Is your pastor “leading on empty”?

Well, it happened again.  A well-known pastor of a megachurch is stepping down.  The reason?  Not what you might think.  The reason sited is that he was “tired and broken.”  He went on to add “Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays…….what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership and it requires a lot of leadership energy…….leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty.”  He ended with “I’m tired.  I’m broken, and I just need some rest.”

Sadly, this pastor, Pete Wilson of Nashville’s Cross Point Church, isn’t alone in his feelings of brokenness.  We hear stories similar to his every week.  Every. Week.

Why?  Why are so many pastors experiencing burnout and choosing to step down from the pulpit?  There are three factors that contribute to the problem.  These are not the only reasons, mind you, but they certainly contribute.

1.  Criticism

Negative comments have the power to hurt us.  In fact, researchers have proven that negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate for long periods of time over one negative comment or criticism.  Your pastor may hear many positive comments in a week’s time, but his/her brain will dwell on the negatives.  One random criticism can be easily dealt with, but a constant barrage of critical comments can empty one’s tank very quickly.  Years of being told what one is doing wrong, what one should be doing differently, or how one falls short of his/her predecessor is wearying. It destroys joy.  It tears down.  It breaks our hearts and our spirits.  Choose words wisely, for death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).

2.  Pettiness

Focusing on things of little or no importance or consequence is the definition of pettiness.  It is easy to blow differences of opinion or personal preferences way out of proportion and lose sight of the big picture – bringing others to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  We want to be heard. We want to share our opinion.  We want access to the pastor so that we can give our input.  We want, we want, we want.  In Exodus 18 we read that Jethro observed Moses’ dilemma when he was trying to meet the needs and listen to the complaints of the Children of Israel.  Moses was wearing himself out.  His tank was running on empty.  He was burning out.  Jethro wisely advised him to choose men to deal with the people so that Moses could focus on the big picture.  Most churches have support staff we can turn to with our suggestions, opinions, or complaints.  A pastor can wear out quickly trying to meet everyone’s needs; it happened in the early Church.  Allow your pastor to “spend time in prayer and teaching the word” (Acts 6:4).

3.  Spiritual Warfare

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”      1 Peter 5:8

Who do you think is on the top of Satan’s hit list?  Pastors, of course.  If the enemy can take down a pastor he can devastate a congregation, which, in turn, affects a community.  It is imperative that we pray for our pastors and those in church leadership as they are on the front lines of war!  James 5:13 reminds us that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  Our prayers make a difference, a big difference.  Our pastors need us to commit to diligently pray for them.  Pray for strength.  Pray for renewing of his/her mind and heart.  Pray for a fresh vision.  Pray for protection.  Pray as the Holy Spirit directs.  If you know of any particular circumstances happening in your church pray over those things.  Be sure and let your pastor know you are lifting him/her up in prayer every day.  He/she will be encouraged.

In conclusion, I want to remind everyone that pastors are human beings.  There is no one size fits all when it comes to the calling of the Lord on a man or woman’s life.  Pastors may be extroverts or introverts.  They may be energized by teaching three services or they may be deflated.  They have different character traits, strengths, and weaknesses.  Some have strong self-images, some suffer from feelings of inadequacy.  The bottom line is, we don’t know what is happening behind the scenes in a pastor’s life.  They are not immune to criticism, pettiness, or spiritual warfare. In fact, they are vulnerable because they pour out their lives daily in an effort to best serve their flocks.

Be a filler.  Not an emptier.

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