And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:3-6)

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. (Psalm 69:6)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Counseling Those Ministers Who are Ready to Quit Part 2

Part 2

Fellow Ministers,
If the saints are called to persevere, how much more the sheperds of the sheep?  Ministry is one of the most soul wrenching vocations that a person can faithfully engage in. For the sake of editing, I aam presenting in this blog over the next several days a portion of a paper I have written for my course of training and education in Biblical Counseling.  It is my hope that if you are strugling, your reading of the words within would stir your heart to press on.  Should you desire to work through the homework that I have created to go along with this paper, you may email me at

Being that society is quite fluent in psychological terms, many surveyed ministers are being labeled with a worldly diagnosis.  In the hope of resolving the sins of the heart, as evidenced by these judgments, one needs to understand what the definitions are and how they represent what is going on in the heart of the minister.  Many ministers may have several symptoms of a shifted heart present at any given time.  A principle in helping the minister is to understand that these expressions are merely revelations of the heart condition of a struggling saint.  Once defined properly by a biblical point of reference, one can put off the fleshly complaint and put on a God-glorifying stewardship of true shepherding.

As demonstrated in the previous statistics, one common term for pastoral failure in the ministry is burnout.  Marshall Asher and Mary Asher in The Christian’s Guide to Psychological Terms state, “The term burnout is a popular lay term to indicate the condition of being bored, fatigued, frustrated, or disinterested in a particular activity.”[1]  Psychologists attribute a low morale when it comes to concerns for the ministerial office and burnout.  This is exhibited by a lax attitude, diminishing concern for results, and is often met with cynicism.  The burned out pastor could easily be described as critical of his church.  It is interesting to note that particular personalities may have a predisposition to burnout.  These would be those common types of ministers who are idealistic and servant heart-oriented, or perfectionistic, as well as those who may be authoritarian.

Surveys often indicate that depression is a repeated heart attitude for the struggling minister.  Asher and Asher define depression as “a persistent mood that is characterized by intense feelings of inadequacy, sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, irritability, apprehension, and decreased interest in or ability to enjoy normal activity.”[2]  Psychologists will attribute to depression other symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, excessive sleeping, fatigue, as well as feelings of worthlessness and guilt.  Research surveys found, “50% of ministers feel unable to meet the needs of the job”[3] and “seventy percent of ministers constantly fight depression.”[4]

Guilt is a term that some ministers use to describe their feelings of failure.  Though guilt has a sense of carrying appropriate blame in cause and effect, guilt here is often a mere feeling.  Another term for this type of guilt would be brooding.  The Christian’s Guide to Psychological Terms relates that “psychology defines guilt as a feeling: self-condemnation and/or dread arising from the belief that one has committed an offense.”[5]  The psychological realm sees guilt as a complex result that is conditioned by many factors.  These factors can be supposed as originating in childhood, the values of others, and over self-evaluation. In the clinical sense, guilt can be neurotic, producing fear and shame.  In psychology it is handled as being a root cause for many other disorders.

Many ministers will surmise that they believe their efforts are fruitless, and they lack inspiration to try.  Motivation is a key ingredient to any decision-making process.  Asher and Asher write that it is “the sum effect of all factors that energize and direct behavior.”[6]  The two dominant theories of what drives people among hundreds are Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Self-Actualization theories.  These are taught in every introduction to psychology class as to explain how people are influenced by desires and perceived needs.  Other factors of motivation are goals, perceived value of return on investment, rewards, pleasure or pain, safety and physical needs.

One critical influence in quitting the ministry would be described by psychologists as low self-esteem.  Asher and Asher define the term as “a person’s belief regarding the degree to which he is worthy of praise.”[7]  The worldly description of self-esteem could be stated as being steered by peer groups, one’s own perception of personal value to any group or society, social status, economic influence, education, personal achievements, possessions, and a host of other factors that may place oneself in a pecking order in relation to those whom we deem as indicators of success. 

Another word frequently occurring in a minister’s description of their life is one of stress.  Stress is considered “anything that contributes to the production of mental, emotional, or physical tension.  Psychologists also use the word to denote the resulting mental/emotional tension itself.”[8]  Thus stress is a reaction by means of interpretation of our environment, situations, or potential outcomes.  Psychologists rightly perceive stress as having physical results of headaches, sleeplessness, and heart conditions, as well as emotional results of anxiety, anger, depression, motivation, and others.  Stress is to be influenced directly by relationships, expectations, commitments, health, and other factors that a person deems of value to themselves.[9]

Though a desperate minister may not admit it, one aspect that a counselor needs to probe for in helping this person is their anger with the church.  The anger may be extensive enough that they are angry with God Himself.  Anger leads to division among the body and cannot be tolerated in the life of a minister (1 Tim 3:1-13; Titus 1:7).

[1]Marshall Asher and Mary Asher, The Christian’s Guide to Psychological Terms (Bemidji, MN: Focus, 2004), 32.
[2]Ibid., 56.
[3]H. B. London and Neil Wiseman, Pastors at Greater Risk (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2003), 20.
[4]Daniel Sherman, “Pastors Leaving Ministry,” [on-line]; accessed 3 May 2012; available from; Internet.
[5]Asher and Asher, The Christian’s Guide, 79.
[6]Ibid., 105.
[7]Ibid., 175.
[8]Asher and Asher, The Christian’s Guide, 191.

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