I was asked to share my pastoral burnout story with a group of pastors at the request of a Western Seminary professor. Here's what I shared...
There might come a point in your life where you go, “I think I’ve heard this somewhere before?” That moment came for me on March 12th, 2018 when my Lead Pastor came to me and said, “you’re doing too much, you need to slow down.”
Around 2015 my mom began been telling me, “you’re doing too much, you need to slow down.” But… you know, that’s just mom. I’m a 30-something-year-old gainfully employed man and she still buys me socks; of course she’s going to say something like that! Then, my wife began telling me “you’re doing too much, you need to slow down.” Me being me, made up great excuses as to why she was wrong. And that’s where I was wrong. At some point in my pastoral journey of being completely sold out for Jesus, another desire was introduced. The desire for being ‘effective’ overrode my sense of what was actually right, healthy and good. This stemmed from broken personal desires to feel validated in what I did (as opposed to who I intrinsically was as a child of God) from myself and community. My ministry story is too common. It started with not maintaining margins and then sacrificing well-being to continue. At the time I knew absolutely nothing about emotional health. I went from event to event with little to no downtime between. By November of 2017, I began experiencing chest pain, pitiful sleep experiences and teeth grinding. “I just gotta get through these holidays into spring…” That December, I actually forgot about Christmas, being so consumed with the events around it. Four massive events later, my Lead Pastor came to me in March 2018 and said, “you should probably nix the fifth.” In my stubborn pride I didn’t listen. I was thrashed but didn’t want to feel like a failure if this spring break trip fell through. On that outreach, I said the right things and performed the correct motions but felt nothing on the inside. March 18th, 2018 marked the beginning of what I would later learn was burnout. A mentor told me that “burnout occurs when physical output exceeds emotional buy in,” and that’s the single most true thing I’ve ever heard on the topic. I had done too much for too long. I didn’t listen to those who loved me. Driving home from the Seattle airport after a leadership conference in San Diego on April 25th gave me two hours to think of ways to ‘accidentally die’. I’m not sure if I was suicidal- but I knew I definitely didn’t want to be alive. In August of that year, a famous pastor in California killed himself with his wife and kids outside. In that moment I understood exactly what he had been feeling and knew something had to change for me. In March of 2019 I verbalized my feelings of not wanting to be alive off and on that past year with my Lead Pastor after my wife told me she was worried about coming home and finding me dead. Within two months of verbalizing my feelings, the darkness lifted. I began to stop feeling like a success or failure depending on the day and was able to genuinely love the people in front of me regardless of the group size.
If I was given a chance to talk to my 2017 self I would probably say something like 1) your life matters because God’s story matters and you get to be part of it 2) Your value isn’t connected to what you produce, you’re an adopted child of a KING! You could never earn more than what he’s already given to you, dummy! 3) Get off your phone 4) Tell someone how you really feel, that’s when your healing will begin 5) No one’s a failure when they’re faithful. The kids won’t remember that epic event you pulled off, but they’ll remember how you made them feel 6) Slow down and rest! Jesus changed the world walking around. Moving at ‘Godspeed’ is actually 3 miles an hour 7) LISTEN TO YOUR MOM SHE BUYS YOU SOCKS. Friend, if ‘2017-19 me’ is ‘2020 you’ and you don’t have someone you can talk to, I’d love to connect over Zoom. You can reach me at email@example.com. For the full emotional health journey check out http://www.davidandrewpiper.com/2020/03/in-my-life.html and scroll down to the part that says, “Physical Health Journey Ends.” May God bless you in 2021. Remember that you are fully known and loved by the God who spoke you and the universe into existence.