There's a Trick of the Light I'm Learning to Do

This is a collection of songs I wrote and recorded in January - March, 2020 while on sabbatical from ministry. They each deal with a different aspect or expression of the Gospel. Click on the image above to listen.

Three Hands Clapping

This is my latest recording project (released May 27, 2019). It is a double album of 22 songs, which very roughly track the story of my life... a sort of musical autobiography, so to speak. Click the album image to listen.

Ghost Notes

Ghost Notes
A collections of original songs I wrote in 2015, and recorded with the FreeWay Musical Collective. Click the album image to listen.

inversions

Recorded in 2014, these songs are sort of a chronicle of my journey through a pastoral burn-out last winter. They deal with themes of mental-health, spiritual burn-out and depression, but also with the inexorable presence of God in the midst of darkness. Click the album art to download.

soundings

soundings
click image to download
"soundings" is a collection of songs I recorded in September/October of 2013. Dealing with themes of hope, ache, trust and spiritual loss, the songs on this album express various facets of my journey with God.

bridges

bridges
Click to download.
"Bridges" is a collection of original songs I wrote in the summer of 2011, during a soul-searching trip I took out to Alberta; a sort of long twilight in the dark night of the soul. I share it here in hopes these musical reflections on my own spiritual journey might be an encouragement to others: the sun does rise, blood-red but beautiful.

echoes

echoes
Prayers, poems and songs (2005-2009). Click to download
"echoes" is a collection of songs I wrote during my time studying at Briercrest Seminary (2004-2009). It's called "echoes" partly because these songs are "echoes" of times spent with God from my songwriting past, but also because there are musical "echoes" of hymns, songs or poems sprinkled throughout the album. Listen closely and you'll hear them.

Accidentals

This collection of mostly blues/rock/folk inspired songs was recorded in the spring and summer of 2015. I call it "accidentals" because all of the songs on this project were tunes I have had kicking around in my notebooks for many years but had never found a "home" for on previous albums. You can click the image to download the whole album.

blogs I follow

Readings, 2020

Readings, 2020
Paradise Lost, John Milton

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

The Soul of Shame, Curt Thompson

Cure for the Common Life, Max Lucado

Halos and Avatars, Craig Detweiller, ed.

Fool's Talk, Os Guinness

Brendan, Frederick Buechner

The Screwtape Letters

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis

Becoming Whole, Brian Finkert and Kelly Kapic

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

Out of the Silent Planet, C. S. Lewis

Voyage to Venus, C. S. Lewis

random reads

Notes from the Ashes, Part III: The 4 R's of Burnout


In a previous post on pastoral burnout, I suggested in passing that burnout is sort of an occupational hazard in ministry.  I don’t have empirical evidence that this is so, but anecdotally, I can say that the number of pastors I met during my own burnout time who quietly admitted, “I’ve been there, too” when I shared what I was going through, was kind of surprising to me.

As I say, I’m not sure if burnout is a special risk in pastoral-work, over and above other kinds of people-leading-people-helping sorts of jobs, but early on in my recovery I came across some teaching that helped me understand, if it is, why that might be the case.

It has to do with what this article calls "The 4 R’s of Burnout."  The whole article is worth a read, but here’s the idea in a nutshell.  Burnout is not simply a function of one’s work load.  That is to say, one can work under a high degree of responsibility, demands and stress, without approaching burnout, so long as the work is meeting certain other, necessary conditions; and conversely, if these conditions are not being met, then even relatively low demands can put someone at risk of burn-out.  We can think of these “necessary conditions” as the “4-R’s,” and the point is: most people can shoulder a relatively high work load without the risk of burnout, so long as the 4 R’s are in place; and by implication, simply adjusting the workload, without addressing the 4 R’s, won’t, in and of itself, mitigate the risk.

The 4 R's are:  Recognition, Rewards, Results and Relief.

According to the article I cited above, “If, no matter what you say or do, results, rewards, recognition and relief are not forthcoming ... the groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness and despair.”

In practical terms, what this means is that someone can work long, hard hours without burning out if they know that there is an end in sight, if it’s possible to see the tangible results of their work, if they are receiving compensation commensurate to the demands of their work, and if they are duly recognized for what they are doing.  If, on the other hand, they are working in demanding conditions, but not seeing results, receiving recognition or being rewarded in ways commensurate to their work, and there’s no end in sight, that’s when the perfect-storm clouds start brewing.

Now: what I am about to say is simply an observation.  I have worked through these things in my own experience and do not make this observation out of a spirit of resentment or grudge at all.  I love the work that Jesus has called me to do and as best I can I do it “with all my heart, as working for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).  I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even a world of recognition and rewards.  That said, still, it’s my observation that there are things about pastoral ministry that make "the 4 R’s" hard to come by.

We are conditioned by our faith, for instance, not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, to humble ourselves under God’s hand, to become, as Jesus was, the servant of all.  And, while this is certainly a biblical spirit for pastors to adopt, it makes the idea that we may need or want recognition for our work difficult to accept, let alone admit, or ask for.

Or take results.  I am convinced that of all the kinds of work people do, the work of proclaiming the Word of God is one of the few that will genuinely have eternal significance.  At the same time, however, pastors can put in 20 hours or more on a sermon (and many of the best preachers I know do), and yet they have to sit down in the study Monday morning, and start all over again as if last Sunday’s sermon hadn’t even happened.  The Bible teaches us, in fact, that we’ll have to wait until the other side of Heaven to see the real results of our work (1 Corinthians 3:11-15); and, while I believe that the results on that day will make every drop of blood, sweat or tears worth all the effort, still it makes it hard sometimes to see the more immediate results that keep burnout at bay in other kinds of work.

We’d see similar things if we thought about the rewards—the actual compensation for pastoral work—or the potential for relief—time off and time away from the demands of the work.  The unique nature of ministry as work—the steady pace of it, the spiritual nature of it, the ambiguity of so much of it—all these things make it difficult for pastors consistently to find the relief, results, rewards and recognition they need for what they do.  If burnout is a special occupational hazard of being a pastor, this is probably why.

Again, I share these things as an observation, not a complaint.  But if you are a pastor and this observation is resonating with you today, let me suggest a few lessons I've learned to help deal with the missing R's of pastoral work.

First:  do not under-estimate, low-ball or lose sight of the eternal significance of what you do.  This is not pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die kind of thinking, it's simply a matter of reminding yourself daily that the faithful, disciplined, ongoing proclamation of the Word of God in a well-led community of faith is of eternal importance, and we have Jesus' own word that he will reward it well (see Mark 10:29-30; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:1-8).  The results may not always be evident but, unlike any other work, they are guaranteed.

Second: overcome the ingrained hesitancy to advocate for yourself. We are not being "super-spiritual" or "servant-hearted" when we pretend that we do not actually have the very natural needs that other human beings have.  Often that hesitancy to say "I need..." is not spiritual at all, but simply pride or fear or both; and to be blunt, if we kill ourselves because we're not willing to advocate for ourselves, we haven't served anybody in the end.  This does not mean we approach our work with a demanding self-interest, but it does mean we practice humble self-care; and part of self care is being honest about our own needs.

Third: develop rhythms of rest and retreat.  I'm still learning on this one, but the more consistently you can work sabbath, retreat and rest into your daily, weekly and yearly routines, the more likely you'll be getting at least one of those 4 R's—relief—on a regular basis.

These weren't the only lessons I learned about pastoral burnout, or even the most important, but I've found the 4 R's very useful as a practical framework for understanding why it happens.  And, while I don't think this was exactly what Paul had in mind when he said he'd "fought the good fight and finished the course" in his ministry (2 Timothy 4:7); still, we're more likely to be able to say the same when we reach the end of our ministries, if we're mindful of the 4 R's.


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