Alright, we have come to the end of the list. We have looked at the burden of expectation, the effect of negative responses, family realities, battles with temptation, financial struggles, weariness and now:
7. Preachers can go beyond weary to places of personal coldness, doubt, and depression.
I was at a conference recently where I spoke with several people who had all suffered various forms of burnout in the past months. For some, the manifestation was physical: symptoms like chest pains and sleeplessness. For some, the manifestation was emotional with a sudden inability to function as they had before. For some, the struggle became much more spiritual, with even the smallest aspect of Christian living becoming a big ordeal.
While the manifestations of burnout, breakdown or depression were different, the stories were similar in regards to the lead-up. A very heavy emotional load. Perhaps complex church discipline issues. Perhaps heavy relational meltdown. Perhaps unrelenting criticism. Perhaps lies being spread about them. Then came the interrupted sleep, the feeling of being overwhelmed and the eventual inability to function.
Irrespective of whether a preacher suffers from clinical depression, burnout, or whatever we might call a specific case, the reality we have to face is that we are not immune to such struggles. We can go through seasons of spiritual dryness, even coldness. We can struggle with a sudden onslaught of doubt. And it is more than possible for a preacher to suffer from some kind of depression at some point or other, perhaps for years on end.
We simply cannot pretend that all is well when it isn’t. We need to be honest with someone we trust and we need to get the help that we would advise anyone else to be getting. Going it alone is not an option.
Just a thought to follow on from yesterday’s post. Take a moment to remember how you felt when you first started. Perhaps as a young man when you were asked to preach a one-off message. Or when you stepped out of Bible school and headed toward doing what you had been trained to do. Or when you were first commissioned in full-time ministry. Or when you first received the call to the church you are now in. Or when someone first asked you a question because you had preached and they trusted you. Whether you are “full-time” or not as a preacher, remember that early feeling of privilege and amazement that God and people would trust you with such a role.
Over time feelings change. Perhaps preaching has become a regular experience for you. You don’t have the same feeling of privilege, or the same intensity of fear! Perhaps your ministry role has become your job. You are occupied with your occupation, but perhaps not thrilled by the privilege? It is easy, over time, for a sense of calling, commissioning and life mission to fade into simply what we do to pay the bills (if you’re paid), or what we do as our ministry in the church.
Whether you preach periodically, or are full-time in ministry, it is a privilege. It is more than a hobby. More than a job. Feelings change and that cannot be avoided. But be careful that time, pressure, comfort levels, etc. don’t steal the wonder and delight at the privilege of participating in God’s work in peoples’ lives.
In the first part of this post we thought about the reality of almost constant discouragement in ministry. One part of our response to these things must be to look to God and press on. But then there is another side – look to God and renew.
Renewing ability to focus – Discouragement can easily steal focus from our lives. We might go through the motions and do what needs to be done, but do so without a real ense of focus and concentration. Ultimately this means we are not giving our best to God, family, ministry, etc. The ability to focus requires processing of discouragement and distraction with God (take time to pray through the issues and “cast your cares on Him”). Then there are other factors in focusing, simple ones like getting exercise (it helps the brain, endorphins and all that stuff), plus getting sleep.
Renewal of the EQ – Bill Hybels spoke a few years back about our EQ – our Emotional Quotient. He suggested that we’re quick to care for ourselves spiritually and even physically, but there are also the emotional needs that we have. Rest is important in multiple forms. Enough sleep. Days off. Times away from our normal role. Time with the family. Time alone. Time with friends to share the deep struggles. Time with friends to just unwind. Time to laugh and relax. I know you don’t have time for all this, neither do I. But if we don’t make the time then we will suffer and the EQ dial will start flashing warning lights at us.
Remember this – Loss of focus, discouragement, distraction, etc. are not a good excuse for sin. When our internal fuel tanks are low, temptation will usually hit us pretty hard. But sin will only compound the issues, not help us escape from them.
Being able to focus is important in any preaching ministry. What other tips can you share with us? What do you find helps you?