No leader or pastor starts their career or starts a church with thinking about quitting. All of them start with grand plans and dreams of the future and finishing, retiring, making it to the end with friends and family around them.
Yet statistically that is incredibly rare. Most quit, give up, fall out of the race or simply stop trying while still collecting a paycheck.
According to stats:
- 78% of pastors say they have no close friends.
- 1,500 pastors quit each month.
- 70% of pastors battle depression.
- Only 10% of pastors will retire as a pastor.
Recently I’ve had several pastors talk about not wanting to burn out, which seems like a good goal. But the moment you start talking about burnout, you have moved into a dangerous place.
Let me throw out a different question, one I think is better: How can you lead and live at a sustainable pace?
There is a great passage in Matthew that you have more than likely heard a sermon on, or if you are a pastor you’ve preached on this passage. It is so common and so easy to forget the power in it.
To remind you, this is what it says in The Message version:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I think according to this passage, there are four things healthy leaders (or non-leaders) do:
1. Healthy leaders don’t try to be God.
We say we aren’t trying to be God or we say we can’t save anyone, only the Holy Spirit can, but many leaders carry the burden that they can, or at the very least, they will try.
We think, “If I can just talk to them, or get them to read this book or hear this podcast, that will help.” It might, but it might not.
We can also drift so far from God personally that we simply lead out of our abilities and strengths. This is easy to do if you have a strong speaking gift. You can cover up your lack of relationship with God by being charismatic or interesting on stage.
2. Healthy leaders walk and work with Jesus, not for Jesus.
Yes, Jesus is the chief shepherd and the senior pastor of your church, but you don’t work for him. We work with him and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We follow what the Spirit starts and is doing.
We talk about our priority list as Christians being God, family, job. Yet it is easy for a pastor’s list to be God/job, family because of how closely connected his job and God are. Often this is so subtle that no one sees it, or if they do they don’t say anything about it.
I firmly believe there is a calling that comes with being a pastor, but, and please hear this: being a pastor is also a job. A job that will end. A job you will retire from one day.
If we aren’t careful, we start to become unhealthy when our identity is too wrapped up in what we do. This is why we get hurt when someone rejects a sermon, our advice or the vision of the church. We feel like they are rejecting us, because our sermon, that vision, is who we are. It is our identity.
That’s a dangerous spot.
3. Healthy leaders don’t force stuff.
The reason I love this version of these verses are two phrases. The first is, Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I am like most leaders. We are incredibly driven, we make things happen, and we force it.
How many times have you played a conversation in your head before it happens: you’ll say this, they’ll say this, then you’ll respond, then they’ll respond, and this is how it ends. Then the meeting goes just like that and you think, “That could’ve been an email.”
We also can very easily force our kids and our wife to be something they aren’t.
One of the saddest things to watch is, as a man is pushing his calling and planting his church, his wife is sitting there dying emotionally, physically, spiritually.
Here’s a question for you as a leader: Is your family too much about your calling and goals? Does your wife have space for hers?
4. Healthy leaders don’t carry burdens they aren’t meant to carry.
I’m a perfectionist. In every part of my life, I carry a burden of wanting everything to be perfect. Every experience with my kids and my wife, I build up in my mind, and when it fails to reach that I get stressed out and angry.
Another struggle for many leaders is they don’t know how to handle the emotional side of ministry. We struggle with our emotions of hurt, depression, loss, anger, and then as those emotions entangle with the emotions of those in our church and we walk with them through divorce, miscarriages, death, suicide, and addictions (just to name a few), we become at a loss of what to do with all the burdens.
In the end, Matthew 11 is an invitation from Jesus to live freely and lightly. That’s the second phrase in this passage that is so beautiful. Many pastors do not live in this place. Many followers of Jesus never experience this, yet this is supposed to be the normal Christian experience.