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FIRST-PERSON: How to get a life when ministry drains it out of you

HIGHLANDS, Texas (BP)–Years ago my dad and I, both pastors, attended an associational meeting. The speaker lamented a survey revealing that something like 75 percent of all pastors had considered leaving the ministry. Dad — Joe Brumbelow, who in his lifetime was pastor of several churches in South Texas — commented, “The results worry me, too. I’m concerned that 25 percent of the preachers lied.”

Most every pastor has considered quitting. Stress, burdens and heartache are common among professional clergy. As a young preacher I learned much from my dad about how to “get a life” while in the ministry:

— Laughter is a good medicine (Proverbs 15:13; 17:22). It can cure what ails you or at least make life a little more bearable. Laughter takes the edge off difficulties. Laugh often. Joke, when appropriate, with your church members and your family. If you are a believer, you have ample good reasons to smile. Humor also enhances and illustrates your Bible teaching. Through humor a pastor can reveal the joy of the Lord.

— Find humor in practically every situation. Joe Brumbelow certainly did. Even a serious circumstance sometimes brought a smile or humorous comment. “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying,” he surmised. “Brother Joe”, as most everyone called him, enjoyed biblical humor such as Job’s telling his questionable friends, “No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you” (Job 12:2, KJV). Funny situations abound; recognize and enjoy them.

— Be serious about your ministry but not too serious about yourself. You may be an outstanding minister, but God can get along fine without you. The world does not hang on your shoulders. Dad ended a lot of stress when he prayed one day, “Lord, this is Your church, not mine. I’ve done all I know to do. If You want it to die, then let it die.” He recognized that God ultimately was in control. That day he took his burdens to the Lord and left them there.

When you make a mess of things, don’t try to hide it; just admit it and have a good laugh at yourself. As my old college friends once said, “Lighten up.”

— Use humor that is appropriate. Humor can cut as well as heal. Be careful of misunderstandings. Sometimes humor is better understood in person than in writing (or in e-mail.) Don’t use off-color humor at all. Limit some humor only to family or your closest friends. Keep some thoughts to yourself!

— Everyone needs a diversion. Vance Havner quoted Jesus’ telling His disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Havner said, “If you don’t come apart and rest, you will just come apart.”

With Dad, relaxation meant fishing. He’d go wade-fishing and forget the world’s cares. He complained that live shrimp (which he used for speckled-trout fishing) were way too expensive. He then concluded with a smile, “But it’s cheaper than paying $60 an hour for a psychologist.” Fishing was his “stress therapy.” Gardening also relaxed him. He could bring something good out of the worst of soils. A diversion is not a waste of time; it’s something you need. Being spiritual when you are physically tired is difficult. Get enough rest. Joe Brumbelow joked, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to take a nap.”

— Fellowship with fellow ministers. The old spiritual says, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve known, nobody knows but Jesus.” But those in ministry often know, understand and care. Don’t just seek out persons of the same age. Make friends with ministers that are older and younger than you. Late in his ministry, Brother Joe considered being friends with the younger ministers on the staff at First Baptist Church in Lake Jackson, Texas (where he served at the time of his passing in August 2002) to be an honor. Dad instructed young preachers to attend associational, state and national conventions. Sometimes these get boring and tedious. But you need the instruction; you especially need the fellowship. Laugh, cry and pray with other preachers.

— Lean on your family and closest friends for your deepest emotional needs. Brother Joe said, “I would rather be known as a great husband and dad than to be known as a great preacher.” Make your home a fine place to retreat. My mother played a vital role in this area. A church can be a loving family. But don’t expect members to meet needs that only a close family or the closest of friends can meet.

— Most of all, lean on Jesus. Nurture your personal relationship to the Lord. More than anyone else, Jesus understands the trouble you’ve known.
David R. Brumbelow is pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Highlands, TX and author of a book about his dad, “The Wit and Wisdom of Pastor Joe Brumbelow: Favorite illustrations, personal stories, humor, history, folklore, and lessons learned from over 50 years in the ministry.” The book is available in bookstores and also through the publisher at www.hannibalbooks.com.

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  • David R. Brumbelow