For Thinking Out Loud

I find it interesting that when I express some deep struggles and questions, people want me to take a rest. I don't deny that I might need a rest. But I do want to challenge the idea that if I struggle, it means sabbatical time. I want to thank everyone who has written to me in the form of comments or in personal emails, encouraging the struggle that comes through my writing and expressing your concerns. It is generous and kind of you. But here goes... I want to suggest that just because I revolt at such deep levels, it doesn't mean I have to go away for a while. A couple of summers ago Lisa and I went to a workshop on pastor burn-out. I noticed myself getting very frustrated. The basic thrust of the discussions from the other church leaders in the group was this:
  1. We need to stop and take a break so that we can come back into the same grind with more vigor;
  2. We need to separate ourselves more from the people, thus decreasing their demands upon us and maintaining our own authority as pastors;
  3. We just need to better manage our time, dividing ourselves in a more healthy manner among our various responsibilities.
In a moment of real frustration I argued that we are just reinventing the same wheel that will only crush us again! I said that I am not interested in doing the same thing over again only better. The whole system sucks. The whole program is murdering souls. So why just tweak it? It won't work. It won't solve the problem! They all looked at me and started murmuring, "Burn-out! Oh ya, he's burnt out!" I denied it: "No I'm not burnt out!" "Oh ya! See? He's really burnt out!" I felt like a maniac in a straight-jacket insisting he's not crazy! It doesn't look convincing. I was embarrassed and so was Lisa. I concluded right then that this whole enterprise is diseased. We continue to support a regime that kills souls. It's as if there's a deadly virus at the center of it and we simply band-aid the surface sores and send the workers back into a very contaminated environment. One of the main problems is that pastors are not allowed to struggle, not allowed to question, not allowed to doubt, not allowed to manifest weakness. As soon as they do, they are "burnt-out" and sent on a sabbatical. I know many, many pastors who have quit or been dismissed because they either began questioning out loud or didn't soon enough and therefore emotionally, spiritually and vocationally crashed. The fact is that pastors do struggle at fundamental levels. You just don't know it because they are not allowed to show it. They are trapped in their vocational boxes. This is what nakedpastor is all about: it isn't just my own confessional. It is a place where I expose the weakness of the ministry, the church and the Christian religion. The pressure to maintain composure, equanimity, poise, certainty and conviction is crushing pastors. It crushes anyone who is not free to think, or sometimes to think out loud. The exquisite fine art photograph is the creation of my friend Howard Nowlan.
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