the nature of humanity we will not be able to completely eliminate the problem, but maybe we can save a few.
Burn out has become an all-embracing term that involves a number of factors. Here we want to discuss three different kinds of damage; burn out, wounding, and depression.
Burnout - Depression - Wounding
Burn out happens only to givers. Its nature is the depletion of the giver's physical and emotional resources. Burnouts are those who have too little consciousness of their personal needs to do what is necessary to replenish themselves from the intensity of giving. Frequently a time of rest will cure burn out; the same can not be said for depression and wounding.
Depression is often the result of one's performance orientation. For the performance oriented person, the hope of love and the ability to accept one's self always centers around the meeting of expectations.
Wounding is an emotional condition caused by the hurtful acts of others. Anyone can experience wounding, but it is especially severe for those who are givers by nature or by profession.
Conventional wisdom focuses on preventing burn out. This may not always be the best approach. Sometimes burn out becomes a tool for the Lord to help the servant realize the need for God's strength in ministry. In Stage one we are still running under our own strength. Adrenal burnout occurs when the adrenal gland has over-produced for such a long time that it no longer functions properly. We then become stress-addicted. We actually need and create stressful situations so that the fear, the pressure and the resulting adrenaline production overcomes our fatigue.
Stage twoAt stage two, stress addiction then begins to fail as a motivator. Stage Two victims then find it difficult to remember life without exhaustion. "Can't remember when I wasn't tired." Digestive disturbances are common, causing; ulcers, colitis, food allergies, diarrhea. The digestive system reacts to the stress by producing more acid and other chemicals than the system is designed to handle. Colds, aches, pains, sore throats, and headaches increase in frequency and intensity. We begin to feel as we are ministering with an empty bucket that isn't being refilled. Desperation sets in and we go to the well but there is nothing there.
We become functionally blind to the effectiveness of our ministry. We become more and more angry with those who take up our time. We begin to withdraw and even those who offer love may be treated as if they were demanding more time.
He begins to get angry with God, in his eyes God has not been a protector. God hasn't kept His promises to him and never will. He feels that God is there for others through him but seldom for him. God has let him down. His prayer life suffers.
In stage two he can still hope, but periods of despair are common. He finds himself subject to sudden impulses to weep over silly things.
How should you minister to a "stage two:"
Mark 6:31 "Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.
If approached at the right time and the right circumstances he can still spill his hurt and receive ministry. He doesn't usually want a solution or unasked for advice. He just needs a safe place to dump. It may help to kidnap him and take him out for a fun time.
Intercede in prayer, but mostly at a distance. Don't discuss his condition with others. If the Lord gives you a specific scripture or prophecy for him, give it to him in writing. It will feed his hope. Don't confront him face to face with it but leave it in a place that he can find it, read it and respond in private.
Stage ThreePeople in Stage Three are so deeply wounded that they can only be carried, not exhorted. They need to be loved not instructed. The body of Christ is seldom able to get beyond the demand for a simplistic quick fix. We have been trained to seek and expect instantaneous miracles. "If he has enough faith;" "Give it up to the Lord," "Deliverance."
There are no such miracles for a third stage and he knows it and is frightened by our simplistic solutions to his desperate problem.
He feels physically sick all the time. Every meal leads to later pain. He/she suffers from paranoia and is afraid in almost every situation. Resistance to addictive behavior is impaired.
They become open to all forms of abuse as they lose their perspective of people and begin to see them as objects rather than human beings.
Ministry To Stage Three:Don't be a Job's comforter.
It may do more harm than good to tell him God loves him. He is convinced that the evidence points to the fact that God does not love him.
Tell him that you love him. He may not believe it but it is more tangible than the love of a God he can neither see nor any longer feel. It will then be your responsibility to prove that you mean what you say by not failing him.
Respect his fences and withdrawal.
Don't tell him to praise God for all things. His best approach to God is an honest cry of rage.
When you can't praise God, be honest, call Him names, He'll probably fall off the throne laughing. The best way to pray for him is from a distance.
Listen and be available.