Fostering ‘Resilient Ministry’ in Our Communities

Everyone has probably heard the old joke about how pastors “only work on Sundays,” a remark typically accompanied by a laundry list of reasons as to why their own job is so much more difficult by comparison. Statistics, however, confirm that a life devoted to pastoral ministry is one of the hardest jobs a person could ever undertake. Men and women leave ministry work at an appalling rate, typically citing overwork, stress and burnout as the primary factors.

Just last week, I finished reading an excellent new book by Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman and Donald Guthrie entitled Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving. Though I am not a pastor myself, I found the book very insightful and blessedly free of conjecture or theory; rather, it is based on seven years of research and analysis, funded in large part by a grant from the Lilly Endowment. For the purposes of this research, vocational pastors were given a safe environment in which to honestly share their thoughts and observations, and much of what they had to say was eye-opening.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for anyone who works in vocational ministry (or plans to).

I would also strongly encourage anyone who serves as a volunteer in Christian ministry to pick up a copy and have a highlighter at the ready. One of the key features of the book, for me, was that the authors effectively lifted the “Veil of Perpetual Holiness” that most of us commonly associate with pastors, allowing them to speak rather candidly about their frustrations and pet peeves, both at home and in the church. In short, readers get to see the real people behind the occupation, “allowing” these folks to express themselves as authentic human beings.

Why would anyone who does not work in full-time ministry ever pick up a copy of this book? I think one of the primary motivators for those of us who sit in the congregation at our local church every week should be as a means of better understanding and loving those who tirelessly serve the church week in, week out, loving servants who often take unfair potshots from others who might (for example) catch a glimpse of their pastor on the golf course during the work week and mutter something about how they appear to be “goofing off while the rest of us work so hard.”

If you serve in any form of ministry, or if you’d just like to do a better job of supporting those who do, has published two short articles that will give you a more informed perspective on this insightful book. Meantime, I’d like to humbly suggest that the perils of Christian ministry that take down so many pastors and support staff are equally threatening to those who serve in ministry on a volunteer basis. Burns, Chapman and Guthrie say as much in the introductory chapters. My personal goal is to serve Jesus and His Church in some capacity until the very hour of my death; recent experience with my own form of physical exhaustion and burnout tells me that this volume landed in my lap at just the right hour.

“God gave me a horse and a message. I have killed the horse and I can no longer deliver the message.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1813-1843 

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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