serving and soul care

i met with sofie yesterday to talk about stepping down from leadership. she had already decided so this conversation was already after the fact. i wasn’t trying to change her mind or even get her to reconsider. i just wanted her to think deeply about what stepping down means and what effects it can have on your soul. there were lots of things we discussed, but i’m not gonna write about them here. but the conversation did lead me to consider and lament the state our church sees ministry and service.

i think i’ve seen too many people serving in the church “burn out” – a term that i consider a lurking evil in our pattern of church ministry. often when people approach me about stepping down or taking a break, i find that the decision is often ill advised. not to say that “taking a break” is wrong. but i think people often reach this point and use this language when they’re in a very unhealthy place. they’re stressed and overworked so they evaluate their life and think, “well something has to go” and often that something is serving the church body. the thinking goes something like this: if i just had one less thing to do, i can get some rest and regain some sanity. so they just want to unload their plate as quickly as possible in hopes of finding relief, but this often just turns into a cycle: periods of high activity and service, followed by burnout and retreat from service.

it’s sad because these mini (and sometimes not-so-mini) sabbaticals (or “breaks” as we like to call it), are meant to give life. but unfortunately many only enter into sabbatical after they’re nearly dead. how can you enjoy the life-giving purpose of a sabbatical if you enter a sabbatical barely clinging onto life? we ought to enter into these periods when we’re at our best, able to look back on our recent period of service and say it was all “very good,” not “good riddance! that nearly killed me!”

how do we break this cycle?

i don’t know. but i think it has something to do with caring for ourselves as a regular discipline rather than engaging in these extreme forms of “service” and “breaks” that ultimately don’t serve us at all nor give us true rest.

i started to reflect on some of the meaningful practices that have kept me going in this dangerous field of ministry: prayer, reflection, the psalms. God kept me going as i welcomed him into my striving. often he corrected me and told me to rest. he told me what was “too great and too marvelous for me” when i got too ambitious.

for the church as a whole i went through a bunch of my books that led me through such practices. one of them opens with a chapter entitled: “when leaders lose their souls.” what an accurate description of what i’ve seen in my own life and reflected in the serving/leadership culture of our church! the challenge i see before me is to guide and help people recognize this need. force feeding hasn’t worked in the past. i think it only worked for me because i was forced to work with it as part of my seminary studies! i needed to pass right?

growing leaders is hard.