Co-dependency as a route to ministry burnout

The work of the pastor is never done. There are always more needs abounding than there is time to meet them all. These needs are practical, relational and theological.  People need a helping hand to do things, to fix broken relationships and to know God better. The busy pastor needs strength to carry on but where does this strength come from?

In Tim Keller’s book “King’s Cross”, on his chapter on the Transfiguration, I’ve found a little gem of wisdom on our need for love, encouragement and beauty if we are to avoid ministry burnout:

Have you ever had that kind of experience? When the compassion and love of another person helped you deal with your suffering? When someone’s unconditional approval and encouragement transformed your fear into resolve? When an encounter with beauty seemed to neutralize your anxiety and give you hope?

And if you got that kind of help more often, wouldn’t you be different? Wouldn’t trouble make you wiser, deeper, and stronger instead of bitter and hard and joyless? Wouldn’t suffering make you more compassionate, rather than more cynical about human nature? Wouldn’t failure be more likely to be productive in your life? Of course it would.

But here’s the question: How are you going to get more of that kind of approval, that kind of encouragement, that kind of love, without burning out your friends and family with your neediness?

The answer or us, as it was for the disciples, is worship. You must have access through worship to the very presence of God. You have to see clearly in your mind what God has done and is doing through Jesus. You have to experience foretastes of that embrace God is going to give you someday. You need to actually sense what you know of Gods love.

I’ve recently found the life of the pastor really hard going. I know I wear myself out on the ministry treadmill; I know I have too little self-control at bedtime when slumped in front of the TV at the end of a hectic day; I feel there are few encouragements (though there are of course more than my dull eyes can see) and I feel little compassion (though there is more than my hard heart can feel); I know I look too much at my wounds and afflictions.  Yet, I have been reminded of the thing I forget too easily: that the source of my strength is not other people, which is what co-dependency is, neediness, but rather worship. People can’t give me what I need to keep going.  I am made by God to sit at the feet of Christ and worship him, as teacher, model, healer, Saviour and Lord. When the chips are down I must spend more time with him.  He is my encourager, lover and the apple of my eye.  In him I can do all things.

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