When I look back at my 23 years of pastoring, I can’t help but ask, “Why did I burn out? Where did I get off the track?” I was planning on pastoring all of my life, and never expected to crash and be terminated. Part of the answer is found in understanding the true Gospel.
The Gospel, the good news of eternal salvation. The good news about us spending eternity with God in heaven. Wow! The good news about a Kingdom where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no tears, no sickness, no disease, no evil, no death. Awesome! The Gospel is the best news in history, and it is so positive and encouraging, I just love it! So . . . if I knew the Gospel, and thought I was living in the light of the Gospel, how did I and 25,000 other ministry leaders per year burnout? Good question.
The Gospel gives us the love of God poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The Gospel introduces me to the greatest love my mind and heart have ever tried to comprehend. The Gospel makes it possible for me to experience joy inexpressible (1 Peter 1:8), and inextinguishable (2 Cor. 6:9-10). The Gospel lets me experience the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7). When it comes to living life, the Gospel is the whole message of this life (Acts 5:20). The unadulterated Gospel is the message of eternal life (John 6:68). With the true Gospel I have passed from death into life (1 John 3:14). These are a few of the descriptions of the true Gospel, and not one of them is descriptive of a burned-out, bottomed out church leader!
So, if the Gospel I was living in was exhausting me and causing me disillusionment, it must have been an altered version. A distorted gospel sprinkled with religion, and in my case, one containing legalism. My thoughts return to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. After three years with Jesus nearly 24/7, they still had a distorted view of the Gospel. When their expectations were not met, they tumbled into disillusionment and bewilderment. The setting up of inaccurate expectations is something we do easily.
When we look at the people Jesus really gets upset with in the Gospel accounts, it is the religious leaders of the day. The leaders responsible for putting inaccurate expectations into peoples’ hearts. The leaders who were teaching people a message of acceptance by performance. Jesus doesn’t get upset with the lost or wounded. He becomes their friend, and savior!
I also believe what we read, watch or hear from sources other than sermons also can put inaccurate expectations into our hearts. Many times, it may simply be our own dreaming that gives us a wrong viewpoint. We want life to work our way, and God may have another plan. We have our dreams and goals and we want God to cooperate and help make those dreams come to pass. When He doesn’t, we get upset.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19 NKJV)
When Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read this passage from Isaiah, was He only referring to setting people free from sin and death? Can we also apply this description of His ministry in terms of freeing people from religion, legalism, moralism, and inaccurate expectations about the God of love? In Matthew 9:36, Jesus is moved deeply with compassion for the people who are like sheep without a shepherd. These were the people laboring under the burden of religion - religion Pharisee style. Jesus wept for people like these.
Have you and I as ministry leaders also labored under such circumstances? Please do examine the gospel you anchored your life to. What do you really believe after all the shouting and amens end? Unfulfilled expectations have caused more heartache on this planet than almost any other source of pain.