Part of my sabbatical is designed to understand how better to help pastors and their families avoid the crash and burn. There are many pressures (finances, conflict, loneliness, the fishbowl, etc.) on ministry families and while any one of them may not be overwhelming, together they can bring a minister to his/her knees. Worse yet, they can tempt the leader to seek comfort in ungodly ways.
But a friend of mine who cares greatly for ministry leaders was recently talking to an African pastor. This pastor has NOTHING. He ministers to those who have NOTHING, to those living under trees. They live in a country that is in the midst of a civil war. He has his wife spend months apart ministering to the poor. When my friend asked about pastoral burn-out, this pastor could not comprehend the question. It didn’t compute–and not because he didn’t understand the concept.
Why? Are we Americans soft and weak given that we live in the land of plenty? Probably. But are there other explanations? I think so. Foremost in my mind is the place of expectationsin the life of Western pastors. Expectations of success, growth, contentment (from self and church community) create pressure and when expectations are only partially met, it leads to the temptation to discouragement and looking to greener grass. Secondly, I think living in constant crisis without hope for change rarely allows for collapse–unless it is to die. It is common for the greatest emotional collapse to happen when one has the opportunity to pause and reflect. In crisis, we do not reflect. When the crisis abates, then we reflect and see that our assumptions and expectations do not fit with reality. It is that point that leads to either leaning on the Lord while changing our expectations to match his OR either trying harder or choosing another assumption that causes greater pain.
What do you think?