I just looked at another book about a pastor who crumbled under the burden of his fabulous success. It looked good and the thought was important—“leading on empty.” But it was just another fluffy rendition of “Look how good I am, and I’m humble, too.”
I couldn’t get past the part of how successful he was, how big his church was, how noble and selfless he was.
Like most ministers, I don’t lead a mega church. No one has heard of me outside of the small communities I’ve served. I’m never going to write a book to showcase my humility.
But I understand the concept of leading on empty. In fact, I'm beyond burnout.
I began the burnout stage of ministry about fifteen years ago. Over a period of five years, I experienced almost the whole package: breakdown in health, crippling depression, loss of my job, disillusionment with the church, and a crisis of faith.
But there are a couple of things that I did not lose.
One was my integrity, although I was tempted. I did not have an affair with the organist, the secretary, or any of the altar boys. Neither did I steal from the church treasury. And I didn’t just walk away and disappear like other ministers I’ve read about. I understand why these things happen, though. Loneliness, a sense of inadequacy, and an overwhelming urge to escape can lead us to sabotage ourselves.
I also have not lost my family, as has happened to many ministers dating back to the Old Testament. My family certainly has their issues, but we still have each other. In fact, the reason I am still alive--the only reason I chose not to kill myself—is that I love my children, and I refused to leave them such a devastating legacy.
So I’m still here, and I count myself more fortunate than most. I’ve gained ground on my health. The depression is under control—in fact, I’ll never go back to where I was.
But my religious views have changed drastically. I have more questions than answers about God, and I’m okay with that. I have a certain measure of faith, but it’s not the fearful, superstitious faith of the fundamentalist (more about that later).
I’m still disillusioned and confused about the church. Why do we exist? What is our purpose? How can we stand for love, when we’re so mean? I don’t know, and I submit that the reason the American churches are declining is because no one knows.
I’d like to be the prophet who stands on a hill shouting that the Lord’s people need to change their ways, but I don’t really know what needs changing.
I haven’t left the church, and I don’t plan to. It has some terrible flaws. I don't know what to do for it. But God help me, I still love it.
So I’m still here.