Spiritual, informational revival key to keeping ministers fresh, engaged
Creative people are never willing to acknowledge that they are overloaded. They are sure they can handle this one big project to help the congregation achieve another goal. They burn the midnight oil to study and prepare lessons, and they meet with a troubled brother at 6:30 the next morning for breakfast and prayer. They spend their days encouraging other staff members and helping craft new programs to serve most effectively. Kent Allen epitomizes that high energy, creative person. And he always seems fresh and energized by what he accomplishes. He preaches effectively and engages his listeners in his teaching. He seems to cover all the bases — hospitals, funerals, weddings, new babies, major family events — without seeming to ever tire.
Now our congregation works through that tedious process of finding a new preacher. The same energy and time could have helped Kent to renewed passion and vigor.
So I am back on my soapbox, asking churches and elderships to be wise and thoughtful in caring for their staffs. Effective preaching is more rigorous than almost any church activity. Preparation will average 10 to 20 hours for a single lesson. Planning a five-part series will require a week of exploring and planning before work begins on a single lesson. The larger the church, the more
psychologically demanding preaching is.
Obviously, most churches have more staff than just the preacher. Those staff members are also under much pressure. Those responsible for children’s Bible education carry an almost impossible load. They must recruit and train teachers. They must select or develop curriculum that fits the needs of children from cradle to junior high — often without the necessary personnel and support.
Those who teach and minister to youth have jobs that never end. Developing a personal relationship with youth requires hours of coaching, mentoring and encouraging. Few members have any idea how much time youth ministers spend with their kids. They go to school activities, eat lunch with their kids and have endless Bible studies and prayer sessions.
Awareness of needs should be the beginning of an action plan. Awareness can come only if elders develop a general plan for helping staff members. That plan should include funding for educational experiences and seminars as well as provisions for covering the ministry assignments of staff members. The plan is the easy part: the relationship with staff that allows elders to recognize signs of burnout takes time to cultivate openness, trust and patience.
Ideally, the person responsible for preaching duties should have a paid six-week leave of absence every three years. The elders and the preacher should work together on a plan so that the preacher is not tempted to go hold a meeting or something else that will keep him from renewal. Each year, a preacher should get a week away from other duties to plan his preaching strategies.
Some of these things had occurred for Kent Allen. But he was preaching to a larger group each week, and the elders were regularly adding young, somewhat inexperienced staff for him to train and bring into the workings of the church. And almost every member considered him their preacher and their best friend. Burnout was inevitable.
I urge elders and church leaders to be proactive and develop a plan to sustain the long-term service of those who deal daily with the private and public issues of people forming and developing their faith.
Dec. 1, 2006