Yesterday I started talking about some of the problems associated with pastoral burnout. Today I want to conclude with some of the causes and a solution to the problem.
The Church and Burnout
We can suffer enormous stress and even burnout for all sorts of reasons—even with the best theology. Nevertheless, there are several widespread errors in our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) that contribute to stress and burnout.
The Apostle Complex
It may not be a fully-developed messiah complex, but many pastors have an apostle complex. Movements like the Church of Christ (Disciples), Calvary Chapel, and a host of other non-denominational denominations began as a radical announcement that formal structures were unbiblical and the Spirit was now unleashing every member for ministry. And within a few years, each successive “movement of the Spirit” usually becomes more hierarchical (indeed, papal) than any denomination it might have had in mind. Pastor-So-And-So becomes the final court of appeals. Questions are met with warnings like, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.”
We see in the New Testament a clear line between the extraordinary ministry of apostles and the ordinary ministry of Word, sacrament, and discipline that was entrusted to the officers who were ordained by the laying on of hands by the council of elders (presbytery, as Paul calls it). The apostles laid the foundation, with Christ as the cornerstone, and now ordinary ministers are building on it. The apostles were called directly by God in the flesh, as eyewitnesses to Christ, while the ministers are called indirectly through the church. This distinction lies at the heart of the church’s health, because it recognizes the difference between the constitution of the church and the growth of the church. The Spirit does not call any minister directly, privately, or immediately today; the inward call is confirmed by the external call: namely, the examination, ordination, and an actual letter of call from a local church or presbytery. We can’t make things up on the fly, as if we were apostles and were answerable only to the Holy Spirit; we have to submit to our fellow elders. Ministers cannot disqualify themselves from ministry; nor can vigilante hordes try them in the court of public opinion. Ministers are accountable to Christ through the elders and will ordinarily remain in office, transfer, or resign through the mutual admonition and wisdom of their fellow presbyters.