By / Jul 8

It was a busy day of ministry. Five thousand people covered the hillside where Jesus taught, not including women and children. Evening was coming on fast, and the people were hungry. So Jesus fed them food from a boy’s lunch of two small fish and five loaves of bread. Scripture tells us that, “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matt. 14:23).

Ministry and burnout

The demands of ministry haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years. Ministry remains a 24/7 job.  That’s because crises don’t fit neatly into a 9 to 5 schedule. The needs of church members are constant. Indeed, many happen in the middle of the night or when the pastor is on vacation with his family. The life of ministry can be draining and demanding, leaving little time for rest and refreshment.  

In addition, there are high expectations that come with a life of ministry.  People expect ministry leaders to know the answer to every question, fix every marriage and engage every lost soul. And they want pastors to prepare a challenging, yet not too convicting sermon each and every week. The church budget is always stretched thin, and the needs only continue to grow. Someone is always dissatisfied with the songs chosen for worship and, of course, an announcement was left out of last week’s church bulletin. Don’t forget that there are never enough volunteers to serve in the nursery.

For those who work in full time ministry serving our local churches, such as pastors, leaders of church ministries, and counselors, burnout is a common problem. The pressures of ministry, combined with how many hours these leaders pour into their work, can lead many to feel hopeless, overwhelmed, discouraged, unmotivated, cynical, unproductive, and sometimes even depressed. Such burnout trickles over into their family life, creating tension and strife at home. Many statistics report high numbers of pastors leaving the ministry, some as high as 1,700 a month, and often because of burnout.

Burnout prevention

As church members, we need to help and encourage our ministry leaders. We can’t expect them to be superhuman. Here are a few things to consider about burnout prevention:

1.  Ministry leaders need rest (both physical and spiritual). As we saw in Matthew 14, even our Savior had physical limitations in his humanity. His body grew tired. He needed time away from his work to rest and pray. Just as our Lord took time away from the work of ministry, ministry leaders need to do the same. We need to provide ways for them to do so. In America, we call it vacation. Americans are known for neglecting to use their vacation time. Those who work in ministry are no exception. We need to encourage them to take regular breaks and even sabbaticals.  

2. Ministry leaders need friendships. It is hard for ministry leaders to have real, deep, authentic friendships within their own churches. After all, they are helping everyone else in the church with their problems.  But those who serve us in ministry need deep friendships of their own. It is important that we encourage our ministry leaders to invest in friendships where they have the freedom to share common experiences, voice their struggles and burdens, and receive accountability. It may mean that they have to seek such friendships in other churches in the community.

3. Ministry leaders need help. It is important that ministry leaders and we, as church members, realize that ministry leaders can’t do everything. They are not God. They are not all-knowing. They are not all-powerful. They can’t be everywhere at once and meet the needs of every person who asks for their help. They are finite and human with limited energy and resources. This means that church members need to step in and help. Ephesians 4:12 tell us that the job of the pastor is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. It is the church members, not the pastors alone, who are to do the work of ministry. If every church member did their part, the weight of ministry would not fall onto one person. Let us reach out to our ministry leaders and offer our help.

4. Ministry leaders need realistic expectations. Ministry leaders need realistic expectations of themselves, and church members need to have realistic expectations for them. Ministry leaders often work more hours than any of us would be willing to. We need to carefully consider the demands and expectations we place on our church leaders, remembering that they are only human. This brings us back to number three.

5. Remember the needs of their family. We often forget the needs of our church leader’s family. They usually receive what’s leftover at the end of the long day. They are the ones who suffer when the pastor works countless hours a week, is constantly criticized by church members, or when he is discouraged by conflict and tension in the church. Let us consider how we can help and encourage the family of our church leaders.

Church ministry is an important calling. We need our church leaders. But the demands of church ministry are high. As church members, let us not knowingly contribute to the pressure, unrealistic expectations, and demands of ministry. Instead, may we help and encourage them for we are all members of the same Body, that is, Christ our Lord.  

By / Aug 7

When your job is to talk and you talk as much and as bombastically as Stephen A. Smith, you’re bound to say some things that get you into trouble. Usually Smith doesn’t care one bit. But last Friday the ESPN commentator made some comments about domestic violence that has him back pedaling and trying to explain himself.

For context, Ray Rice, a running back for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, received a two-game suspension in connection with a hotel video that shows him dragging his unconscious girlfriend from an elevator. The woman in question and the authorities reporting to the scene allege Rice knocked her out on the elevator. Following review of the video, the Ravens issued Rice’s suspension. Smith’s comments come in the wake of the suspension.

What did Smith say? To be fair, Smith got some things correct. He was unequivocal in repeatedly saying men “have no business putting [their] hands on a woman.” He expressed empathy and a protective concern for the women in his life—his mother, sisters and others. He suggested that a two-game suspension was not severe enough.

So why did the internet erupt last Friday following Smith’s comments? Why were his comments described as a “rant” and Smith himself as going “off the rails”? (see here) Well, it’s not because Smith was actually ranting. Anyone familiar with ESPN’s First Take can identity a Stephen A. Smith rant—he does it all the time. And we’ve seen Smith nearly come undone. But this was Smith delivering a sober and, for Smith, measured reply. He was serious and, from what I can tell, intended to send a message about the complete inappropriateness of men battering women.

The controversy stems from Smith’s comments about women needing to take measures to not provoke abuse or put themselves in situations with potential to end in abuse. Rambling and searching for words, Smith said:

“What I’ve tried to implore the female members of my family, some of whom you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this is what, I’ve done this all my life, let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that doesn’t happen.”

That’s one daddy of a run-on sentence, full of asides and qualifications, so it’s difficult to interpret precisely what Smith means. But here’s my best guess. He’s attempting to say three things, I think:

  1. He’s always encouraged the women of his family not to “provoke wrong actions” from men (i.e., abusive actions).
  2. If a man abuses a woman, then the response of law enforcement and family members will always be after the fact, that is, too late to prevent the abuse.
  3. So, he believes women should do “their part in making sure” abuse ‘doesn’t happen.’”

I think Smith means well. I really do. Yet I think he demonstrates some dangerous ignorance regarding the nature and dynamics of domestic abuse.

Stephen A. Smith plans to make more clarifying comments on today’s edition of First Take. Here are four things I think he missed the first time, and that I hope shape his comments this time:

We cannot qualify the basic message.

Had Smith simply stopped with his opening statement—men “have no business putting [their] hands on a woman”—period—end of sentence—then he would have delivered a clear, unmistakable, and most necessary message. That message got lost because there are no acceptable qualifiers for it. It stands alone. It should be shouted repeatedly into a culture among professional athletes that all-too-often turns the blind eye to gladiator men smashing around beautiful women.

But any time you add a qualifier like “women should do what we can to prevent abuse,” you shift responsibility from the abuser to the abused. You blame the victim. Rather than focus on the perpetrator of the crime—and that’s what battering is!—you saddle the already entrapped, manipulated and hurting woman with responsibility for herself and for the one beating her.

Domestic abuse is not a “women’s issue.” It’s a men’s issue.

I wrote about this a little while back (see here and here). It’s related to the blame-shifting mentioned above. The battering of women and children would decrease dramatically if (a) men owned this as our problem and (b) those men who do not batter would hold accountable the men who do. But too often we speak of domestic violence in terms that leave men blameless. We say, “Debbie was beaten” rather than “Joe beats Debbie.” In the first sentence, our usual way of speaking, “Joe” doesn’t even appear in the picture. And that’s the major problem. The abuser vanishes in the shadows while good men stand by quietly and women are left with “the problem.”

Men must prevent domestic violence.

Smith rightly calls for prevention. We need to do everything we can to prevent abuse. But the “we” who needs to do something is men—not women. So many people seem to forget or know very little about battered women’s syndrome. When we’re ignorant of even the most basic description and dynamics we end up doing things devastatingly harmful for the women and children who experience it. Taking five minutes to read the Wikipedia entry would be a very helpful first step in educating ourselves for prevention. Men must prevent domestic violence because the women and children trapped in the repeated cycles of abuse-reconciliation-blame-abuse-reconciliation are overwhelmed with the grooming and abuse much the way war veterans with PTSD are overwhelmed with the effects of war.

Putting women in abusive situations will cost someone their life.

Asking women to take preventative measures while involved with an abuser costs too many people their lives. Women make up about 75 percent of persons killed by an intimate partner. But sometimes the victim is the male perpetrator when women take desperate measures to defend themselves, another effect of battered women’s syndrome. We can’t afford to be uninformed about the global problem of men battering women—especially if our comments are as high-profile as Smith’s.

Lessons for the local church

As I thought about Smith’s comments over the weekend, my mind went quickly to my role and the role of Christian men in our churches. Let’s not forget that many of the battered women in our communities are in our churches, worshipping alongside us, pretending everything is okay, hiding brutal bruises, and making excuses for their abusers. Sometimes the abusers are husbands who are also involved in our churches. And, worst of all, sometimes the abuser is a church leader.

Domestic violence shelters can no longer be the only safe places for abused women and children. The safest place should be the family of God.

But it’s not. And our churches won’t be safe until we get in the fight on behalf of our sisters. Churches aren’t safe because Christians pretend blindness, remain ignorant, and sometimes provide disastrous counsel. How many times have we heard leaders and Christians tell an abused woman “God hates divorce” or some such thing? How often have church leaders made women the villains when men were abusers? How often have women be ostracized or shunned while men continued their service in the church?

We’ve got work to do, brothers. It’s time for godly Christian men to make domestic abuse and intimate partner violence a men’s issue. It’s time pastors preach and teach on this issue in an uncompromising, courageous and visionary way (here’s an example). It’s time we end our complicit silence and speak up for our sisters. We’ve asked women to support black men in a thousand ways for hundreds of years. But truth be told, men haven’t even begun to return the love, support, protection and hope women have given us! We’ve taken their support and turned our backs when and where our sisters have needed us most. We need to repent. We need to call a moratorium on all our “save the black man” activities until we show some strength in saving, protecting and nurturing some black women!

Personally, I can’t blame Black women for debating whether they should continue marching and protesting in support of Black male causes. I pray the debate (see hereherehere for example) leads to some necessary repentance and action among us brothers. The Lord knows that when guys are knocking women out in hotel elevators and worse in private homes, our sisters need us to step up for them. May He give us strength to do so.

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