After burning out, would I ever lead again?

I’ve been in church leadership since 1990, and full time staff from 2000 to 2009 when I was forced to resign due to depression and anxiety. Would I lead again? Up until now, I would have refused to even contemplate the idea. But my wife just came home after attending church – my former church, fuming about things like hypocrisy, in-authenticity, and PR bullshit (we’ve been made a scapegoat for anything that was bad about church) and we had a great discussion about what church could be like if we could start with a blank slate.

If this burned out, back-from-the-brink pastor could dream a little dream, it would go something like this:

If a pastor didn’t have a budget to meet, rosters to fill, attendance wasn’t measured, and behavior modification wasn’t on the radar, then I reckon it would be a ball. We would be free to do what we’re gifted for.

One caveat would be that I would not be paid – and therefore not full time and not on staff. I don’t think I would even have anyone “reporting” to me in any official capacity, and I definitely wouldn’t have a job description. I would do what I am gifted and led to do and what I’m passionate about. That beautiful little sector where the circles of gifts, strengths and passion overlap is where I’d live.

I’d think more about following Jesus than leading others. I would let Him lead them and remain only a catalyst.

I’d think more about two-way conversations than preaching messages at or to people.

I’d focus more on relationships, than productivity and efficiency.

I would hasten slowly.

I would concern myself more with journeys than destinations.

I would be brutally honest and leave PR spin to politicians, salesmen and con artists.

The life of the church would not revolve around me. I would not be the primary vision caster or motivator. I would allow people to get their own vision from God.

The church wouldn’t be exclusive. It would be a place for followers or non-followers alike.

Relationships with God and others, underpinned by love and acceptance would be the highlight.

Being would take priority over doing.

We wouldn’t own buildings or take on any debt.

The Sunday Service would not be the peak spiritual experience of the believers week.

The arts would have equal place with the spoken word.

Busyness would be a swear word.

I would not burn people out volunteering.

People would be more important than things, issues, ideas, structures, programs, productions, goals or causes.

I would tell stories. God’s story. My stories and others’ stories.

Yes it’s just a fantasy and no I don’t think this will ever happen, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming is there? Some like Small Boat Big Sea are at least heading in the right direction. A transcript of an interview with them really gives me hope.

4 Responses

  1. Jack, I was just sitting down to write a code of pastoral ethics as an assignment for the Lay Pastor’s course I take when up popped your post. I despair at the usual dry code of ethics modeled on those from the professional world; there are many exceptions but none quite capture the essence of pastoring in the way I see your list as doing.
    My experience is that there are many, many pastors striving to pastor in the way you have outlined but they are often fighting the system in the form of their denomination (and code of ethics), church management and membership who have been led to expect something different. By definition these pastors don’t seek attention so they are for the most part off the radar and better for it, although it is sad that our attention to drawn by other sorts of pastors.
    I pray the you and your wife will be able to take your anger and despair for your ex-church to God. He is still working there as He promised – He does hasten slowly – change will come when the time is right. It sounds as though they are still going through the process of mourning for you, they need to finish that process. Pray for them, especially those that blame you.
    I also pray that you will one day be able to pastor in the way you describe above. That Christ will heal you from your depression and anxiety as He has already healed you in other ways – borne out be the contents of this post. Christ’s church needs broken people who recognize their brokenness as its leaders, one day this will be you. It will be a courageous step for you and your family, it will be like stepping back into the lion’s den for all of you, a step of awesome faith when the day comes and Jesus calls you afresh.
    With you permission I’d like to use your list as the basis for my code of ethics assignment, with attribution to your blog.

    Thanks for the wonderfully timed post.

    • Hi there Simon, I’d be more than happy for you to use whatever you wish. One of my objectives with writing is to try and help others so they don’t have to repeat the same mistakes! I guess only time will tell if I’ll ever pastor again, but as you say only God could or would make that happen. Thanks for your support.

  2. One of the main things that would attract me to your place, would likely be the one thing that would repel some believers – the conversational dynamic you would use. Having dealt with depression (as I have) we both know only too well the prevalence and use of social masks. Any kind of deep discussion – beyond the traditional “hail fellow, well met!” types of conversation – would be threatening to some, because it might involve stripping away the facade to get to the heart of what folk are dealling with – or not dealing with, as the case may be.

    I think too that some might balk at the notion of non-followers or even athiests attending such a gathering. But you know – it would be an excellent start down the path that I believe Jesus trod. It takes some getting used to – the idea that God’s DNA exists in mankind generally and not just those who hold to certain dogmas. The fact that Hindu painters are artists are inspired and birthed by the same God who motiivates the rest of us. God is an artist, and a creator, and has the sum of all knoowledge, including those valued by atheist scientists, many of whom are using His gifts to great effect, whether they like it or are aware of it, or not.

    I recenlty wrote a letter to the editor of a conservative newspaper, upon the occasion of the death of Christopher Hitchens – who was known, unfortunately, mostly for his views on God. The man was multi-faceted, and a great deal to say and opine about many topics. His atheism was only one facet of his personality. To say he was a brillliant man would be an understatement, and I am going to miss him and his columns. My letter included this: “The God I believe in would not judge him for exercising his reasoning abilities to their full extent, even if, in this case, his conclusion was a bit off.”

    It pains me to realize the extent of my myopia all of these years, undervaluing or even devaluing the contributions, wonders, areas of thought and other contributions provided by those not of my faith. I think I missed out. Yet, this is the silver lining of my depression: it started me down the path to an awakening of sorts and so there is gratefulness and now, curiosity.

    Should I ever discover a gathering such as the one you envision, I would gladly attend – the conversational aspect of it being the magnet. As I get older I realize more and more the extent to which I’m ignorant, and such an opportunity would provide an input. I could learn from you, and from others who attended. Man, what a great thing that would be!

    And on a similar note, should you ever find yourself traipsing around the Toronto Ontario area, I would really enjoy having a beer with you. Best to set aside a number of hours though – I think that would be a requirement. Cheers and Happy New Year!

    • Thanks WS. I reckon the thing about having non-christians involved would mess with heads, but I use that term deliberately. I think there would be people out there that would be happy to follow Christ, but not necessarily identify as a christian. Also I’d like to think that “pre-followers” would be able to share in community and discussion equally.

      I totally agree – as Christians we have written off so many artists, philosophers, writers, simply because they’re not christians. How bigoted, arrogant and foolish have we been.

      I’d love to vist you someday. Apparently there’s awesome fly fishing up your way!

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