My first reading of Jeremiah was memorable to me because I was struggling with burnout at the time. So, I can’t read the text and not see a lot of myself within the confessions of Jeremiah.
What minister hasn’t accused God of taking advantage of them? I speak from experience knowing that I have had moments when I believed God was expecting more from me than I could give, and that there was an injustice in what I was going through in my pursuit in ministry.
My wife was two weeks from giving birth to our daughter (our second child) when I was called into the senior pastor’s office and notified that the board of trustees was unhappy with the numbers and direction of the student ministry. Therefore, they were graciously going to give me four months to “turn it around,” but since they felt I would be unable to do that, they were going to go ahead and interview applicants for my replacement.
I wanted to go. I didn’t merely want to leave the church, I wanted out of ministry. I could live with serving God, but had no compassion or appreciation for his church. It only served as a tormentor towards me. I had gained nothing from serving in ministry, but it had threatened the welfare of my family, and that I could not take.
So I prayed, and I prayed. I bided my time. I must have “turned it around,” because they didn’t hire my replacement, but I was hurt nonetheless. I chose to leave the ministry. I applied for several police department positions. One of which, I was unable to pass the physical test. The day before I was scheduled to take a written test for a fire department, I was hospitalized in order to receive an emergency appendectomy. I passed another police department physical exam two weeks post-op.
I was speaking to my best friend (another youth pastor) and he and I had a discussion about my struggles, and my desire to leave ministry. His comment was that if I could possibly leave ministry, then I should. But, if I’m called to ministry (which he believed I was), then I could not possibly be happy or content outside of ministry.
His statement rang true deep in my core, and I realized – like Jeremiah – that “his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” Jeremiah 20:9 (NIV)
Regardless of how I felt about the church at the time – regardless of my thoughts of being overwhelmed by God and used by him – I knew what I still know. I cannot be silent. I cannot stand idly by and not speak God’s word. I once thought that I could work a “secular” job, go home, and live in a happy Huckstable home.
There are people that can be content in that situation, and I applaud them (and at times envy them). However, I am not one of them, nor (now) would I want to be. I am called by Christ, to speak his words, to share his message, and to tell his greatness at every available opportunity.
I know who I am. I know what I am called to, and strangely enough, it is in accepting my role in the Kingdom and embracing the awesome responsibility and privilege of being one of God’s spokesmen that brings me joy.
I love the church. I love what I do within the church. I can’t imagine doing anything that doesn’t incorporate speaking God’s truths to anyone willing to listen – whether I do that in the context of Student Ministry, or in leading worship, or in (one day?) leading a church.
Perhaps the reality is that the very same feeling that upon burnout can be described as being overtaken by God and taken advantage of God, is the very same feeling that upon surrender is actually a comfort of being called and qualified by God. What feels to be pressure and heavy responsibility becomes (and perhaps always was) a passion and awesome privilege.