Dear Burned-Out Church Leader

An Open Letter

Hi Friend,

You have been through so much this past year and I’m in awe of your strength and resilience. Serving the church (as a lay person or a clergy person) is hard enough in normal times, and this year has been anything but normal. You have led your church through fear, loss, confusion, despair, loneliness, and polarization—all while processing many of these emotions yourself. Moreover, your commitment to your people is often overlooked and under-appreciated.

I’ve often found myself jealous of painters and landscapers. To walk up to a project in the morning and walk away from it in the evening seeing clear and measurable transformation must be nice. In ministry, these moments of measurable transformation can be so rare and so fleeting it’s easy to get discouraged. I’ve found great comfort in the words of Paul to the church in Corinth:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. –1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

As you return to in-person worship, it’s likely your congregation will be smaller. Take comfort, your labor this past year was not in vain. The tough decisions you made were not in vain. The phone calls with lonely parishioners were not in vain. The hours spent on Zoom were not in vain. The meetings to determine COVID protocols just to receive new CDC guidelines a few days later were not in vain. The time you spent preparing and producing online worship was not in vain. We serve a God of mystery and depth; a God who evades simple markers and measurements. 

I know we have been taught to measure the fruits of our ministry by tracking numbers like attendance and financial giving. But even the most productive apple tree has meager crops in a drought year. A global pandemic is out of your control. A massive societal shift away from formal religious affiliation is out of your control. All you can do is give yourself fully to the work of the Lord and entrust the rest to God.

You have been gracious with the church; it’s why you still serve her. Be gracious with yourself. Take a deep breath. Take a long walk. Let your soul be restored.  And remind yourself that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

With Admiration and Gratitude,

Luke Edwards