I began my pastoral ministry with great enthusiasm and hope. I had been sure of my call for pastoral ministry for many years and was excited to get started. My first ministry position was as a youth pastor. I served in that role for two years and the ministry went well. I took on the Senior Pastor role in our church with the expectation of similar success. I was full of enthusiasm and creative ideas. I was convinced I would be a great pastor. From time to time I would hear of pastors who had burned out or left the ministry. My response was skeptical and critical, “How could someone called to ministry leave the ministry?”
My attitude changed, however, as through the years the realities of ministry began to wear me down. Instead of being optimistic about myself and others, I became inwardly pessimistic. When I first began as a senior pastor I couldn’t wait for my holidays to be over so I could get back to work. After a time the opposite was true. I couldn’t wait for my holidays to begin and dreaded when they ended. Over time and through a series of difficult events I came to the place of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. I knew I could not go on in ministry. Fortunately, I had an understanding church board who granted me a sabbatical.
As I began my sabbatical I was determined to find out why I ended up in exhaustion. I spent much time before the Lord, seeking Him and searching my heart. I also did a lot of reading on the issue of stress and burnout. My recovery was slow and at times I thought I’d never be back in ministry doing what I loved. Yet God has been faithful to heal me and continues to do so. I have learned that stress and burnout have many causes; however, for me one cause played a greater role than all the others–the fear of man. Proverbs 29:25 tells us that the “fear of man will prove to be a snare”(NIV), I had been caught in this snare and suffered the consequences.
The Lord showed me how I had been overly concerned with what others thought. I had been hoping to gain people’s approval by being “successful” in ministry. Attempting to be acceptable in the eyes of people had become a driving force in my life. I ended up overworking, unable to rest at night, putting ministry before my family and relationship with God. The results of my sinful choices were obvious. God’s joy and refreshment were absent from my life and I was a broken down man.
The wonderful thing about God is that He draws near to broken people. He drew near me and taught me that He loved me in spite of my sin and failure. He taught me that success is not measured in church attendance but in knowing Him more personally and intimately in a passionate spirituality. He taught me that He is the healer of broken hearts.
Since that sabbatical fifteen years ago I have continued on in pastoral ministry, have served as a pastor to missionaries in Nigeria, West Africa, and am now leading “Refresh Ministries.” Some days I fall back into my old patterns of thought, yet as I reapply the lessons God taught me on sabbatical He renews and refreshes my inner person. As I make knowing Him my standard of success, I find that the anxieties start to fall away and His peace returns. I now am seeking to help others find the help God has given me so they too can say “it is well with my soul.”