Praying, planning, vision-casting, strategizing, tent-making, networking, visiting, witnessing, discipling, equipping, scheduling, rescheduling, reserving, meeting, drinking over-priced coffee, team-building, reading, writing, caring for a wife, shepherding the kids, advancing, retreating, shepherding the flock, leading small groups, researching, exegeting, outlining, preaching and on and on and on and on and on.
On top of this, are the internal challenges of fear, worry, jealousy, ambition and a host of other inner affections, temptations and trials. Many pastors identify with the fatigue resulting from the marathon of ministry. Some have experienced something akin to burnout—a loss of fervor. Of course, in this way, church planting is no different than any other life-dominating pursuit. Every fallen person who runs some race of life in this fallen world eventually stumbles upon his finitude; tiring, slowing and perhaps stopping altogether.
These experiences are common to a fallen world, inside and outside the Christian milieu, so much so that a multitude of secular solutions are promoted and tried every day. The mainstream secular approach involves variations on behavioral solutions such as starting the day with a relaxing ritual, healthy eating, exercising and sleeping habits, setting boundaries, taking a daily break from technology, nourishing your creative side, learning how to manage stress, etc.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with maintaining a mindfulness of these outward responsibilities, the problem of burnout begs an important question: What is a pastor to do about these struggles? In spite of the many external solutions, does the gospel have a place in this discussion; and if so, how does the gospel interact with the dynamics of our limited strength and endurance? I propose the gospel not only holds a place, but the gospel holds the central place of hope and help.
If I am honest, I will admit that in times of personal fatigue (loss of fervor) my natural response is to self-chastise, self-rile and self-discipline in hopes of cultivated a renewed self-determination to get better. For me, this often involves a to-do list, a more rigid schedule and a vow never to fall behind again. This sounds eerily similar to the secular solutions. By way of disclaimer, it is certainly not my intention to discredit the role of personal discipline. God has much to say to us about diligence and discipline throughout the pages of Scripture. On the other hand, it is very much my intention to highlight the overwhelming work of the gospel and God's enabling grace in all our trials—especially troubles of motivation, weariness and laziness in all their various forms.
Failing fervor in ministry is a problem that originates from within us. It is not imposed upon us from the outside. Although ministry pressures, difficult church members and challenging responsibilities certainly contribute to our problems with loss of fervor, it is not caused by these external forces. Ministry burnout is rooted deep within our hearts, the seat and source of our affections, hopes and dreams. To recover fervor for ministry, we need Christ to work within us. Only He can work the changes we need.