I have posted many times on the matter of ministry burnout. Much of my training as a curate focused on the ways and means to avoid burnout. I think I believed that if I put the principles into practice that I’d avoid exhaustion. But if the past six months have taught me anything it is that burnout comes as part of the package as we share in the sufferings of Christ that we might also share in his glory. We should be wise to avoid burnout but at the same time expect it when Christian ministry is a life of self-sacrifice. We must have the devil in the corner of our eye as he is always on the prowl. And then God will not have his ministers be men of steel upon whom folk fall or depend, because Christ must have the glory not me.
There are lots of resources on my study shelves which I forget are there or I am completely unaware of. So thanks to Lew who commented on my post last week “on making it alright to crumble sometimes“. The comment suggested that I read C.H. Spurgeon’s “The minister’s fainting fits” from his Lectures to my Students. It is brilliant. The chapter opens with a paragraph of healthy biblical realism about the lot of the minister:
As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord. Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down.
In his chapter Spurgeon points that ministers struggle with depression for many reasons:
1. They are men and subject to all human frailties.
…Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmaties, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them.
2. They all struggle with physical weakness to one degree or another.
the great mass of us labour under some form or other of infirmity.
3. The work of the ministry itself is exhausting.
Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking into the dust? …After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.
4. They tend to be somewhat isolated from others.
A minister fully equipped for his work will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond, and apart from others. The most loving of his people cannot enter into his peculiar thoughts, cares and temptations.
5. Their work is sedentary in nature.
To sit long in one posture, pouring over a book, or driving a quill, is itself taxing in nature.
Then he mentions the times when ministers often face bouts of depression:
1. After a great success.
When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint…The Lord seldom exposes his warriors to the perils of exultation over victory; he knows that few of them can endure such a test, and therefore dashes their cup with bitterness…Excess of joy or excitement must be paid for by subsequent depressions. While the trial lasts, the strength is equal to the emergency; but when it is over, natural weakness claims the right to show itself.
2. Before some great achievement.
Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us.
3. During a stretch of long, unbroken labor.
The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down.
4. After a crushing personal blow.
The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the man who trusted him, and the preacher?s heart for the moment fails him.
5. When troubles multiply.
When troubles multiply, and discouragements follow each other in long succession, like Job’s messengers, then, too, amid the perturbation of soul occasioned by evil tidings, despondency despoils the heart of all its peace.
6. For no specifiable reason.
As well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness. One affords himself no pity when in this case, because it seems so unreasonable…
By all the castings down of his servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields him praise. They speak all time more sweetly of his faithfulness, and are the more firmly established in his love. Such mature men as sonic elderly preachers are, could scarcely have been produced if they had not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and made to see their own emptiness and the vanity of all things round about them. Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.
The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.