Burnout and Beyond!
There have been many times in my 30 years of ministry when I found myself tired, depressed, discouraged, or overwhelmed. But never all at the same time. Just like life, church ministry has ebbs and flows, highlights and lowlights. You enjoy the highs and patiently wait out the lows. But this year was different. As events turned up, I remained down. As things turned down, I slipped further down.
After nine years of ministry challenges, debated change, people leaving the church, personal attacks, never ending spiritual warfare, having to let pastors and staff members go, and let’s throw in a building program in the midst of a weak economy, it all caught up to me. Not only did it catch up, it ran me over. Eventually, I was told what my problem was. I had all the signs of burnout.
Burnout has been described as “a state of emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion. It can lead to diminished health, social withdrawal, depression, and a spiritual malaise.”
Before I received some help, I found myself questioning God’s call in my life for the first time ever. I quickly realized these thoughts were not from Him at all. It was the enemy trying to kick me while I was down. In addition to physical afflictions that accompany burnout, I began to look in the mirror and could not recognize the person looking back at me. My patience was low, my defensiveness was rising, my joy had disappeared, and my energy was red-lining.
Thankfully, the only energy I could muster each week was to do my main thing: studying and teaching God’s Word on the weekends. The great part of this journey was that I began to experience what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “For (God’s) grace is sufficient for you, for (His) power is made great in weakness.” I was incredibly weak. However, I am grateful God still used me in spite of all of my shortcomings.
I am blessed to have some loving friends and an incredible wife that pointed me in the direction of help before I crashed with lasting results. I took their advice and began meeting with a counselor. At first, I actually didn’t think I was that bad off. But then my counselor told me, “You are worse off than you think. If you don’t make changes soon, you are not going to make it in ministry much longer.” Translation: “You’re messed up dude!”
After getting through our Grand Opening and my daughter’s basketball season, my counselor recommended for me to take a month away from all things church related. He suggested going somewhere warm. Our Elder Board agreed and generously sent me and my wife away to get refreshed in the Southwest desert.
I returned in time for Easter this year. Although my cup is not full and I have a ways to go to become fully healthy, at least I am no longer operating on fumes! I had almost forgotten what having some energy feels like!
In closing, I’d like to share some things I was reminded of while refreshing (some call it roasting) in the sun.
1. God is a loving heavenly Father! While away I kept thinking of how God responded to the prophet Elijah when he hit his ministry wall in 1 Kings 19. He didn’t rebuke him. He loved him and tenderly took care of him through this difficult time. God had more ministry in store for Elijah but wanted him to get healthy first.
The second day of being in the desert, the responsible side of me began to feel irresponsible for being away. I couldn’t relax or rest. I then pulled out a little book my mother sent me called, Intimacy with the Almighty by Pastor Charles Swindoll. Chuck wrote this book after a two-year span from being a senior pastor. As he reflected on taking a break from the rigorous demands of the pastorate, he challenged me with four disciplines one must have to remain intimate with God. Here they are: Simplicity, Silence, Solitude, and Surrender.
One of the verses he shared was from Mark 6 when Jesus told his tired disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while.” It was like God whispered to me, “It’s okay to rest and be away. Now relax Barry.” I immediately headed to the pool with a grateful heart absence of guilt!
2. I sure do love my wife! It’s not like I had fallen out of love for her or anything like that. But being alone with my bride for such an extended period of time was heavenly. Having no demands, meetings, or schedule provided one on one time with her like no other. For so many previous months, Candy had to put up with me, counsel me, encourage me, lift up my spirits, and prayed for me with very little noticeable change. I was such a drain on her. But during our time away, she enjoyed having her husband return to being himself without having to share me with a congregation or staff. She is amazing!
3. I love our church! I am glad God is not done with me at GracePoint Church. We have an incredible and talented staff, amazing church leaders, and a church filled with wonderful people who are authentic in their walk with God. I am excited for what God is doing in our midst.
Before, I could see God saving people, restoring marriages, and bringing a host of unchurched people to our church. But I couldn’t feel anything. The joy of ministry was gone. Now, the joy is returning and my hope in what God has in store for the future of our church is growing.
I want to say a huge thank you to GracePoint Church for allowing me this time away. I also want to say a special thanks for flying my two teenage daughters to join us in Phoenix half way into our trip. We were able to do two things we have always talked about: visit the Grand Canyon and attend some games at Spring Training! What a blessing!
The best is yet to come!