Getting Lost While Trying to Save Others
In pastoral ministry, it’s entirely possible to become lost while trying to save others. I know. It almost happened to me. And there’s no quicker way to veer off course than to lose your personal relationship with God. I let this happen during a downward spiral to ministry burnout.
In 1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESV) the apostle Paul says:
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
By God’s grace and lots of help from people that love me, I was able to overcome ministry burnout and get on the road to recovery. My prayer is for you to do the same. But in order to make it, you must get honest about where you stand in your relationship with God and deal with it.
Sacrificing Private Devotion for Public Ministry
It should go without saying that above all else a pastor needs to have a vibrant relationship with God. Public ministry to others without private devotion with God will lead to a parade of the flesh at best and moral failure at worst.
The greatest men and women of God that I know did not achieve their success due to an abundance of oratory, administrative, or charismatic gifts. They were great because they had a burning relationship with God.
You could feel it emanating from them. You could see it in their decisions. You could hear it in their voice.
The Most Important Thing in Pastoral Ministry
I had the privilege of serving under an elder church planter named Jack Yonts for a couple of years. I asked him one day what the key to his ministry success was. In my immaturity, I was looking for a nuts-and-bolts strategy that I could implement for instant results.
That’s not what I got.
His gaze wandered around the top of the room for a few seconds as he searched for an answer to give a young, aspiring minister. Without a trace of false humility he said:
I honestly don’t really know why I’ve been successful.
I’ve never really had any gifts. I can’t sing, I don’t play any instruments, I don’t have a good education.
God has just been really, really good to me.
Pastor Yonts did have gifts. But more than that he had a burning relationship with God.
As I got to know him more I realized that the thing he loved to do more than anything was to pray. To Jack Yonts, Sr. walking with God was not a cliche in his life, it was his life. And that’s why he was successful.
Drifting Apart from God
Seven years after receiving this wisdom from Pastor Yonts, I had to admit to myself that I had not followed in his footsteps. Instead, I had drifted away from the One that had saved me and called into ministry in the first place.
That deep, heartfelt love for Jesus Christ that I used to know was nowhere to be found. I had fallen into that ministerial trap where my relationship with God had become strictly professional.
It’s not rare for married couples to drift apart a little at time until eventually, they realize they don’t love each other anymore.
As painful as that is for a pastor to admit, that’s where I was in my relationship with God. What would have been even more painful would have been to keep living a lie.
It was time for an adjustment.
The Need for a Course Correction
Dr. Charles Garfield said that the Apollo moon rocket was only on-course during its voyage 10% of the time (Forbes Magazine, 1997). The other 90% consisted of making the small course corrections necessary to touch down on its intended destination. Had these constant corrections not been made, the vessel would have gotten so far off course that it would have reached a point of no return and been forever lost in space.
As I became more burned out I knew that it was time for a course correction. I had to get my relationship with God back on track. So I tried. I got up at around 5 a.m. for prayer every morning for about six months. To my surprise, I made no progress. I drew no nearer to God. God drew no nearer to me.
Sometimes the heavens are brass and we just have to keep knocking on the door until we break through. Then there are times that something is broken in us that all the persistence in the world will not fix
This is where I was. When I finally realized this I made the difficult decision to resign my church and move home to get healed.
Too Hard for God to Heal
After about a year of some very painful purging of my spirit, I realized the reason my prayers weren’t getting me anywhere with God. That is my heart had grown too hard. Over time the heart issues that I had compiled erected an unscalable wall between God and me. The wall needed to be torn down.
In the spirit of Matthew 5:23-24 I made my priority dealing with the junk that was separating me from Him. Through counsel, hearing preaching every week, and reading God’s Word, Christ began to show me my true self. It wasn’t pretty, but at least I had a way forward. As I began to confess and repent, God began to heal and restore.
Getting My Relationship with God Back
As I write this more than a year after starting the road to recovery I still don’t have a ministry position. I don’t pastor a church. My speaking calendar isn’t full. But what I do have is far more valuable.
My relationship with God.
Words can’t express how thankful I am for the rebirth of that true affection for Jesus Christ. But I can tell you this, it would have stayed out of reach had I not gotten honest and gotten help.
If you are struggling with ministry burnout, ask yourself this question: Am I really in love with Jesus Christ, or has my relationship with God become strictly professional?
Although you should allow Godly sorrow to chasten you, don’t condemn yourself. Instead, cut through the clutter in your heart and find your way back to Him.
Because the truth is, God doesn’t condemn you.
He just misses you.
Join the conversation in the “comments” section: Has there been a time that you found yourself drifting away from God? Are you there now? What does it take to get back?