Monday, December 3, 2012

Through Burnout and Back: Resting Your Starters

I haven't followed the NBA with any enthusiasm since the mid '90s.  For some reason, NBA basketball just doesn't grab my attention anymore, but when I heard about the San Antonio Spurs being fined $250,000 for resting their starters, my ears perked up. 

Now, I'm not going to jump into the merits of the fine based upon the breaking of an unwritten, non-existent rule (see bull-sh..., uh... this is a pastor's blog....better tone that down), but I'd like to head in a different direction, one that has implications for life in the church.

Burnout is a reality in the church, not only for pastors but for congregation members as well.  Not only have I gone through it and am still recovering, but I have seen numerous members be hit by it as well.  The church has a habit of draining your energy. 

Now, please don't read that last statement as some sort of condemnation of the church and congregations.  It's not.  It's not good.  It's not bad.  It is what it is.  It's reality.

I mean, congregations are places full of life and death.  They are places where one confronts the really good, joyous parts of life, and also the parts of life which drag one down into the depths of darkness.  For instance, in less than two month's time, I was privileged to be called about two baptisms, a birth, the joining of the congregation of four new families, the vote to hire a new youth director, and numerous other, smaller joys.  These things are truly uplifting.

Yet, in that amount of time, I have also been called because the sudden illness and subsequent death of one member, the sudden death of a World War II vet, the onset of a major infection and death of a 27 year old father of two, the request of a family to join another congregation, a member life-flighted to Houston with symptoms of a heart attack, surgery for a young girl which will hopefully restore her to a life of normalcy, and a host of other calls about the illness or death of congregation members' loved ones.

It is an unfortunate reality that the negative calls zap more energy than the positive calls put in: and in the church, people tend to bring forth a lot of those negative calls--not because they want to drain your energy, but because they want to lift up their concerns in prayer. 

Now, I know that the easy response is to say, "Well, you need to spend more time in prayer lifting up those concerns to God and getting energy from Him."

Granted.  I won't dispute you, but here's the kicker: the larger your church, the more calls you get.  The more time is spent handling such matters and visiting with folks about them.  As this time increases, unfortunately, the time for prayer usually doesn't increase.  There are only so many hours in the day to juggle all the responsibilities.  Not an excuse.  Reality.  A harsh reality.  Not only for pastors, but for lay leadership as well. 

Sooner or later, you realize, folks need a rest.

Which brings us right back to the Spurs.  You see, the coach rested his starters for a game after a particularly grueling stretch.  Now, having played sports, I guarantee, those starters didn't want to sit.  You want to be in the game.  You want to help your team win.  There is something that drives you onward to be the best, but there's a reason there are coaches.  Coaches have the big picture in mind.  Greg Popovich knows the NBA season is a marathon and not a sprint.  He knows his players got tired and worn out last year, and it probably cost them a championship.  He knows that for the betterment of his team, in the long haul, he needs to rest his starters--so they don't burn out.

Now, David Stern doesn't get this.  He doesn't understand the nuances of coaching.  He's causing a stink about a coach disappointing fans.  Whatever.

You see, there are some who feel the same about people taking a rest in church.  They should just keep working.  They shouldn't take any down time.  But when the church is in a marathon and not a sprint, you need rest, your leaders need rest,  even a congregation needs rest in order to be at its best for the long haul.

There is no shame in resting one's starters--in sports or in church.  In fact, it's actually necessary.  To win in the long haul, and to avoid burnout.

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