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Offer a cup of hot coffee in His Name

“Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”

Matthew 10:42 The Message

Okay, I know the phrase is actually “give a cup of cold water in His Name” (Matt.10:42), but how many of us have phoned a friend and said, “I’d like to invite you over for a cup of cold water? Somehow, I don’t think you would have enticed the friend to come over.

The Message says that the smallest act of giving or receiving makes one an apprentice. Other versions says this is when we become disciples. As a young Christian I had been wisely taught by my pastor and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that a disciple is a follower. The Greek term μαθητής (mathētēs) refers generally to any “student,” “pupil,” “apprentice,” or “adherent,” as opposed to a “teacher.” In the ancient world it referred to those who were followers of a great religious leader or philospher.

We live in such a busy world that the importance of giving to those in need can easily be lost. We are an overloaded society walking that fine line with burnout, which many of us cross without realizing it until it’s too late.  As a pastoral counselor, I know some people who will never recover from the depth of their burnout unless God directly intervenes. They just gave and gave from a willing and kind heart until there was nothing left to give.

Many years ago as a very young assistant pastor, I remember when my supervising pastor had announced there would be a pancake breakfast. Many church members signed up. My pastor was excited  by this display of participation. Many had also offered to help.

We had worked getting the tables and chairs set up. My pastor had bought the amount of food that would be needed for such a large gathering. He had taken the time to prepare a devotional message for the event.

We waited with a child-like enthusiasm for all of the church members to arrive. Ten minutes went by with no one arriving.  Then, fifteeen, twenty, and thirty. Our hearts started to sink. Then, one soul showed up. We asked if he had seen anyone else coming. “No, didn’t see anyone.”

My pastor tried so hard to put on a brave face for this one faithful soul. He said fighting back the tears, “Well, where two or three are gathered together, God is there too. ” I was never more proud of him that day. He had been dealt a heavy blow by his own congregation. Yet, here he was seeking to show me how to be a leader, He taught me how to be an example to the one soul who had taken the time out of his Saturday off work to come and help us. Our pastor was offering us all the gift of his wounded heart.

I took time to look at his true inner pain. As his eyes met mine I saw that this jovial man who sought to walk close to his Lord was now sad. Feeling both dejected and rejected by the congregation he was giving his heart and soul to, I wanted to right then and there, pray with him.

My pastor made it clear that this would have been too much for him to handle. It was easier for him to deny the very real gnawing pain that was eating away at him.

I wanted so very much to offer him the cup of Christ’s agape love poured out and running over. My own human love would have surely failed me. So, I followed my pastor’s lead. The three of us prepared the breakfast.

Even as I write this piece the smell of ham, bacon, eggs and the sweetness of the maple syrrup comes back to my memory. I had so many cups of coffee that morning I felt like the energizer bunny for Duracell. It helped me to cope with that trying morning.

Even with the poor attendance we managed to have quite a joyful time together. We even laughed and shared in jokes and stories to bring each other some comfort.

My pastor’s face reminded me of the opera Pagliacci,  It is the story of two clowns, namely tragedy and comedy. The opera reminds us that even clowns have human emotions. My pastor was laughing on the outside, but crying on the inside. His congregation except one faithful soul was missing in action. How could they have been so cruel to sign up and then not even bother to come or even call with the reason for their absence? The cup of cold water my pastor had been offered was filled with an icy indifference.

As I look back upon that time I learned some valuable lessons. I had been called to be a pastor to the pastors. God had me walk in their path doing what they do, so as a counselor, I might begin to understand them. They are no different than any of us. If you cut them, they will bleed, maybe not publically, but moreover in that still silence when they cry out to God and ask why? Lord, why am I in a congregation that has people ready to backstab me? I’m doing all I can and more than I should to reach them. Father, why am I not getting through to them? What do I have to say to challenge these nit pickers in my church to support the vision You gave me for it?

Thankfully, not all churches are like this. There are healthy churches where though conflict happens, it is resolved. They operate well on the principle in Matthew 10:42 of giving and receiving. They give to each other. They support one another through their prayers. When a member is in need of food or just needs the gift of being loved on, faithful souls answer the call, listening to and helping that hurting soul.

A healthy church supports their pastor. They recognize when their pastor has been burning the candle at both ends. Even a part-time ministry job really to do it well is full-time. Many churches just don’t have the budget to support the full-time pay of even one pastor. This leaves the pastor having to take on other work. Some pastors can manage this extra load while others cannot. It doesn’t make the pastors who can’t handle this extra work weaker than those who can. That is just the reality of their own very real human limitations.

Ministers can become like a water pump. They give and give until they can’t pump out anymore.  The well is empty. There is no life left in them. They are physically and emotionally spent. That word few in the Church like to talk about and often deny then happens — burnout.

Here’s some startling statistics from In Thy Word ministries concerning pastor burnout.

“From our recent research we did to retest our data, 1050 pastors were surveyed from two pastor’s conferences held in Orange County and Pasadena, Ca-416 in 2005, and 634 in 2006 (I conducted a similar study for the Fuller Institute in the late 80s with a much greater sampling).

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Nine hundred forty-eight (948 or 90%) of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).
  • Nine hundred thirty-five, (935 or 89%) of the pastors we surveyed also considered leaving the ministry at one time. Five hundred ninety, (590 or 57%) said they would leave if they had a better place to go-including secular work.
  • Eight hundred eight (808 or 77%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!
  • Seven hundred ninety (790 or 75%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.
  • Eight hundred two (802 or 71%) of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process

Here is research that we distilled from Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary, all of which backed up our findings, and additional information from reviewing others’ research:

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

Most statistics say that 60% to 80% of those who enter the ministry will not still be in it 10 years later, and only a fraction will stay in it as a lifetime career. Many pastors-I believe over 90 percent-start off right with a true call and the enthusiasm and the endurance of faith to make it, but something happens to derail their train of passion and love for the call.”

Burnout is a growing problem in the Church. We won’t fix it until we recognize the elephant in the room. Let’s be honest about it.

We can’t sweep our burnt out pastors under the rug. We can’t put them in a closet of obscurity in our minds. Please, let us all agree that we will stop blaming our pastors for their burnout. It’s your fault. You made your own bed. Now, lie in it. There’s lots of pastors out there needing work. We’ll just hire another one. I can guarantee there’s a pretty strong chance you’ll burn out that pastor too.

We can only live up to Christ’s call of offering a cup of cold water in His Name if we all learn the lessons of giving and receiving. Let’s work together to truly support our pastors and one another. We need to get more real in the Church about burnout among our pastors and fellow church members.