It happens far too often: a pastor’s marriage suffers because of the unrelenting pressures of ministry; a Christian schoolteacher resigns due to burnout; a missionary returns home in a state of emotional collapse.
There are many causes for this, but one recurring factor is a failure to care for those in ministry. Far too often, no one ministers to the minister. They pour out their energies caring for others while their own needs are ignored. The result is physical and emotional exhaustion.
The problem may be a lack of rest and restoration. There are seasons when ministry requires a 24/7 commitment with little opportunity for personal rejuvenation. God gives special grace in those seasons. But if we continue this pattern long-term, it is harmful.
The problem may be pride. It sounds impressive, even spiritual, to say, “I don’t need rest; I am all out for the Kingdom! All I need is God.” But even the Marines (not known for being weak!) know soldiers need rest and a supply line. We are not meant to fight life’s battles alone.
The problem may be a lack of resources. Some pastors serve in areas with few fellow ministers to share their struggles. Frontier missionaries may be isolated from any emotional support base.
All too often the problem is a misunderstanding of “calling.” In our zeal for ministry, we have sometimes suggested that committed Christian workers have no need for rest and vacation, no need for emotional support or counsel, and no limits on their workload. We say, “It is better to burn out than rust out.”
That may sound good, but Scripture, history, and experience all teach the importance of having someone to minister to the minister.
Jesus demonstrated this principle. When the Twelve returned from a preaching trip, Jesus said, “‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves” (Mark 6:31-32).
I can imagine some critic saying, “How can you take a ‘vacation’ when so many people need help? How can you ignore their needs?” Jesus was not ignoring their needs. He knew the disciples would be better equipped to meet others’ needs if they took care of their own need for rest.
The Apostle Paul also understood this. Yes, he was an incessant traveler and passionate missionary. But even Paul returned to Antioch for rest between journeys. Romans 16:13 refers to a lady who cared for Paul like her own son. I suspect Rufus’ mother nursed Paul’s bruises after he was beaten, listened to his frustrations after his rejection in Athens, and cooked his favorite meal when he returned from a pressure-filled missionary journey.
Through letters and personal visits, John Wesley provided counsel and support to dozens of Methodist ministers. John Newton devoted countless hours to counseling fellow pastors.
What does this say to us today? If Jesus’ disciples needed time to rest, if the Apostle Paul needed “furloughs,” and if leaders such as Wesley and Newton recognized the importance of providing emotional support for pastors, then pastors and missionaries today need rest and member care.
Wise church boards provide vacation times for their pastor. Wise mission organizations provide counsel for missionaries and re-entry support for returning missionaries. Wise donors faithfully support missionaries during home assignment, realizing time at home makes for more fruitful ministry overseas.
If we “serve by sending,” we must support those we send. We must minister to those who are ministering. What can you do?
-You can support mission organizations that provide professional member care.
-You can support missionaries during furloughs and home assignment.
-You can pray not only for the ministry work of missionaries, but also for their personal and family needs.
~Dr. Randall McElwain