“Burn Out” (or “Burnout” if you prefer) is a common problem for ministers– often leading to them either DROPPING OUT or ACTING OUT.
As to the question above, the answer given by Ronald Kotesky (www.missionarycare.com), a Member Care Consultant for missionaries, seems more than adequate. Actually it can be found in his brochure, “What Missionaries Out to Know about Burnout.”
Not only can committed missionaries burn out, but the more committed they are, the more likely they are to burn out. If people slip through the screening process with major motives of travel and excitement, they can succeed at that quite readily. However, the more “ideal” missionaries are, with the hearts to win people to Christ, concern for others, and high expectations, the more likely they are to burn out.
A related question is, “Can first-term missionaries burn out?” Again, the answer is that they are at greatest risk for burnout. The time of greatest risk for burnout in any people-helping occupation is the first five years on the job. That is exactly the time frame of the first term and language school in most agencies. The new worker is filled with idealism and high expectations. When reality begins to set in, the first-term missionary begins to burn out.
Article by Jackson Wu, referencing John Sanders book “Theology in the Flesh.”
“Cognitive science” and “contextualization” –– two things that sound complicated but shape everything we do in ministry.
In Theology in the Flesh, John Sanders explains the concept of “framing” with this sentence: “We never open our presents until the morning.” For most Americans, at least, those eight words make complete sense because they evoke a common “frame,” i.e. Christmas. Families have different traditions about when they open their gifts.
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Sometimes it is fun to try to connect together two things that appear a bit similar, I was thinking about two cycles: Addiction Cycle and Abuse Cycle. I don’t know whether the connection makes sense, but I find it useful to think about at least.
The following is the classic Addiction Cycle. A person feels emotional pain and has a choice between dealing with the pain and its causes, OR can go for substitute that numbs the pain. That substitute can be behavioral or substance-related. Choosing the substitute, the person has a numbing of pain, and possibly a sense of euphoria. Afterwards, however, these effects begin to wear off, and there is the retain of emotional pain. In fact, this cycle is often more of a circle, and the deleterious effects of the substitute behavior, the guilt/shame, and the habituation begin to take their tolls.
The Abuse Cycle can also be shown in four similar steps— especially in terms of intimate relationships. There is a building of tension, followed by an abusive act. After that, the abuser typically feels remorse and acts to soothe the abused, bargaining a restoration of peace. Successfully arranging this leads to a “honeymoon” period. However, there is eventually a return of tension, and eventually abuse.
However, if one seeks to line up these two cycles, there are a couple of ways this can be done. One is to establish the choice (dealing with the problem versus finding a substitute) with the growing of tension. It would then look like this:
This would make sense. The Abusive action would be equivalent to the Substituting behavior. As tension grows in the relationship, the abuser can deal with the problem or go to abuse.
Another way to address it would be for choice to be after the abuse. At that point, one can deal with the problem or go towards remorse.
There is actually reason to line it up this way. First of all, the Honeymoon period lines up better with the numbing of pain or euphoria associated with the Addiction Cycle. Likewise, the growing of tension in the Abuse Cycle lines up well with the wearing off of the numbing effect in the Addiction Cycle.
I actually like this second one better. Lining it up with the Addiction Cycle connects the Remorse action with the Addictive behavior. After all the activity of Remorse is actually an attempt to avoid the normal consequences of the abuse. Instead of dealing with the abuse and the underlying problems that drive the abuse, the abuser bargains and expresses sorrow, and promises that things will change. However, since things have not changed, the problem will return.
If this makes sense, then one who is seeking to work with an abusive relationship should not be seeking remorse and promises. These are the “drug of choice” of many abusers to avoid dealing with the underlying problems.
How does one contextualize theology while still being Evangelical. I struggle with this a bit.
On one side, I believe that good context theology must have two invariants: (1) It must be true to God’s revelation. (2) It must be relevant to the culture it is meant to be contextualized to. The failure to meet the 2nd invariant means it is not contextual. The failure to meet the 1st invariant means that it isn’t good. To the extent that Evangelical Theology upholds these two invariants, I believe that Contextualized Evangelical Theology is a worthy goal.
On the other side, I also know that Evangelical Theology itself tends to be strongly contextualized to a British and American cultural sensibility. And frankly, to be true to good contextual theology is likely to strain the definition of Evangelical as it is commonly understood. Is it worthwhile even to add the term Evangelical into the term “Contextualized Evangelical Theology?” I sometimes have the same issue with some other terms as well. I sometimes teach in a Pentecostal school, even though I am not Pentecostal. I often feel that their desire to hold onto the term “Pentecostal” as they seek to contextualize their faith– even more so as much of their theology here in Southeast Asia has less and less to do with the theology described as the foundation of traditional Pentecostalism. Often the term seems to provide little more than a nostalgic link rather a doctrinal one.
Returning to the term Evangelical, I see value in the term, but acknowledge reticence in using the term when speaking of contextualized theology since it can suggest a rejection of contextualization. On the other hand, I have met people who appear to believe that the attempt to contextualize automatically involves a rejection of the normalizing beliefs of Evangelicalism. I just don’t see that. Regardless, Dr. Rodrigo Tano, presently the president of Alliance Graduate Graduate School listed several parameters in “Toward an Evangelical Asian Theology.”
- Must uphold the supremacy of the biblical revelation as normative for faith and conduct. This would reject seeing the holy books of other faiths as being additional canonical revelations of God. It would also, presumably, reject seeing other possible forms of divine revelation (prophecy, activities of the church, reason, creation, and history) as anything but having a clearly subordinate role to the Bible.
- Maintains the balance in understanding of God, in terms of His personality, transcendence, and immanence. So attempts to link God as described in the Bible with other faith’s understanding of God must not violate His character as shown in the Bible and in Bible history. So linking God of the Bible with God of the Quran is highly problematic. Additionally, the missionary goal of linking an animistic group’s view of the “god of the heavens” with the God of the Bible may be a useful starting point for dialogue, but again can be open to problems down the line unless there is clarification.
- Must maintain Jesus Christ as the unique and final source of restoration for mankind. Salvation history climaxes with Jesus death and resurrection, and is complete with His return.
- Must affirm mankind’s lostness and need of God’s grace through faith.
- Includes as an essential element the call to belong to the Christian church.
- Our message must fill the local and national religious concepts with biblical substance. Traditional cultural concepts should not be employed in theological formulation without critical evaluation and reinterpretation.
Some good things:
- Item #6 clearly identifies the need to repackage the message in terms of local concepts… while still clearly maintaining “biblical substance.” Without this in its two aspects, the theology would not be contextual, or biblical. In fact, #6 is the only item that has anything to do with contextualizing or localizing theology.
- I feel that #1, #2, and #3 really are necessary to be Evangelical… and I would say these would be necessary for good theology… regardless of whether one chooses to throw in the word ‘Evangelical’ or not.
Some perhaps a bit questionable things:
- I think #4 is true but only when one really embraces the term “affirm.” Affirm means to accept as true, but the term does not imply centrality. Evangelical soteriology has tended to focus on Jesus as Savior over Jesus as Lord. However, one can suggest a culture where sin is not a central concern where the key is Jesus as Lord. Focusing of Jesus as Lord and guide does imply affirming lostness, but it may not be central as a concept.
- I am not sure that #5 is a necessary characteristic of good contextualized theology. The mystical unity of all believers through Christ (the Universal Church) and its implications on self-identity are certainly critical. To that extent I agree… however, the term “church” is often defined in Evangelical circles in ways that, while not necessarily wrong, don’t seem to be supracultural. It seems to me that #5 here should be removed or much more carefully worded.
Actually, these concerns are rather mild… a modest critique.
However, I do wonder about the overall tone of the list. I recall a Filipino theologian here stating that Tano is not so much a Contextual or Local Theologian as a translator of Evangelical Theology to other cultures. Certainly this list points to that idea. Items 1-5 emphasize maintaining Evangelical distinctives. Item 6 is to contextualize. But in Item 6 there seems to be more caution associated with contextualiztion than affirmation of its importance.
I was looking at the Five Marks of Mission (of the Anglican Communion) as well as Five Purposes of Church, as described by Rick Warren in Purpose-Driven Church.
The Five Marks of Mission are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth
(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)
To come up with summarizing terms for each of these is fairly easy:
- Evangelization (although proclamation to include all of the other marks as well)
- Social Ministry
- Social Justice
- Creation Stewardship
These all seem well-grounded Biblically. This is not to say that all our evenly weighted.
Now looking at the 5 purposes of the church, as described by Rick Warren in PDC (Purpose-Driven Church).
- Churches grow warmer through fellowship.
- Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
- Churches grow stronger through worship.
- Churches grow broader through ministry.
- Churches grow larger through evangelism.
There are two immediate and obvious differences. Warren’s list includes Fellowship and Worship. Of course the failure of the Five Marks to include them is that the Five Marks are associated with the Missio Ecclesiae– the Mission of the Church. Fellowship is inward directed, while Worship is “upward” directed. Missions is outward directed from God and by God.
So if one removed those two, Warren’s list (PDC) becomes Evangelism, Discipleship, and Ministry. These line up well with the Five Marks, especially when we note that “Ministry” is a broad term. We get.
Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on EVANGELISM
Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on DISCIPLESHIP
Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on MINISTRY but the 5 Marks breaks them down into:
A statistical research by FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development) in 1998 interviewed 1050 pastors It showed that about 30% of the pastors surveyed had (or are having) a sexually inappropriate encounter or relationship with a parishioner. Other studies are commonly lower like around 10%, and one done in 2016 showed it as below 3%. This last number seems quite low. The average in the United States for general population extramarital affairs is around 10-15%. I doubt that pastors are doing that much better than the general population.
There still seems to be a significant drop in extramarital affairs for pastors. Lying seems hardly likely to account completely for a drop from 30% to 3%. According to the 2016 study, at least three things were suggested:
- Somewhat different target population. The 1998 population was denominationally broader. They were selected from conferences where there can be a higher number of pastors from dysfunctional churches. Personally, I see little to indicate that Evangelicals are less likely to violate moral boundaries than those who are “mainline.” If there is a lesser likelihood for an Evangelical pastor to sin in this manner, I would have to think that the autonomy of many Evangelical churches would lead to a lack of accountability to more than compensate for any surmised greater reluctance to commit adultery.
- Less stress of the pastors. The pastors selected come from typically healthier churches. Healthier churches are commonly less stressful. Stress leads to burnout, and burnout to acting out.
- Churches commonly treat pastors better now than they did 20 years before. Possible.
- There is a greater understanding of the dangers and appropriate precautions related to sexual sins. I would like to think that is true.
But I wonder. Back in 1986, a study by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) found that there was a common series of steps associated with psychiatrist-patient sex. They found a series of steps that consistently showed up. (You can read this article “Psychiatrist-Patient Sexual Contact: Results of a National Survey, I: Prevalence.” by Nanette Gartrell, Judith Herman, et al., American Journal of Psychiatry, 1985, Vol. 143, No. 9.)
The series of steps:
- Calling the patient by the first name.
- Extending the duration of sessions.
- Rearranging appointment times outside of working hours, at the patient’s request.
- Giving personal information about oneself to the patient.
The problem is that in ministerial setting, often many or all of the first five steps are already in play.
- In the church or ministry setting, first names are very common.
- In many church cultures, it is considered in bad taste to be too strict as far as abiding by the clock.
- Also in many churches, the pastor is expected to have flexible work hours, so counseling in the evenings or weekends would not be considered strange or inappropriate.
- Pastors commonly know their client in a pastor-parishioner relationship that is commonly quite personal.
- Hugging is often a common part of greeting in many churches.
The counseling environment for pastors is especially problematic for pastors… especially for pastors who are not properly trained in pastoral counseling. Thom Rainer in his blog, noted anecdotally, the problem of transference in the counseling setting. This concern was also made by Robert Schwartz back in 1989 (“A Psychiatrist’s Vioew of Transference and Countertransference in the Pastoral Relationship” by Richard S. Schwartz Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. Vol. 43 #1, 1989).
So here are some suggestions:
- Avoid burnout. Burnout tends to come from not knowing one’s personal limits. We have limited time and energy.
- Have balance. Maintain healthy relationships, with self, with God, with others, and with one’s physical environment. (Consider the four-fold healthy growth in Luke 2:52). Some emphasize having a strong spiritual or devotional life. I think that is true but that is too simple. To fail to have good balanced self-care in terms of physical, psychoemotional, social, and spiritual, will lead to breakdown.
- Know thyself. We all have areas of weakness. Recognize what they are, honestly. Knowledge is the first step to having control.
- Establish boundaries. It is okay to seem prudish at times. but establish wise boundaries (breaking the 7-step path above) is not a sign of weakness, but of wisdom and strength.
- Understand the challenges related to pastoral counseling.
Regarding #5, Scwartz (mentioned above) gives three suggestions, to deal with the issue of transference (and countertransference) in the counseling setting:
- Education regarding transference, and how it can lead to problems of this sort in a counseling envirnoment.
- Self-knowledge of one’s own weaknesses or characteristic distortions. This can be done through introspection… but in many cases, therapy would be helpful.
- Open oneself up to peers, supervisors, accountability partners for a distanced, unbiased perspective.
Sexual misconduct for a minister is a sin. However, that is only the start, as it has huge ramifications for the minister, family, parishioners, and community. At risk of stating the obvious— it is foolish to be foolish. Balance, self-understanding, and boundaries are important to avoid pitfalls that are still all too common.