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Preaching through Fatigue

Fatigue happens. Here's four ways preachers can deal with it.

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My first week of full-time, paid ministry was exhausting. We moved to a new town for the job, and the apartment my wife and I moved into was unlivable, so we ended up moving twice in two days the week my job as an interim youth pastor started. Two days later one of my students committed suicide before I'd even had a chance to meet him. By the end of the week, one of my paid staff had resigned because her marriage was falling apart and she'd gotten too involved with the guy who led music for youth night.

A few months after that one of my most faithful volunteers was moving out of his house, his marriage also cracking wide open. No one else on the pastoral staff was reaching out, so I spent time just hanging out and listening.

These kinds of situations, each their own individual tragedy with their own particular contours of doubt and despair, aren't exactly unfamiliar territory for pastoral ministry. In fact, these sorts of tragedies with all their emotional wreckage are the burning buildings of pastoral ministry. Just as civilians flee a five-alarm fire while firemen go rushing the opposite directions, so pastors (at least they should) move into the pain and heartache of their people, rather than take the long way round to avoid uncleanness.

Fatigue will happen

This means that if pastoring involves, you know, pastoring, then it matters little how vociferously some may say "there are no guarantees in life." There is one on which nearly any pastor can count: spiritual fatigue will happen. There will be moments or perhaps months where Jesus seems conspicuously absent, and no amount of Footprints in the Sand reviewing will convince us otherwise. The scary part is that it may have nothing to do with the hurting people around us. The windiness of the Spirit is it's own unpredictability and we may find ourselves mid-ocean, tacking on course, sails up, and suddenly getting nowhere.

When Sunday rolls around again, and you're only ever at most 168 hours away from standing up the very next week, the task of preaching is unavoidable, and at times crushing.

Unfortunately even the strictest of pietistic training does little to prepare us for this. Whatever pastoral training we may have received, even the kind that seeks to ground us in an ordered, disciplined life with roots of prayer and study, and the fruit of gentleness and peace, for one reason or another we seem to ignore the phenomenon of fatigue until the symbols of epic collapse (adultery or embezzlement, for example) start to appear. Indeed, our reticence to acknowledge our own fatigue may explain our need to spray our people with cheery "we know God wins in the end so let's have a smile" sorts of sermons.

Call it burnout. Call it depression. Call it the doldrums. And by all means, do try to be specific, as each particular fatigue will have it's own set of remedies, it's own set of connective and causative tunnels serpentining through us that will require tracing and self-discovery.

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Steve Hall:

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Charles Smith

August 13, 2014  5:35am

This is so true, and might very well salvage many pastors and ministries if they could look through the lense of "self-examination" and admit the struggle. Thank you Sir!

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Joseph Udoh

August 12, 2014  11:49am

Thanks for the article. Good to remember preachers are human instruments used by God. Acknowledging our humanity does help our the growth of our divine mandate. It also reminds us to look up to HIM who called us to serve him for strength to serve.

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David Taylor

August 11, 2014  3:28pm

Thanks for an honest and biblically cogent answer to something anyone in ministry faces. Good reminders to look to Jesus as our Sabbath Rest (Heb 4:9-10).

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Robert Cappelle

August 11, 2014  10:01am

Thanks for the article. I found it both helpful and encouraging.

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Steve Aram

August 11, 2014  9:37am

I find August fatiguing. Church programing slows down for family vacations and family gatherings. I still feel the need to slow down myself. My mind is starting to move into September and the need to get things energized again, but it can feel like the congregation isn't waking up to be ready. I've decided that the August slowdown is just part of the rhythm of the church year, usually a needed part for the congregation and for me.

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