Biblical Counsel for Pastoral Burnout, Part 3
In the previous articles, I have suggested that C.S. Lewis’s article, “First and Second Things” provides an understanding as to why pastors experience burnout. Lewis said that when first things are eclipsed by second things both are lost. In the first post, I suggested that a way of avoiding or recovering from burnout could be found in Romans 1:8-15. There I made the claim that understanding ourselves before God could go a long way in coping with or even avoiding burnout because all too often pastors (perhaps are even congregationally compelled to!) put secondary things first. In the second post, I pressed us to think about how God equips us to do His will. And today I want us to remember that our service to God using His resources is for the good of others. This then situates our service in its proper context.
Now, if our service is not rooted in God and God’s resources, then we have lost sight of the main thing and it won’t be long before the secondary things lose their luster, not to mention the first things. But here is point, if you begin with who you are before God and rely on God’s resources for the task, then you will be able to serve others with energy. And there are several things to notice by way of help.
First, Paul believed that his prayer life was integral to his service to God. In fact, prayer was a part of his service! Therefore, it’s little wonder that he calls upon God as a witness to his prayers! My brother pastor, have you lost sight of what prayer is? Prayer is spending time with the Master drawing down on his resources so that when you minister to others it flows from your ongoing relationship with the Father. That is prayer. It forms a wonderful connection between our identity and our ministry. Do you understand that? Do you experience the fruit of that relationship?
If so, the next point will make perfect sense. Not only did Paul see prayer as a crucial part of his service to God but because of it he also felt an obligation to his neighbor. He was a debtor to the Greeks and Barbarians to the wise and foolish. Now, why would he feel this way? Well, think about it like this. A man dies and leaves his distant relative an inheritance. The lawyer has to track the relative down in order to see that he gets the estate. Now, there is a sense in which the lawyer owes it to the distant relative to make sure that he gets his inheritance.[i] Paul is like the lawyer who is going around the world enduring everything for the sake of the elect – for those who will inherit the kingdom. He has a sense of obligation and this sense gives rise to the next point.
Third, Paul is eager to preach the gospel. His desire is that their faith might be strengthened as he imparts a spiritual gift. What is gift? Well, that question is answered when we realize the outcome. The word for “strong” in make them strong is used in 16:25 to describe the effect of preaching. There Paul writes, “Now to him who able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ,…”
Paul believed in the power of the preached word. As William Still believed after him, preaching accomplishes something in God’s people that would last for all eternity. What do you think of preaching? Do you climb the stairs of the pulpit Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day fully expecting God to work in His people through the preaching? Let me ask another question. Preacher, do you, for godly reasons, pray for and desire the Lord to work in your people? What I am asking is do you love your people enough to invest prayer time in them before climbing into the pulpit to preach to them?
There is a third thing to note. When the main thing is the main thing your vision for the work expands. You say, like Paul, I want to come to you because ultimately I want to go to Spain and preach. Let me ask you, is your vision expanding or shrinking? Perhaps you say, “Honestly, yes, it’s shrinking.” Perhaps it is. But the whether it is or isn’t, my encouragement is the same. You must go to the Master again and again and there find your identity, your resources, and your purpose.
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R Publishing) and Managing Editor for Place for Truth.
[i] Cottrell, Romans, 58.