One of the things that immediately stands out in the research about pastoral failure is that burnout is a major predictor of failure. Please note: burnout is not failure. You can be exhausted and unable to execute your duties with any sense of joy, but not do anything to disqualify yourself from ministry. I’ve heard people attempt to argue that burnout should disqualify someone from ministry because it is always a symptom of a deeper sin issue – such as a lack of sabbath keeping or an idol of success. But I can tell you from personal experience that there are seasons in ministry where many waves crash at once, there are seasons where burnout is unavoidable. Even as I’m writing this, I’m burned out from an incredibly stressful season and working towards finding rest.
But burnout does enhance our susceptibility to making decisions to seek comfort in ways that can get pastors fired. You all know the usual culprits here: pornography, alcohol, inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex, or my favorite: tubs of Tillamook ice cream. It’s nothing new. It just makes preventing burnout an important endeavor and there’s a lot of literature devoted to doing just that. But much of the research focuses on personal habits that help pastors cope with the stress, rather than focusing on ways that stress can be reduced.
One of the primary sources of stress for pastors is role complexity. Pastors are asked to wear many hats these days – leader, teacher, preacher, theologian, philosopher, marketer, counselor, chaplain, scholar, executive, entrepreneur, and many others. And though there are a few people who seem to be able to do it all, most of us simply aren’t that gifted. You may be really good at preaching, but most of the emails you will get that week will be about how you’re not spending enough time at the hospital. Or you may be an excellent administrator, and find yourself constantly hearing passive aggressive comments about your lack of preaching skill.
The reality is that very few people have the skill set to do it all. (I don’t actually think anyone does, but I’ve seen a few incredibly talented people that really do seem to be able to do everything – time is their only real issue.) But that doesn’t stop the rest of us from trying to and in our effort to be all things to all people we end up disappointing people. And no matter how much we try to say we don’t care – we do.
The senior pastor model of church that has dominated western church life is not actually a solution to the problem of pastoral failure – it’s a cause of it. When we expect one person to bear all the authority in a church, we are setting them up to fail.
I would argue that the senior pastor model is not Biblical. What do you think?