My Story Of Church Burnout: The Dark Side Of Media Ministry

I have to say one of the most damaging decisions I’ve made in regards to my spiritual health was to come on a church staff full time. I’ve been on staff at two churches. The first for almost 10 years and the second for just over 6 months.

At my last church I can now look back and realize how burnt out I was. Here are some of the symptoms I had:
– The only time I was reading the Bible or thinking about the Bible was when I was preparing a sermon.
– I would have a fantasy that I would be in a car wreck. One that was serious enough that I’d have to go to the hospital and I’d miss the weekend at church. It would give me a viable excuse to not have to worry about my attendance numbers in junior high.
– Most of the spiritual highlights of my life personally were before I was on staff.

After 5 years of behavior like that I transitioned out of a pastoral position and into media. I felt a relief of not having to produce attendance numbers. Relieved that I wasn’t being a hypocrite standing up and talking about the power of the Bible to change lives which I wasn’t experiencing.

But moving into media didn’t fix my spiritual problems. I was so focused on the production aspect of services that I was not engaging in the services. I didn’t worship because the mix wasn’t good or the band was off. I didn’t listen to the message because I was brainstorming an idea to improve a technical aspect of the service.

It didn’t stop there. Over time my heart grew bitter towards the church. And as a result it grew bitter towards God. Eventually I didn’t worship because I didn’t want to spend time with God. I didn’t listen because I didn’t care what the Bible had to say. I stopped tithing and giving. I was a practical atheist.

On the outside things may have looked OK but I was dead on the inside. During this time my wife and I had our first and then second child. The additional stress of less sleep and the challenges of raising kids squeezed me. And when I was squeezed I didn’t like what was coming out. I’d be angry towards my kids and unkind to my wife. I was selfish, moody and sinful.

I looked for ways to escape. I threw myself into learning video production and motion graphics. I threw myself into video games, movies or TV shows. I even fell back into a pre-Christian habit of looking at porn on line, only to be caught by my wife. Being caught was a wakeup call. I realized left on my own I wasn’t just hurting myself but I was hurting my wife and my kids.

I realized I couldn’t do this on my own. That we needed a change. I realized I needed to change. This was the Fall of 08.

At my last church my wife and I never sat together during service. We weren’t involved in a small group. And I felt like I couldn’t be real with most the guys I worked with for fear of my job. I felt like no one cared about me personally, only my performance on the job. So we new we needed a new church home and I needed a new job.

I was fine taking a job that wasn’t at a church. Applied for a few but didn’t get an offer. We finally landed at Lakeshore in April of 2009.

During this time we went through a television fast that got me reading again. I focused on reading books to help me with my spiritual walk. One of the books that really opened my eyes was Mad Church Disease. It was a painful mirror for me to evaluate myself and my life by.

At Lakeshore I’m able to sit with my wife during service and worship and listen to the teaching. We’re able to be involved in a small group for the first time in a long time.

Over the last few months I’ve gotten into the Bible for the first time in a long long time. I have a hunger to know God, to spend time in the Word and worshiping for the first time in at least 10 years.

The podcasts that I listen to are 80% preaching and 20% other. Compared to 100% media/ tech/ etc.. a few month ago. My favorite are Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler for the expositional teaching through a book of the Bible, the solid theology and the clear call to a radically different lifestyle. And John Ortberg because of his great communication skills and practical approach to spiritual disciplines.

I’ve invested money into a new study Bible (it’s the ESV Study Bible and I’m really enjoying it by the way) and Logos Bible software to deepen my Bible study. On a side note I have a fear of how much my American, consumer mindset influences my view of the Bible. So I’m reading the Bible and digging into commentaries to make sure I’m not taking the Bible out of cultural context and historical, orthodox interpretation.

I know I’m not perfect. I’ve still got junk I’m dealing with. But I have to say for the first time in a very long time I feel healthier. My relationship with my wife is the best it’s ever been. I’m more honest with myself and in turn God.

It’s all too easy to get so busy doing stuff for God that we’re not being with God. It’s a cliche but it’s true. I hope my story can encourage you if you’re realizing you’re burning out in ministry whether you’re on staff or a volunteer.

Take an honest look with yourself. Your relationship with God is too important. If you need to make changes make the changes. If you’re dealing with sin. Get over the fear and talk to someone. I can’t tell you the freedom I’ve experience once I talked through these struggles with some friends and my wife.

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October 15, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Personal Growth.

15 Comments

  1. Anthony Coppedge replied:

    This is so authentic, transparent & messy that I can’t thank you enough for sharing this with us.

    I thank you for pulling back the curtains of your life, sharing your shame, releasing the condemnation of our enemy and basking in the glory of our graceful and merciful, loving Father.

    Over the past couple of years I’ve been learning to be more transparent, as is evidenced on my own blog, and have found such freedom in sharing life without filters.

    I will be re-posting this on all of my social media accounts and on my blog. Thank you, Dave. Thank you.

  2. Desperate replied:

    Wow. As I was reading that I had to stop and make sure you weren’t writing my biography. That is so my story right now. I don’t want to leave the ministry but I also don’t want to get to the point that ministry tearing my relationship with God apart…but I feel I’m so close to that. Any suggestions on what you would have done if you had realized this a few years ago?

    • Dave replied:

      In hindsight I wish I wasn’t so afraid to be honest. With two young kids I was honestly afraid of loosing my job and therefore my livelihood for my family. I realize now that it was a lie. While there wasn’t a culture of admitting mistakes/ sins. It was a biblical community with leaders who love God and love people.

      I had a couple of friends I have since been honest with. I should have been honest with them sooner. I should have gone to my boss/pastor at the time and talk to them about making some changes to bring some boundaries, accountability and health back into my job and my life. In hindsight I believe those changes would have shortened this spiritual drought in my life. Prevented it from going so deep. And gotten me on a healthier path sooner.

  3. Ratcliffe replied:

    Been there. Still working through it.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Stefan Svard replied:

    Thank you for being so open and honest with your post! It is funny how the enemy can get you down to the point of being almost atheist while doing “good” serving at a church.

    It is an encouragement to me to see how your life has changed.

    I am looking forward to meeting you – hopefully at WFX this year!

    -Stefan

    • Dave replied:

      Stefan,
      I won’t be at WFX this year but technology and social media has made the church tech world a whole lot smaller.

  5. Bradley Dyess replied:

    WOW! Thank you so much for your transparency and honesty. I have been in media ministry less than a year now and I completely understand what you are talking about. In fact, this job I have now has been my dream job for the last 5 years and I find myself asking myself every morning if this is what I really need vs. what I wanted?

    I am passionate about what I do, I strive for perfection and I find myself worrying more about the technical aspects of worship rather than worshipping God myself.

    While we are a broadcast church I also how this hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment is actually impacting peoples lives. And the emphasis on perfection in our worship, is God using that to save souls or are we in fact hindering our relationship with God as a church? Do we really rely on God and His power to change lives while they’re here in our room or do we rely more on the worship and media ministry to create an emotional response in someone? I guess these are questions I’ll take to my grave.

    But thank you for your personal account. It is refreshing to know that others struggle with the same questions and difficulties.

    • Dave replied:

      Bradley,
      Sounds like you’re asking yourself the right questions. Just be honest with yourself and make sure you’re keeping boundaries and engaging in practices and disciplines that will help you grow spiritually.

  6. Jon Perrin replied:

    I’m proud of you for writing this… thanks for your honesty. Too many people in the ministry don’t either have the guts or the self-awareness to write about subjects like this.

    I remember those days well. What Robin and I learned to do is to be honest with each other about how we’re feeling. It’s still tough sometimes, but having survived burnout more than once we’ve learned the warning signs.

    I’m so glad you’re doing well. We love you guys and are excited to see what God will do with you in the future. We’re honored to have you guys as friends.

    • Dave replied:

      Jon,
      Amy and I have really grown through this experience. It’s opened up a lot of conversations and questions that we continually ask each other to make sure we’re on track and not drifting away from God and back into old habits.

      Miss ya buddy but I’m glad technology helps us to keep up with each other.

  7. Wes Wakefield replied:

    This is the reason I abandonded 2 years worth of college towards ministry and got an engineering degree. God brought me back to full time ministry through music and tech, but there was a few years in there of me processing the “darker side” of ministry. You definitely aren’t alone on this, thanks for sharing!

  8. EJ replied:

    Thanks for sharing. This is timely for me as i’m on the verge of going down that path too.

  9. Anne Jackson replied:

    Thanks for sharing your journey so transparently, and for reading MCD. 🙂

  10. How I Overcame Burnout — Part 3 When It’s Good Enough « Creative Church Media replied:

    […] I Overcame Burnout — Part 3 When It’s Good Enough So I’ve shared my story of burnout in […]

  11. How I Overcame Burnout — Part 4 Accountability and Community « Creative Church Media replied:

    […] I Overcame Burnout — Part 4 Accountability and Community Here’s the quick recap: -I’ve been burned out in ministry before. – You must take responsibility for your spiritual health. This means you must be taking steps […]

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