The Anatomy of a Ministry Meltdown

ID-10053881Last year on Christmas morning in front of a packed auditorium of church members and  visitors, I had a ministry meltdown.  The truth of the matter is that the breakdown had been coming for almost a year and during the previous two days I had been showing signs of a problem, but simply didn’t realize what was happening.  Up to this point, I have not spoken about the lead up to the breakdown, nor shared with anyone outside of a select group of friends and church leaders about my recovery.  But over the last several months I have had the opportunity to talk with several other Pastors and ministers about their ongoing struggles and after a great deal of prayer I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned.  Today I want to share with you the anatomy of a ministry meltdown.  Then on tomorrow’s post I will share about recovering from a ministry breakdown, and then on Friday wrap the series up with how to prevent a ministry breakdown.

Before I share about the anatomy of a ministry meltdown let me share some enlightening statistics.  According a survey of protestant ministers conducted by Lifeway Research 55% of pastor’s report that they were currently discouraged.  Thom Rainer notes that, “I suspect that if we surveyed pastors over just a few months, we would find that almost all of them experience deep discouragement.”  That same survey reported that 55% of Pastors reported being lonely.  Since having my meltdown, I have been shocked by the number of Pastors who have called me to talk about their own struggles with discouragement and depression.  I suspect that the percentage of Pastors facing these issues is not significantly higher than those in the congregation, but we are less apt to talk about our struggles.

I can identify the following issues that lead up to my meltdown:

1.)  Ministerial Idolatry– It may seem strange but one of the biggest issues that lead to my breakdown was putting the ministry first in my life.  Lay people will not understand what I mean by this but every Pastor knows the constant struggle of not letting your identity become so wrapped up in the ministry that you lose yourself.  When this happens we end up putting the ministry ahead of everything else in our lives, including God, which is the equivalent of making the ministry an idol.  When ministry becomes an idol we end up serving it rather than God. Dave Kraft has written an interesting book about this issue entitled “When Ministry Becomes A Mistress.”

2.)  Spiritual Neglect– When the ministry becomes an idol it begins to demand more and more of our time.  I ended up trusting in my own abilities and talents more than on God.  The busier and more crowded my schedule became the less time that I spent alone with God.  A wise man told me when I started out in the ministry that the most important time of my day would be the time I spent alone with God.  The time we spend reading the Bible, praying, and meditating upon the things of God are the keys to a healthy spiritual life.  I tell my young preacher boys that they must minister from the overflow of their lives.  What I mean by this is that they must constantly spend time with God and nourish their own souls so that the ministry will stream out of the overflow of their lives.  I neglected this principle in my own life and quickly ran dry.  

3.)  Physical Neglect- this is a factor that most people would not have been aware of last year, but in the weeks leading up to my breakdown I was on a crash diet.  Over the previous months, I had lost 65 lbs. and just before Christmas I stopped eating all carbohydrates, trying to lose a few extra pounds in anticipation of the holidays.  What I did not realize at the time was that this had a devastating effect on my physical body.  I lost 65 lbs. but felt terrible and wasn’t sleeping well.  In fact, I hadn’t slept at all for three days leading up to the breakdown.   I was a wreak physically and this had a major affect on the way I felt emotionally.  Our physical condition has an affect upon our spiritual and emotional lives.  We ignore this to our own peril.

4.)  Isolationism– I am an introvert by nature and being around a lot of people is always uncomfortable for me.  But over the months leading up to my breakdown I had gone from being introverted to being completely isolated.  I had been feeling bad for a while and needed to talk to someone but I simply went deeper into a shell.  Even my wife and kids didn’t know how bad I was really feeling.  Publically, I tried to maintain a front and to keep on smiling but inside I felt very lonely. In the process of my recovery I discovered an article by Thom Rainer about the introverted leader that I found to be extremely helpful.  Ron Edmondson has also written a helpful article about understanding the pitfalls of being an introvert.  For lay people, I would encourage them to read this article about understanding introverts.

If you are reading this and you are a Pastor, I am willing to guess that you know exactly what I was feeling.  At some point, we all are going to fall into one or more of these traps.  The truth of the matter is that we al know what the anatomy of a breakdown looks like, but we are afraid to take the actions necessary to stop it.  Looking back, I should have known what was about to happen and taken action to stop it.  I didn’t and ended up going through a rather harrowing experience.  But that doesn’t mean that you have to go down the same road.   If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, stop! Get some help!  Call another Pastor and talk about what you are going through.  Call a counselor and make an appointment.  Most of all, get on your knees and talk to God.

Please click on the following links for part 2 of this series: Recovering from a Ministry Meltdown.


Please CLICK HERE to check out my new book “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude”

13 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Ministry Meltdown

  1. As my pastor, I have always admired the fact that you have been willing to be honest with your congregation and allow us to see that you are human. We were not there for this Sunday, but for me it simply reinforced that you are a man with struggles just like the rest of us. It made you more approachable for me….someone who has struggled and could help me with struggles.

  2. Hey brother, I can identify with much of what you are saying here. I’m also an introvert by nature and I found those articles, as well as this one, to be very helpful to me. Thanks for sharing. My wife is an extrovert for certain, so we balance one another pretty well in that regard. I’ve heard it said that this introvert/extrovert thing is what determines for us the way in which we recharge our batteries, so to speak. For my wife, she gets word out in isolation. She runs a home daycare and craves adult interaction. She is recharged by being with people and interacting. She loves to talk about her life and share details with people. I’m the opposite. I become worn out by being with people all the time and I prefer to be alone or just with my family to recharge my batteries. I tend to keep things to myself and don’t want to bother people with my problems. Tina will blurt something out and I’ll cringe. Haha! But we’ve learned how to handle that together- I see it as a strength of our relationship. Of everything that I’ve just read from you and the other articles, I’d say that the most critical thing is that time alone with God. We can’t neglect that. Unfortunately, there are times when I do neglect my relationship with the Lord, that alone time. So, this is all very encouraging to me. Thanks again for sharing.

  3. I appreciate your kind word Laura and appreciate all that you an Tim bring the to the church. It is a joy having you as a friend and church member. Courtney, your wife sounds a lot like mine. Grace is very outgoing and has never met a stranger. She has been a good balance for me in the ministry and I have learned learn to lean or her more in this area. I agree with you about the time alone with God, there is simply no substitute.

  4. I just discovered you via Twitter. I live in Worden IL and have been to Metropolis and yes my family and I got our picture taken with the Superman statue. Thanks for this post. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

  5. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter time of day or night there will be people in front of the statue getting their picture taken. There is now a smaller Lois Lane statue just down the street.

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