It takes a great deal of humility, wisdom and courage for a popular pastor to admit that he is a “bruised reed” in desperate need of physical rest, spiritual renewal and relational retooling.
That’s exactly what my friend Rankin Wilbourne did last Sunday … which catapulted my already-great respect for him to an even higher level.
During his June 5 sermon, Rankin became utterly transparent as he opened his heart to his congregation and explained why he is taking a six-month sabbatical.
Many Pastors Are Near Burnout
As I listened to his message twice, I thought of the hundreds of pastors I’ve worked with over the years who were unable to admit their exhaustion and lacked a leadership team that had the discernment and courage to support needed rest and retooling.
Most of those pastors kept pressing ahead but steadily lost their enthusiasm, effectiveness and relational connections. Their final years of ministry lacked the joy and fruitfulness that might have been theirs had they done what Rankin and his elders had the wisdom to do last Sunday.
All too many of these weary pastors eventually burned out, sacrificed their families or disappointed so many people that they were eventually forced to resign (see the alarming statistics in Strike the Shepherd). Instead of finishing well, they walked out the door discouraged and often embittered.
The Marks of a Bruised Reed
How can you tell when a pastor or ministry leader might be a “bruised reed” or a “faintly burning wick” (Isa. 42:1-3) that is in need of soul rest and spiritual renewal? One way to make this evaluation is to listen to Rankin’s remarkable sermon and see how much of his self-evaluation applies to you or someone you know. Here are a few of his most compelling words:
“The lifeblood of a teacher’s true effectiveness over the long term is his or her own integrity. Good teaching is not a matter of technique or personality. Good teaching over the long haul springs from the identity and integrity of the teacher. You can’t give away what you don’t possess.”
“I’ve begun experiencing a compassion fatigue. Losing the energy to do the things that I want to do and the reasons I became a pastor in the first place: care for people well; care for you well; listen wholeheartedly; pursue the hurting and the lost; feed and protect the lambs.”
“I’ve been trying to close this gap through my own efforts, my own gifts and my own ego.”
“My motives for wanting to do things well had become entangled in my own idolatries, including that of using the church to find my significance instead of resting in Christ for that measure of my worth.”
“I don’t know how to rest. I’m addicted to stress. I too often live for the praise of men. I need to learn how to be still, to sit quietly before Jesus and listen to him.”
“I’m afraid. So much of my identity is rooted in my competency and my work. I don’t know who I will be without my work … I say this as a confession of sin.”
“I hope I can learn how to be still and return with a sense of how to pace myself better. How to be more emotionally attuned to myself and others. I hope I can learn to live more and more as God sees me, as his son and not just his servant. That I can believe more and more that he delights in me and not just my efforts for him.”
“I stand before you as a bruised reed, but a bruised reed he will not break” (Isa. 42:1-3).
There Are Bruised Reeds All Around Us
If you’re a pastor or ministry leader and any of Rankin’s words apply to you, I encourage you to open your heart to your spouse and to a wise and trusted leader in your church or ministry who can help you plan how find support for needed rest and rejuvenation.
If you’re not in vocational ministry but see that some of Rankin’s words may apply to your pastor or a ministry leader you know, I hope you’ll share this post and Rankin’s sermon with that person. If he or she admits to similar weariness, you could be the person God uses to encourage needed change.
Of course pastors and ministry leaders are not the only people who are vulnerable to burn out.
If your wife is the mother of preschoolers (or teenagers!), there is a good chance she often feels like a “bruised reed” or a “faintly burning wick.” If so, pray that God would show you how to help her find some soul rest and spiritual renewal, whether it’s a weekly Bible study, a weekend at the beach, or a women’s retreat.
If your husband pours himself out at his job week after week, prayerfully consider how you can surprise him with a time of rest and renewal.
Or maybe you have a friend who is feeling weary, discouraged or bruised. If God opens your eyes to that need, he may also be calling you to do something about it. Maybe through a handwritten note or out-of-the-blue telephone call. Possibly through a special book or personalized gift. Or perhaps you can pay for a relaxing dinner or even a weekend away.
It’s not the money that counts but the fact that you noticed and care enough to do something about it.
Just as the elders at Rankin’s church noticed and cared enough to gladly meet his need.
– Ken Sande
Follow up: Here is the first sermon Rankin preached when he returned from his sabbatical on January 22,2016.
- As you read through the excerpts from Rankin’s sermon, do you feel more or less respect for him? Why?
- Why is it that we tend to fear that people will lose respect for us if we confess our weakness and needs … when doing so actually strengthens relational bonds and builds respect?
- Do you personally relate to any of Rankin’s comments? If so, which ones? Why? What can you do to find support and encouragement?
- Do you know someone who may be feeling some of what Rankin has been feeling? If so, how might God use you to strengthen and encourage that person? Here is an example of how my friend Mart Green frequently encourages me.
- Whether others are bruised or just a a bit weary today, one of the most helpful things you can to is to find creative ways to remind people of the manifold blessings of the gospel itself.
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