How Can Young Pastors Avoid Burnout?

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Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

“Ministry for God flows from intimacy with God.” This is one key idea for pastors who want to avoid burnout in ministry, says Jeremy Treat in this video.

The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

I want this so badly, to be able to make it to the end and be faithful, to sit out on my front porch with my wife, holding her hand, looking back, and recounting God’s sustaining grace through the ups and downs of life in ministry. So I’ve thought a lot about this, especially as a relatively young pastor who wants to be faithful to the end.

I think the first thing that we’ve got to do is we’ve got to define success up front. If you don’t define success up front, then you’ll either end up doing it by comparison or by worldly standards. And if you just compare yourself to others, then you’ll either beat yourself up that you’re not good enough or you’ll exalt yourself in pride that you’re better than others. But we’ve got to define success, and Jesus has done that for us. He calls us to make disciples. And so if we’re defining success that way, then we have a measuring stick of knowing what faithfulness to the Lord in the long haul even looks like. That’s the first thing is defining success up front.

I think the second thing, though, comes from a principle that we say all the time around our church, that ministry for God flows from intimacy with God. And the idea here is that we are being filled with God’s love as we serve others and there’s a priority there not only in our intimacy with the Lord, but I would say, I want to do ministry from a place of intimacy and health. And that applies to my relationship with God, first, where I’m not just a soldier of God, I’m a son of the King, and I’m serving him out of a place of knowing him. But that also includes health with my marriage, with my children, with friendships, and my ministry flowing out of that. Every morning, I pray that God would use ministry to crucify my flesh. Because if you’ve been in ministry long, you know, it brings to the surface our insecurities, our pride, the ways that we want to take control. And that’s difficult, but every one of those is an opportunity to grow in holiness and in intimacy with the Lord.

I also pray that the Lord would enable me to be able to do ministry out of a place of joy and freedom. Joy, because I get to be a part of the good work that the Lord is doing, and freedom, because I’ve got nothing to prove. I don’t need to go out there preaching, trying to prove myself. I want people not to look to me and say, “Wow.” I want them to look at Jesus and say, “Wow, what a Savior.”

I think the third thing that we need to be faithful to the end is good mentors, especially for young pastors. And I know, for me, this has been important in Los Angeles. And L.A. is a young city, and our church is a young church, where it’s all relative and it’s easy for people to look up to me as an older person. But for me, I’ve tried to surround myself with godly mentors who are wise, who have experience, who can point me to truth.

I went a while ago to a pastor in Los Angeles who’s a mentor and a friend. He’s been pastoring in L.A. since 1984. And I went to him and I said, “How have you done it? How have you been faithful so long in this city that’s so difficult?” And he looked at me and he said, “Well, I prayed a lot, I wept a lot, and I waited on the Lord.” That’s not what I wanted to hear, but it’s what I needed to hear. I was looking for some kind of formula or mechanism to do better today or tomorrow, but he pointed me to faithfulness to Christ over time. That’s what we need, to be faithful to the end.