Church Leadership

Ministry burn-out

Why that book about ministry burn-out you’re reading may be doing more harm than good

Jonathan Holt

There is an expanding section at your local Christian bookshop dedicated to helping pastors to avoid or recover from burn out. I have read a few of these myself, but with a growing sense of disquiet. I began to notice a certain pattern to these books: firstly, they were written by someone who had experienced burn-out themselves. We respond to this experience-based knowledge, and you’ll often find the opening chapters of the book tell the story. You get to hear about the wide-eyed ministry novice, brimming with confidence and ready to see the world changed for Jesus. But the story soon spirals downward and the crash at the bottom is terrible. And yet there is hope, because the author learns hard truths about themselves, they find the mistakes and miscalculations. The slow and determined work of repair and rebuilding then unfolds. They grow into a new phase of ministry: sharing what they have learned, to help others.

I am grateful for their honesty and vulnerability, in sharing their story and hoping to save others from the same pain and failure. However, it is at this point that I begin to feel the unease I mentioned earlier. It is here that the author turns their own personal path to recovery into a system for all of us to follow. All the things that helped them to experience restoration are explained, and often backed up with science, and finally put into dot-points (maybe in a box) at the end of the chapter. But it’s not just the universalizing of personal experience that bothers me. It’s the subtle move from hitting rock bottom, re-discovering the depths of God’s grace, to beginning to do better, do the right things and follow the self-help actions the author offers up. The better versions of the ministry burn-out book serve us well by leading us to the deep, deep well of God’s grace in the midst of failure, sin and burn-out. But they often serve us a refreshing drink and then urge us back into the fray of sorting out our priorities; doing more exercise; getting our rest right; observing the Sabbath; or whatever it was the author found renewed their energy and resource for serving Jesus. My niggling concern is that we fall so easily for the Galatian error each time we read one of these books. I hear the deep need of the author in their downward spiral, that leads them to a deeper understanding of grace. But having begun with grace, many of these books move onto the efforts I must make if I am going to avoid burn-out. Chapter after chapter guides me through the things I must do if I am going to succeed where the author had failed. But what if I needed to stay at that deep, deep well of God’s grace? Not just stay there longer (before moving onto the call to get my act together, have this day off, learn that ancient practice of the early church), but just stay there. Far too many of these burn-out-recovery books have the chapter on grace towards the front and leave it there to get on with my effort, and my improved activity.

The book The Imperfect Disciple, Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, by Jared C. Wilson was a refreshing change. Not least because his exploration of the sufficiency of grace is taken up in the second last chapter (it’s not the first time he mentions it, but it is the place where he takes up the topic at length). Wilson riffs on the legend of the old lady verses the scientist. Versions of this story abound, in which the scientist finishes a lecture on how the earth is round and revolves around the sun. The old lady corrects the scientist, with her view that the earth is flat and rests on a turtle. The scientist asks what the turtle rests on, to which the old lady replies, ‘Another turtle.’ The scientist asks again: ‘And what does the second turtle rest on?’ And she replies: ‘It’s turtles all the way down!’ Wilson’s point is important and good to hear over and over again: ‘…when it comes to our dependence on God, it is all grace or no grace. If our standing with him rests even an ounce on our works, we are utterly and hopelessly lost. No, it must be grace all the way down.’ (p198)

I believe this is the kind of burn-out help we need. It was my effort; me trying to work harder, that led me into danger – how on earth could more of that be the way to recovery? I’d love to read a burn-out-recovery book, which led me to the deep, deep well of God’s grace and left me there. And in that place, drinking that refreshing water, I might stand a chance of finding a way to be in ministry, safe from dangers of burn-out.

Harrie Scott Simmons: a tribute.

Peter Adam pays tribute to a great mentor of his. A shorter version of this tribute was first published in The Melbourne Anglican, September 2018.

Peter Adam is Vicar Emeritus of St Jude’s Carleton, Vic.

Harrie Scott Simmons, 5th September 1918 – 4th May 1999.HarryScottSimmons

Harrie was born in Melbourne, attended Scotch College, and was converted through the Crusaders movement by Baden Gilbert, who ministered at Montague (South Melbourne). It was a slum parish, and some of the Crusaders helped with ministry in the parish, and paid for a women’s worker to assist in ministry there. Harrie also joined CMS League of Youth. He trained for the ministry at Ridley College, when Bishop Baker was the Principal, and benefitted from his Biblical preaching and emphasis on the devotional life.

Harrie was ordained in Melbourne, and served his curacies at St Andrew’s Brighton and Holy Trinity Kew, and then worked as Assistant Minister to Dean Langley at St Paul’s Cathedral. He then left for India in 1947, where he served at Amy Carmichael’s centre for children at Dohnavur, then as chaplain at Vellore Medical College and Hospital, and then as Chaplain at Lushington School at Ootacamund.

On one occasion at Vellore, Harrie was preaching on the text ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’, and Dr Mary Verghese was converted to Christ. She later had a significant ministry as a surgeon repairing the hands of leprosy patients, and a vigorous Christian witness throughout her life.

He was forced to return to Melbourne because of ill-health. Here at home he served as Chaplain at Malvern Grammar, then Chaplain at Ridley College, and then worked for the Australian Institute of Archeology. He was also active in speaking at Scripture Union and CMS activities for young people.
Harrie had a constant and extensive ministry praying for, counselling and mentoring young men. He was a person of great compassion and patience, deep spirituality, attractive holiness, and practical wisdom. He was a great intercessor, and you knew that once you were on his prayer list you were on it for life! He ministered to a wide range of men from all backgrounds. He was a faithful student and teacher of the Bible, and a wise evangelist and personal counsellor. He had a keen interest in people, and the gift of friendship.

I am one of many young men whom Harrie met ‘by chance', and who was befriended for life. He converted me to Christ, and then met with me every Tuesday for 3 years to disciple and mentor me, both as a Christian, and also then into ordained ministry. When I went to see the Archbishop’s Chaplain to offer for ordination, he asked me who had influenced me most in my call to the ministry. When I told him it was Harrie Scott Simmons, he replied, ‘We don’t think much of him at Headquarters’ [!] I am thankful that I automatically replied, ‘Well he converted me so I am very thankful for him!’

It was my privilege to preach at Harrie’s funeral in 1999, and St James’ Glen Iris was full of men who praised God for his ministry. He had a wonderful combination of high standards for us, and deep compassion and understanding when we fell short. Harrie had a deep love of classical music, and an outrageous sense of humour. He was a poet, had a keen interest in and expertise in Egyptology, and an attractive simplicity of life.

I recently spoke at a meeting at which 48 ministers were present. I mentioned Harrie by name, and after my talks four other ministers came up to reminisce about him, and we thanked God together for him. He truly was a ‘Father in Israel’ to many. His life, ministry and prayers are still bearing fruit. We praise and thank God for all his saints, and especially at this time, for Harrie Scott Simmons.

‘Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.’ Daniel 12:3.

Our trouble with church buildings

Our trouble with church buildings

Bishop Stephen Hale is the Lead Minister of the St Hilary’s Network, and Chair of EFAC, Australia.

In 2017 I had a curious experience. My mother had passed away and the funeral was held at the church of my childhood and youth. The ministry and pastoral concern of the church was faultless and the service went incredibly well. Why was it curious? The facilities were more or less the same as when I last regularly attended nearly 40 years ago.

I’ve been at St Hilary’s for 8 and half years and we are just in the process of lodging plans for the redevelopment of the Kew Site in our Network of three sites. It has been a slow and at points painful process to get to this point. Our facilities have had very heavy usage over an extended period of time and it’s a joy that we have at last reached this point with strong support. Along the way we have had people leave because they in conscience can’t support a capital program.

These two stories illustrate the tension evangelical Anglican churches seem to have with renewing their facilities. For a range of reasons we seem to baulk in this area. We all know that the church is the people and the building is there to keep the rain off and we could easily do church in a rented space. Yet we have hundreds of buildings and they each are a statement or testimony to who we are and what we value. It strikes me that to visit many of our churches is increasingly a discontinuous experience for many non-churchgoers. Everywhere else they go in their life they go to fresh contemporary spaces that are fit for purpose and easily accessible. When they come to our churches they will often come to places that look tired and dated and are freezing in winter and an oven in summer. It is said that independent schools renew their facilities every 25 to 30 years. For churches it is seemingly every 50 or more years.

In one sense I’ve been spoilt, as I was Curate in a brand new church complex at Castle Hill and Vicar at a near new renewal at Diamond Creek. This shapes you. As Bishop I was involved in several processes that led to the closure and sale of some churches. Leading services of deconsecrating a church is a challenging experience.

If we want to connect in the contemporary era we need to give careful and active consideration to what sort of facilities we currently have and the best way we can renew and refresh them. Most of us do that in our own homes, why not the church? Most of us have leveraged off the generosity of previous generations for many years yet are reluctant to commit to the renewal of those facilities. Many churches have had ministers who were involved in the deferral of maintenance from one generation to the next and the cost of catching up is now considerable.

Perhaps we have a theological problem here? Perhaps our theology of church has flaws. In every generation the church has been involved in building buildings to meet in and we marvel at the best examples of these when we play tourist in many parts of the world. Would any of us be bold enough to build something grand and dynamic in our day? Visiting Barcelona a few years ago it was striking the impact on the waves of tourists entering the Sagrada Familia Basilica. They almost all fell silent and were awed and touched by being in that remarkable space.

Why should children participate in dynamic and interesting spaces at their school and then rattle around in dreary halls on Sunday? Do we need to reflect on how we think abut buildings in more than just functional terms. Are they in fact special spaces that enable worship, community and outreach? I’ve always said that it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re hyper-liberal or hyper-reformed people seem to have an emotional attachment to their church and it’s buildings. Equally it doesn’t seem to matter if the building looks like a Telstra sub station built in the 1960’s or a beautiful gothic building built in the 1860’s people are still attached to the spaces.

In the new mission era we’re in we need facilities that are open and accessible. Facilities that can be used for all sorts of activities in all sorts of ways. Worship spaces that are flexible yet retain a sense of the sacred. We need a new culture of openness and generosity to enable our existing facilities to be refreshed and renewed as a matter of course rather than deferring it to the next generation. We need to refresh our theology of buildings.

Pastoral Guidelines on Same-Sex Relationships, Marriage and Gender

With the advent of same-sex marriage, churches are seeking to articulate with grace and truth a response to the various issues this presents. Stephen Hale has generously made available the pastoral guidelines that the St Hilary’s Network in Melbourne has developed. Reading and reflecting on their efforts might prove helpful to others engaged in similar tasks.

Stephen Hale is the Lead Minister in the St Hilary’s Network

We acknowledge that developing a theological and pastoral response related to human sexuality and sexual practice in our cultural setting is complex and challenging. We offer our full assurance for all who are same sex attracted that they are loved, valued and welcome in our church. Our identity as believers is founded in the new life we live as God’s children. We are all one in Christ Jesus regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. 

As a church, we uphold the formularies of the Anglican Church of Australia, which are grounded in the Bible’s teaching. The Christian rite of marriage is between a man and a woman. Both Jesus in Matthew 19:4-5, and St Paul affirm what God has instituted across all ages in the words of Genesis 2:24: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ The introduction to the Anglican Marriage Service (APBA Order 2) classically states it this way,

‘Scripture teaches that marriage is a lifelong partnership uniting a woman and a man in heart, mind and body. In the joy of their union, husband and wife enrich and respond to each other, growing in tenderness and understanding. Through marriage a new family is formed, where children may be born and grow in secure and loving care.’

Faithfulness in Service (The Anglican Church of Australia Trust Corporation, 2004) is the guiding policy document of the Anglican Church of Australia, especially for those who are licensed or authorised to minister, and states the formal position of the Anglican Church as ‘faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness’. In upholding biblical teaching on marriage, we acknowledge that it involves the costly call of celibacy for all who are unmarried.
In the person of Jesus, we find the perfect model of someone who lived and spoke with both grace and truth (John 1:14). We acknowledge that in our attempts to develop a pastoral and theological response, the church may have at times spoken the truth, but not in love, and we repent of it. We acknowledge that, in our attempts to uphold the Bible’s teaching (and Anglican formularies) on marriage, we may have given the impression that same-sex attracted people themselves were the problem. This is not true, and we apologise if you have experienced this. We also acknowledge that homophobia has been a sin in our church and the wider community, and we repent of it.

We acknowledge that this is an issue of significant pastoral tension within our faith community as we seek to reflect on the Bible’s teaching and, also, as we seek to love and support same sex attracted family members, work colleagues and friends. We commit ourselves to holistic pastoral responses that are compassionate and positive in supporting people who are same sex attracted.

We seek to increasingly be a faith community that rejoices in the gift of friendship for all people. We encourage mutual hospitality within the body of Christ as families and single people share their gifts and homes. We encourage all married couples and families to both welcome and include single people as part of their ongoing life. We welcome those who share their lives as companions and seek to live faithfully.

We recognise that not all in our church community hold the same views on this matter and urge each of us to interact in a respectful and open manner. We commit ourselves to ongoing study and reflection on the teaching of Scripture in these areas.

  • We encourage church members to engage with friends, colleagues and family respectfully and with grace, modelling Christian engagement. As Christians living in a pluralist culture we seek to support each other in upholding our right to speak respectfully and graciously. We urge legislators to uphold religious freedom and to enshrine appropriate protections for religious practitioners and institutions in any proposed legislation.

Leadership Protocols

1. Under the provisions of the Marriage Act (Australian Government, 2017) Anglican clergy are exempted from performing same sex marriages if it is contrary to the formularies of their denomination. The 2017 Marriage Act states:

2A: b) to allow ministers of religion to solemnise marriage, respecting the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of their religion, the views of their religious community or their own religious beliefs;

The Canons of the Anglican Church only allow for marriage between a man and a woman.

2. As per current practice, St Hilary’s clergy and lay ministers attending any marriage where they have been invited to play a role shall, prior to accepting the invitation, inform the Lead Minister, if they have not already done so by their standard scheduling and planning discussions. Clergy must abide by current Diocesan protocols in the conduct of weddings.

3. Staff and those in elected leadership must uphold Faithfulness in Service

4. An individual’s views on these matters are not a criterion for being on the Parish Electoral Roll.

Works Cited

  • Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017. Australian Government, 2017.
  • A Prayer Book for Australia, Broughton Publishing, 1995
  • Faithfulness in Service, The Anglican Church of Australia Trust Corporation, 2004.

The coming revolution in small group ministry

Bishop Stephen Hale sees small groups as poised to revolutionise 7church life again. Stephen Hale is the Chair of EFAC Australia

Way back in the 1980s a revolution started in thinking about small groups in the life of the church. The late John Mallison (my mentor for many years) wrote a classic book called Growing the Church through Small Groups. The whole focus was on growing disciples of Jesus through meeting in small groups to read God’s word together, to pray and to minister to one another. This was about a revolution in how pastoral care was expressed. It was a discovery of the power and potential of mutual care. St Hilary’s Kew was in the vanguard of this movement and offered significant leadership in this area. Steve Webster writes about this era in the book published last year Excellence in Leadership: essays in honour of Peter and Merrill Corney. At the book launch he told what a massive cultural shift it was back in the 1980s and 1990s to get people involved in small groups.

At present another revolution in small group ministry is taking place. This is a fresh discovery of the mission of God and how we participate in it together. At the heart of this is unlocking the mission potential of small groups. This is about growing in discipleship. This is sometimes captured in the ‘Up’ the ‘In’ and the ‘Out’. ‘Up’ is reading God’s word, listening and responding to him. ‘In’ is sharing each other’s lives and praying together. ‘Out’ is sharing in mission together both as a group and as we support each other to live out our faith in all of our lives.
In our church we have renamed small groups as Connect Groups, as they are about connecting with God, connecting with each other and connecting in mission together. While continuing to study God’s word and pray together, groups in the St Hilary’s Network increasingly participate in some sort of missional endeavour in some real and tangible way. This may be an outreach or social justice activity, it may be linked to the everyday activities of your lives. It is about connecting with real people and sharing the love of God and inviting people to consider the Christian faith. Groups are not told what to do but supported to discover together the mission God wants them to participate in. We recognise this as a significant shift and expect it will take time to become a reality. We hope over time all groups will embrace an outward focus.

It is true to say that growth in maturity increases dramatically, when you get your sleeves rolled up and have to do something for others in some way. This is about seeking God’s kingdom together and about us being a part of something bigger for the sake of others. I think we all know the sense of buzz that comes when we do that. For us this is about a revolution in how we see church and community. For us, this is about making our newly agreed mission (making, maturing and mobilising disciples of Jesus Christ) and vision (to transform lives and communities as we share the love of God through the love of God’s people) a reality.

This is a topsy turvey view of mission. It isn’t top down and program centred. It is releasing the whole people of God to share in the whole mission of God and to do it in the whole of God’s world. That might seem a bit pretentious! But this is a vision for all God’s people to share in God’s mission in God’s world and to share in it both when we’re together and when we’re apart. This is a vision for everyone and not just some people. This is for children and families as well as mature adults. This is about releasing the gifts of the people of God in the mission of God. This is about having a vision for church being a visible alternative community. This is about what Mark Zuckerberg recently called helping others to discover a sense of purpose (in God) for themselves.

This is also about each of us supporting and praying for each other as we seek to be kingdom people in all of our lives—at home, at work, in our street, in our communities, with our Mission partners—this is both local and global. If you think about the number of people in Connect Groups (or the equivalent in your church) and think about the number of places where we each hang out and share our lives, then you have tens of thousands of people that we have kingdom connections with. If we see this as part of the mission of God that we each share in together, then, as St Paul puts it: ‘then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.’ (Philippians 2:15)