I was really exercised about the last blog I wrote on pastor burnout and suggested there might be a follow-on article. I didn’t know it would take me 9 months to get to it! One of my goals for 2017 is to publish more blog articles. In the meantime, however, I have written a book! Click on Join the Adventure! at the top of this page for more information or go here to order directly from Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
I suggested in the previous article that perhaps one of the contributing factors to burnout is that pastors take on too much. They try to meet everyone’s expectations whether those expectations are biblical or not.
Then I discovered a provocative perspective on physician burnout that may apply to pastors as well.
Dr. Louis M. Profeta is an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Patient in Room Nine Says He’s God. He wrote a marvelous article published October 22, 2016, on LinkedIn. When I wrote to him and told him it had some ideas I would want to use in a future book about work or in presentations about work, he gave me permission (as long as I attribute to him and send him a signed copy of the book!).
You can read Dr. Profeta’s whole article here.
Dr. Profeta told a conference of physicians and other medical providers that while what they did was important, rewarding, self-fulfilling, and made a vital contribution to society, in the end, “It’s just a job.” While that sounds demeaning of the medical profession, what he really did was elevate all professions. That’s the part I will use when I teach on work. He opens with this story:
“What do you do for a living,” the young man asked me.
“I’m an emergency physician. How about you?”
“I’m just a chef,” he replied.
“Pal, I can live a lifetime without medicine. I can only live a week without food.”
But my subject today is pastor burnout, and I wonder if this paragraph near the end of Dr. Profeta’s article applies equally to pastors as to medical professionals.
Listen, no matter how we like to hold up ourselves as the pillars of compassion, the keepers of the public well-being, we are just one profession out of countless others that keep our world moving. We are no more heroes than the social worker visiting homes in the projects, the farmer up at 4 to feed the cattle, the ironworker strapped to a beam on the 50th floor. We are no more a hero than the single mom working overnight as a custodian, trying to feed her kids. We are no more heroic than countless others who work in jobs they perhaps hate in order to care for and support the people they love.
Dr. Profeta says he’s been an ER physician for 25 years and no one in his large group has burned out because they all believe “It’s just a job.” Should pastors have such an attitude?
Some would say no. In my blog Focus with Pacing, published October 1, 2015, I quoted a pastor who said, “Fatigue is the price you pay for trying to change the world.” I believe everyone should be about changing the world, not just pastors. In fact, that’s the theme of my book, Join the Adventure! But burning ourselves out to do it is not biblical. The late well-known Bible teacher Howard (Howie) Hendricks used to talk about how pastors often declare, “I’d rather burn out than rust out!” Howie would respond: “Fine, but either way, you’re out!” Or, “The devil never takes a vacation!” To which Howie would say, “I didn’t know the devil was your role model!”
Pastors might be better served if they had the perspective another pastor friend of mine shared when thinking about “fatigue is the price you pay for trying to change the world.” He said, “We’re just ants in the colony.” I think that’s a paraphrase of, “It’s just a job.”
“Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5.16) That is, he kept communion with his Father the main thing rather than his work. When the work in one place was just getting started, Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other villages as well because that’s why I was sent.” (Luke 4.42) He left people unhealed and other needs unmet because he didn’t try to meet them all. In fact, he invested heavily in a relatively small number of people rather than run around trying to do everything.