Over the Thanksgiving weekend (Black Friday, to be exact) a pastor friend of mine took his own life. While the details are not yet fully known (other than a ‘marital dispute’), it saddens me to personally know another casualty in ministry. And in life. I don’t presume to know the catalyst for any apparent spiral Thomas may have been riding. Or if he had anyone to confide in. Share with. Weep with. Pray with. Anyone to lock arms in battle with. Hey may have. And he may have not.
This calendar year alone, I’ve had at least a dozen ministry buddies burn out, bail out, check out, be forced out…or worse. If you serve in ministry and feel alone, you are next. Please read on.
Darrin Patrick recently offered some sobering statistics you should know. Put ‘em in your pipe and smoke ‘em…
1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
50% of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
80% of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first 5 years.
Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
70% said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.
80% of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
Eighty percent of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
The majority of pastor's wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.
Ministry will kill you. (The preceding statement is not meant as hyperbole or figurative language…) Remember that your Enemy, is roaming the earth looking to devour you. To eat you alive. Along with your family and friends. He wants to destroy your ministry, ruin your witness, and wreck the name of Christ. Satan is the Malcom X of subterfuge who will disrupt the Kingdom ‘by any means necessary’. It’s very personal.
But that’s only the beginning. I’m almost persuaded God designed it that way. From the beginning, Jesus has been reminding us to seek first the Kingdom of God (not the kingdom of Your Whatever Church). To seek the righteousness of God. And that everything else comes from the overflow.
The business of ministry life can be a lot like insomnia. When you have insomnia, nothing is real. Days blur from one to the next. Everything is a copy…of a copy…of a copy.”
Basic truth: Every one of us was born an original. Ninety percent of the DNA of Homo Sapiens is the same as that of a banana. But from our fingerprint down to our DNA, there is no one else exactly like any other one of us. We are each remarkably and wonderfully made. You were born an original. But most of us will die a poor, pathetic copy. Society’s relentless pursuit of squeezing us into a mold never quits. We look like everyone else. Talk like everyone else. Work the same jobs, eat the same food, desire the same stupid gadgets as everyone else. Color inside the lines. Walk single file. Don’t make waves.
The problem is that we were created to be a receptacle of the Divine. To be ordinary is to be only ‘more of the same’. As a human made in God’s image, my being screams out against this with every pore. To be ‘just another one of those’ is deadening agony to me. It has actually driven some people to their death. But it was never God’s intention for you and I to be a copy of anything…except Christ.
Each of us wants to be extraordinary. We were built to count for something. Anything. Placed in a specific context to count in ways that no one else does. That is our destiny.
So what’s happened to us? We’ve realized that living in a fallen world, among fallen, cracked eikons of God is freakin’ hard. Climbing this spiritual mountain is sometimes exhausting. The fact is that very few people will ever climb a mountain, real or spiritual. Most of us will take a vacation someday, sit in our air-conditioned vehicle, and drive up to the top of a nice overlook area. Then we’ll get out, and snap some nice pictures to tweet or Facebook or post on our blog.
Spiritually, it’s not much different either. Sometimes we don’t want to pay the price to climb when we can just ride our way to the Summit in the back of the nice, air-conditioned seminaries and specialized youth conferences. It’s hard work. And we’re tired.
Or worn out.
Or held back.
But the journey is a different with a Companion. If you’re going to climb, you need someone to hold the rope. Not just a sterile Xerox copy…of a copy…of a copy, either. Someone who’s not afraid of getting blisters. Someone with scars from scraping against the rocks and thorns of the journey.
For those who’ve held my rope, thank you. You are my Nathan. My Jonathan. My Deborah. My Zaccheus. My Jethro. My Paul.
If you need someone, there are multitudes of us willing to share the hurt. Lock arms with us. You can anonymously email me (tomATfbcpvilleDOTorg)or call my cell number anytime (512.9653052).
Please keep Erin (Thomas’ wife) and kids in your prayers. My God’s amazing grace be poured out immeasurably on them in these days…
Tomorrow: Part II