ALONE WITH TRUTH: A Surprising Antidote to Ministry Boredom and Burnout

Podcast, Refreshment

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There is no higher vocation or more rewarding life than Christian ministry. Whatever the area of service, being in the employ of the Lord is an earthly and eternal honor. I know this to be true.

For nearly fifty years, I have been privileged to serve as a children and youth pastor, associate minister, senior pastor, evangelist, professor and administrator in Christian higher education. In all these Divine appointments, I can honestly testify to the truth of Paul’s words: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” ( I Corinthians 1:9).*

At the same time, I have also occasionally faced boredom, and near burnout, and therefore relate to the Apostle Paul when he said – “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak” (II Corinthians 11:28, 29)?

During seasons of challenge, I prayed, fasted, and tried to take time for a change of pace. Prayer is powerful, and a change of pace is helpful, and necessary. After all, God commanded the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8). These helped, but I often found myself only marginally restored.

Many of my colleagues took sabbaticals, went to minister’s retreats, and some borrowed money to go on a cruise. Most did nothing because they could not afford the cost or the time away. They just kept on trusting in the promise “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). It’s a great and precious promise, and it is absolutely true, but frankly, it may often represent a promise too distant when help is urgently needed in the present.

So, what did I find that in addition to intercessory prayer proved the most helpful? The answer was right in front of me all along – the Bible – the Truth.

Consider these selections from the 119th Psalm:

“My soul melts from heaviness; Strengthen me according to Your word” (Psalm 119:28
“Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me in Your righteousness. Let Your mercies come also to me, O Lord–Your salvation according to Your word” (Psalm 119:40, 41).
“This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life” (Psalm 119:50).
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
“The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
“Great peace have those who love Your law, And nothing causes them to stumble” (Psalm 119:165).

In fact, the entire acrostic of Psalm 119 is filled with the amazing promise that the Word of God – the Word of Truth – is a tonic to body, mind and spirit. That’s why it is amazing how so many who accept it as the text of truth from which to teach and preach, often fail to fully appreciate it as the well from which its advocates can also draw its refreshing and healing water of life.

Incredibly, the more time devoted to the study of the Bible, the greater the level of encouragement, and energy that flows into the body, mind and spirit.
There are many ways to do serious study of the Bible. No one way is the only or even the best way, but one proven way is through a structured academic approach.

There are many reasons why at first this may seem counter intuitive. Such as: I am already doing study to prepare for preaching and teaching; how can I find time for more when I am already stretched to the limit; I already have a Theological degree or other Biblical training; and besides, I can’t afford it.

The fact is, there is a degree of truth in each of these objections, and that is often why they serve as convenient reasons to reject the idea. But what may at first seem unreasonable, can actually be the very reason why it is reasonable.

Consider it this way. If you are already doing study to prepare for preaching and teaching, why not turn that time into diving deeper into eternal truth? If you are already stretched and stressed to the limit, why not replace some of the unproductive stretch and stress with something that will stretch and strengthen? If you already have a Theological degree or other Bible training, why not build on it? If your budget is already tapped out, why not give it a hard look, and cut out what you really do not need for what you really do need?

A lot has changed in the world of ministry education. The classroom was once the traditional method, but now, for practicing ministers, directed study through online Theological distance education has become the method of choice, offering many advantages. Some of these are:

  • Pre-planned systematic programs designed by proven scholars,
  • Self-paced study, that fits the schedule of busy ministers,
  • The benefits of self-discipline and prioritizing one’s time,
  • Practicing “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:16),
  • The reward of a recognized diploma or degree.

However, there is one primary advantage that outweighs all other benefits combined. Directed Theological distance education requires time alone with the Word of God, time alone during which the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart though the Word, time alone without the presence of classmates’ influencing comments, time alone with one’s own thoughts, time alone with Truth alone.

That time alone with the Truth is like a tonic to the body, mind, and spirit – an energizing Agent that fills the heart with such an abundance of truth that the outflow is greater than can be given away in one sermon, one lesson, one series of lessons, or even one lifetime.

Purposefully, deliberately, honestly being alone with the Truth, really can be a the most surprising antidote to ministry boredom and burnout!

*Scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Version, The Lockman Foundation.

Dennis D. Frey, A.B.S, M.Div., Th.D., is the president of Master’s International University of Divinity

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