Is it possible to go from near burnout in ministry to feeling equipped to serve a church in crisis? Not only is it possible, it was a reality for one ministry couple that attended a Standing Stone Retreat.
Let me give you a little background. Trevor and Danyel were living and working in south Texas. As the lead pastor of a very large church, Trevor was feeling tired, discouraged, and heading towards burnout, on top of that, the enemy was beating him up, causing him to question his call to the ministry. Danyel, the mother of two young girls and an active participant in church life, was hurt and discouraged by the unkind judgments of some and, quite frankly, living life in a fishbowl. They had gone into ministry with eager minds and hearts, but were, in some ways, unprepared for the reality of the day-to-day challenges that accompany full-time ministry, especially the challenges of a lead pastor and family. Their church Board of Elders, to their great credit, encouraged Trevor and Danyel to take a sabbatical in order to seek God’s will and to get much needed refreshment for their bodies and souls. Trevor found Standing Stone Ministry and made arrangements to attend a week-long retreat at the beginning of their sabbatical.
When Trevor and Danyel first arrived at their retreat destination in beautiful Laguna Beach, California they shared with their mentor hosts that their marriage was on solid ground, it was the ministry side of things that had them perplexed. They didn’t doubt their relationship with the Lord, just their relationship with the church. They wanted and needed to get some perspective. They got that and so much more.
A week spent being loved, served, and affirmed was balm to their hurting hearts. They were given the opportunity to share their thoughts and emotions, joys and pains, and tell their stories in a nonjudgmental atmosphere. They were given time to be alone, time with each other to reconnect, and time with their mentor hosts to ask any and all questions, seek counsel, laugh, pray, and eat. Lots of eating!
During the course of the week Danyel and Trevor weren’t “fixed.” All of their questions weren’t answered. All of their hurts weren’t healed. That’s not the job of a Standing Stone retreat. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. But, in Trevor’s own words, “The week began the dialogue, the daily dialogue that Danyel and I had with each other and with the Lord. That dialogue continues to the present day. It also began the mentoring relationship that continues to the present day with our mentor hosts.”
Trevor and Danyel left their retreat week with renewed energy and a renewed desire to continue to serve the body of Christ. They felt encouraged and supported. They didn’t know what the future would bring, but they did trust in the One who knows our future and were confident He would continue the work that He had begun in both of their hearts.
At the end of their sabbatical, Trevor and Danyel, went back to their church in south Texas with renewed strength and vision. They felt confident in their call to serve and, after their short break to be refreshed, felt equipped to handle life in full-time vocational ministry again, wherever and however God would lead. They also knew they had an open invitation to call on their mentor hosts at any time. They took full advantage of that offer!
Nearly a year after Trevor and Danyel began their sabbatical and attended their SSM retreat, Trevor got a call from a church in another part of Texas. The church was in a state of shock and disrepair. Their former pastor had committed suicide when word of his extramarital affair leaked out. Would Trevor consider coming and taking over as lead pastor? Would he take on the job of leading this hurting church to a place of health? Did he feel equipped and able to handle the job? A year earlier the answer would have been a resounding NO! Now, however, Trevor felt God’s leading to take on this great and grave responsibility and Danyel felt equipped to handle all that the job required of her. They have been at the new church for about four months now and know that God has placed them in this new church “for such a time as this.”
I didn’t write the above as a long-winded commercial for a Standing Stone retreat, although it is my desire that many, many ministry couples take advantage of the ministry that Standing Stone offers. Rather, I wrote the above in order to stimulate your thinking. If you, or someone you know, is facing near burnout there is hope. It is possible to once again come to a place of health where you can fall in love with God and God’s people all over again. There are numerous books and articles (in fact I’ve written several) on the subject of pastor burnout so I won’t reiterate those. I will reiterate the steps that Trevor took in order to come to a place of renewed passion for ministry.
1. He recognized his spiritual, mental, and physical exhaustion and took proactive steps to get help.
2. He included his wife in the process. (smart man!)
3. He included his Board in the process. (Fortunately his Board recognized the need to care for their pastor’s spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. Sadly, not always the case!)
4. He earnestly sought God’s direction and was open to the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.
5. He sought counsel from mature Christians, including his Standing Stone mentor hosts.
6. He recognized he wasn’t indispensable and took time away from active ministry to seek healing, health, and direction.
7. He was open, honest, and humble.
An alarming number of pastors are reported to be leaving the ministry every month. I am happy to say Trevor didn’t become part of that statistic. He was wise enough to recognize the symptoms and take proper action steps. Unfortunately, many ministry leaders don’t recognize the signs and don’t take the proper action steps to head off burnout or marital issues (oftentimes caused by burnout) that lead them to leave the ministry.
Are you a pastor facing burnout or near burnout? Do you know someone who is? Can you recognize the signs even if the person(s) in question do not? I encourage you to learn from Trevor and Danyel’s example. Become proactive in getting help for yourself or for a pastor you care about. We need our leaders strong, healthy, and fully equipped with a passion to serve.