by Rick Chromey
Burnout is an American pastime. We’re driven by the clock, defined by achievement, and dominated by greed. The Rolling Stones were right: We can’t get satisfaction. Consequently, rest is a four-letter word. Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep per night (down over an hour since 1942).
As a kid I bought this postcard that lamented the two-week vacation: 2 weeks that are 2 short after which I’m 2 tired 2 return 2 work and 2 broke not 2.
I know what you’re thinking: People used to take two-week vacations? Evidently! But not anymore. Most of us work on our holidays, layoffs, breaks, and even vacations. Americans relish movement, revere accomplishment, and reward stress. We are fueled by “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “It’s better to burn out than rust out” mantras.
In the Church, the idea of “Sabbath” is practically heresy. It’s a well-worn rule that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. In smaller churches, that means multiple hats. No rest for the weary. As a young pastor I remember church leaders (including my senior minister) encouraging me to “work harder…and smarter.” I routinely worked days off and rarely had more than a week of annual vacation. Some of my ministry professors groomed me for pastoral work like a basic-training drill sergeant. “Ministry is hell. You will get wounded. You might even die. Now go get ’em, boys!”
It’s no wonder I burned out after five years of full-time ministry. But I wasn’t alone. I watched many peers crash and burn, too. Some fell to pornography, sexual addiction, and affairs. Others medicated themselves with alcohol and drugs. Still others chose apathy, absenteeism, and agnosticism.
I’ll confess that many statistics on “pastoral burnout” are dubious and fabricated (example: nearly half of all pastoral marriages end in divorce), but here are a few stats I found that match my own pastoral experience:
- One-third of pastors burn out within five years.
- One-quarter of pastors have been fired or pressured to resign.
- Nearly half of pastors suffered depression to the point they took a leave of absence.
- Seven in ten pastors have no close friends.
- Six in ten would leave the pastorate if they had a comparable paying job.
- Ninety percent of pastors feel they were poorly prepared for pastoral work.
- Nine in ten pastors work over 50 hours per week.
- And 94% feel they need to have the “perfect” family.
One major U.S. newspaper concluded the clergy suffers higher than the national average in “obesity, hypertension, and depression,” forcing a lower life expectancy.
The solution? It’s really rather simple: R-E-S-T. Relax. Escape. Sleep. Timeout. We need to get away. Take a nap. Enjoy a hobby. Play and recreate.
We must obey the Divine command for Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11). It doesn’t matter what we do—pastor, elder, Sunday school teacher, or youth worker—we need to rest, relax, and refresh. Here are three ways churches can encourage Sabbath:
- Lead by example. Pastors and church leaders need refreshment, too. God’s rule was to work six days and get one day off. Six days per day off. Six years for an extended sabbatical. If we refuse rest, we teach our people to do the same.
- Share the preaching load. Is it really necessary for one person to preach every Sunday? Many congregations are discovering the power of multiple pastoral preaching teams. This provides rest.
- Encourage rest. What if we became a church of retreats? What if we encouraged the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence? What if we programmed less “work” and planned more “play?”
Every human needs a rest like every sentence needs a period.
Now stop reading this and take a nap. I am.