Church looked exactly the way he thought it should. The ushers were in position. The people were assembling. The armorbearers were ready and waiting to serve. Yes, everything seemed just fine… until he stepped up to the podium to preach the word of the Lord.
That’s when he started to feel invisible discouraging forces attacking his mind. “Where is this coming from?” he thought just before he opened the service in prayer. Suddenly he remembered his spiritual maturity message called “grow up” from the week before and the warfare that followed. “He is too demanding! He doesn’t love us,” were among the thoughts raging against his mind -- accusations from religious pew warmers.
So while the preacher had expected to find a crowd willing to receive him and the grace of God on his life, to his perplexity he entered a combat zone of religious mindsets, full of offenses, power plays and the traps and tricks of rebellious born again unbelievers. Despite the discouragement and in the face of rejection, he boldly preached his message and lovingly prayed for all the people at the altar call, including those who had complained about last week’s “grow up” call.
As he later reflected on this fervent Sunday morning service, he couldn’t help but feel the pain of being resisted by those he loved and so wanted to see spiritually grow in Christ. The battle was on in his mind, saying: “What’s the use of all this preaching? What am I doing all this for? They’re not taking hold of what God is saying.”
Sound familiar? When the “what’s the use?” thoughts in the mind hits the pastor several subtle symptoms manifest. First comes demoralization, a loss of spiritual identity where one no longer sees the benefits of laboring. It is called burnout, an exhaustion caused by a lack of progress that leads to feelings of ineffective leadership and a sense of failure. With hope deferred, the imagination “what’s the use?” begins to battle his mind.
Discerning the Signs of Burnout
Because of the feelings of rejection and being unappreciated, those affected by the “what’s the use” burnout find solace in isolation in order to protect themselves from others in ministry – especially those that may have attributed to the “what’s the use” spiritual attack.
Another attachment is apathy, a lack of desire to do the work of the ministry and that comes in the form of thoughts about shunning once-loved responsibilities. Lastly, defeatism manifests with feelings of having been beaten and abused and is part and parcel with the “what’s the use?” burnout.
If you’ve felt this way, then you may have been the prey of a carefully designed attack by the enemy to weaken and drain you and other Christian leaders of their spiritual fight and zeal. Although Kingdom Christian leaders are strong visionaries, this spiritual attack hits core convictions and is a cunning strategy of the enemy to get them to doubt their own callings and effectiveness in ministry.
The lack of finances, the frustration of leading an army of volunteers who are unwilling to submit to training, the pressure to somehow get it all done anyway – even if you have to do it yourself – and being taken for granted by those who are too familiar with you, are overwhelmingly discouraging.
From the bless-me-but-do-not-correct-me mentality to the spiritual warfare that rages in the heavenlies, a Kingdom leader has to contend on many fronts. He challenges the immaturity and instability in believers, even if it is uncomfortable. He brings correction, instruction, reproof and lovingly rebukes them as a father would his own children. This can make him the target of unfair abuse.
Paul, speaking of them said, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death… ye are honourable, but we are despised… And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it. Being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).
Not a pretty picture of ministry, yet a Christian leader endures all this to equip a single believer being motivated by love.
Lessons in Quick Forgiveness
Despite it all, he has the ability to press through and overcome the subtle warnings signs of spiritual burnout. He learns a lesson of quick forgiveness from Stephen, who prayed for his persecutors while he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:60).
Quick forgiveness doesn’t take the time to meditate on abuse. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs in the hidden compartments of the mind. By quickly forgiving his abusers the leader can keep himself unspotted by the “what’s the use” devil and steer clear from spiritual burnout.
Isolation is one of the symptoms attached to spiritual burnout. But what did Peter and John do when the religious council threatened them, charging that they should no longer speak to anyone in the name of Jesus? They found strength and refreshing in their own company. The Scripture says, “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them… And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-31). Like Peter and John, you can connect with those of the same heart and spirit and be stirred to go at it again and again, even in the face of religious persecution.
Encourage Yourself in the Lord
Sometimes, unfortunately, more often than not, leaders must learn to stand alone. So what do you do to keep from getting discouraged by the “what’s the use” burnout when no one is there to back you up, or to lend you support and comfort? One can glean from King David. In the midst of great distress, having lost everything, and having his own men seek to stone him, David encouraged himself in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6). He became strong in his spirit and acted valiantly on behalf of his people. He had two choices: succumb under pressure or lead the people into victory to recover all that was stolen from them. David made the right choice and so can you.
Running with Vision
Being the visionary that he is, the Christian leader must keep his eyes on God’s vision for him when standing face to face with the “what’s the use” spiritual burnout. The way Christ overcame the religious abuse against Him, is the same way the Christian leader can overcome it and its various symptoms. Scripture declares, “Looking unto Jesus… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:2-3). The joy set before the Christian leader is the vision and mandate God gave him to accomplish – to perfect the saints for the work of the ministry. Seeing the joy of the fulfillment of that vision will sustain him through the hardest of times.
Like the fervent preacher in our story, Christian leaders have a heart of love for the people. Yes, they want to see them blessed, prosperous, healed, but also matured and as he put it “grow up.” In order for him to be most effective, believers can allow him to be and to do what he is graced to do, which is to equip them for the work of the ministry.
Perhaps believers play an important role in combating the “what’s the use?” spiritual burnout. Think about it. If Christians in the Sunday morning service had done their part, then there would be no place for this spiritual attack in the mind of their preacher. Then, one would only come to an encouraging conclusion: Church is exactly the way he thought it should be.