Stress, Burnout, and … Creativity?
- Written by: Rev Ralph Mayhew
“What’s cracking? It’s Ralph Mayhew here and I’m a full-time minister, serving a merger church, in Burleigh, QLD and I have a YouTube channel on photography and filmmaking, which has nothing to do with my ecclesiological ministry!”
If you watch one of my videos, you won’t get that intro, but you’ll get something that feels just like it. I remember the day when I clicked the button that would send my first YouTube video live. It was a couple of years ago, and the torrent of 36 views that followed was inconsequential. It was a gamble to start my channel, as I wrestled with the question “Will this bring me more life or take it away?” This was the only question I needed to answer. I had a hunch it would, but the only way I’d know, is if I tried. I did try and it has, tenfold.
This question “Will this bring me more life or take it away?” is a dangerously underrated question we often feel guilty asking in the world of Christian leadership.
I sit with lots of new leaders, many of them young who are feeling tired, worn out, stressed, perhaps even angry, exhausted, frustrated and with declining mental health reserves. The common thread in every one of these scenarios is they are putting out more than is being poured in. Their life is being taken away, and not being replenished. They are gaining the whole world of ministry (only not really) and losing the health of their soul in the process.
“But I meet with God every day, I read his Scriptures,
I seek his will for my life and my ministry. How can I still be feeling like this?”
A valid retort, but unfortunately an incomplete one. As these words are expressed, Psalm 23 whispers to me “I will make you lie down in green pastures.” I often wonder if God is saying to this generation of Christian leaders, ‘you need to find a place where you are reconnected with where you came from. Where you find joy, meaning from being, express your creativity and aren’t held hostage by unrealistic measures.’
Of course, time alone in prayer, and Scripture study is imperative to our health as leaders, but the story is much broader and deeper than just this. Our story began with a creative God, who breathed us into existence. We could have looked like anything God desired, the result being we were inspired by his own image. In exercising his creative Spirit he produced us in the form we have.
The writer of Genesis declared: “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)
We were created, we are created beings, by a creative God, who declares his creation to be made reflective of His image, a creative one! Do you see the common thread? We were made by the creative spirit of a creator God, to live a creative image, by creating. So why is this the first thing to be eroded in a leader’s
life as they step into the river of Christian ministry? Perhaps because the creativity the church requires from us (especially now); perhaps the time and energy we might otherwise invest in personal replenishing creativity, has been all but used up by the demands of ministry.
When I push back on those leaders and ask ‘what are you doing that is creative? That isn’t attached to any goal posts or key performance indicators, that brings you joy and causes your energy to be spent in a most wonderful way?” They nearly always look at me with loss for words, a lingering grief with a hint of intrigue. The intrigue comes from the invitation into creativity, which resonates with something deep inside them.
As the conversation ensues there’s always something that causes them to say “You know, I used to do that,” or “I’ve always wanted to learn about that or give that a go.” Those who follow through find greater balance, increased joy and a creative expression that repairs and sustains their soul like nothing else can. It’s as if they now get to enjoy the most painless and freeing therapy session, whenever they wish.
That’s why I’m on YouTube. That’s why I’m a photographer. It gives me life! It improves my relationships, my ministry, my energy reserves and my mental health.
Making a video, of which I have done a few times now, is a wonderfully creative experience. It starts with an idea, then develops into a plan, with a loose script, I then film and re-film, and sometimes, re-film again. Then we go to the editing room a process which has gotten longer and longer, correlating with the length of time I’ve been on the platform, and finally I export, upload and release it to the world.
My channel is about photography and filmmaking, which is the other creative pursuit I document with my videos. I call it therapy. Getting outside with my camera in creation. Accepting a challenge to capture something intricate, beautiful or bizarre. It enables who I am to be celebrated and expressed, in a way that doesn’t need to please those who have varied expectations of me (think: those you minister to).
I love those stages, all of them, because each, in their own way are creatively replenishing. Replenishing because I am exercising my creative muscle, outside of the need to please anyone or anything. It gives me life, it stretches my ability to think beyond constraints, it offers something that may help others, and it ushers me into wonderful connections and relationships with people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
I can spend my full day off, planning, photographing, filming, thinking and creating, and as a result I then move into the following week with far more energy and vitality than I had previously. I’ve discovered that when we take our cues from culture about what it means to replenish, binge watching Netflix on the couch, that the image of God within us is dulled.
But when we adopt the same stance that our creator God took, who is madly in love with us, we discover life, replenishment, strength, courage, hope, joy and creativity, all of which God then uses in our ministry.
I have also discovered that there is only one person who can truly give you permission to explore this for yourself. It’s you! And me now, too, I guess. No one else will be able to gauge or trust the incredible value a unique creative pursuit can have for you, but you can try it for yourself and see. My prayer is that you do!
Ralph Mayhew is the pastor at Burleigh Village Uniting Church and you can find him online at Ralph Mayhew Photography (http://ralphmayhew.photography/)
Art, Cars, Coffee, Mission, and Mental Health.
- Written by: Rev Adam Gompertz w. Rev Dr Chris Porter
A Chat with the Scribbling Vicar
Psychiatric nurse and car designer come historic car artist, Station Chaplain to Bicester Heritage, pioneer missionary, and minister to the classic car community through the REVS meetings and REVS-Limiter online group, the scribbling vicar Reverend Adam Gompertz talks faith, mission, and mental health.
Chris: Moving from nursing to car design, ordination, and now as a pioneer minister is a rather large series of shifts. How did that come about?
Adam: I grew up with parents who were vicars, but like a lot of vicar’s kids I didn’t really think of ministry, and ended up getting into the car industry via a long and protracted process via psychiatric nursing. Once I was in the car industry it was prompted through a period of redundancy in the 2008 recession. There wasn’t an angel standing at the end of my bed with a flaming sword, saying “It’s you, it’s you.” Rather it was more that we started looking and the doors kept opening. I was accepted for the selection course— which I liken to the SAS except with more cake and less diving through windows. But between selection and hearing back, I had started at Rolls Royce Motor Cars and really had to make a choice. But at that point I had no pioneer leaning at all. I thought I would be a vicar in a country church in rural England and that was it.
While in the car industry, I had a sense that when you went to theological college you left your old life at the door and walked into a new life and suddenly turned into a priest. The problem is that I could never leave the cars behind. I never quite fitted in that way. I still loved the cars, and the whole scene. During college I started reading works on missionality and church, like The Shaping of Things to Come, and that blew my mind. The picture of what ministry could look like, and what ministry needed to look like in the age in which we were living. From then on, I started thinking rather than walking away, what could I do to go back into that community as a priest. That really started my thinking.
Chris: The automotive industry and classic cars tends to be a far more diverse space than what we see on a Sunday. How did you end up being a clergyperson in that space?
Adam: When I went and did my curacy, in a very wealthy area, the vicar said you are going to have to deal with people driving around in Ferraris and Aston Martins, and I was like “sure, fine, no problem.” Back in 2014 I asked him to do a car show in the church. We had 28 cars, opened the church, served food, and made sure everything was free so that people didn’t think we were after their money. At the end of that someone said to me “you know this is only going to get bigger” and I thought “this is it, we are done;” but sure enough we doubled in size each time we held it. Yet it was tough to grow relationships with an annual event, so we moved to a monthly Cars and Coffee meet in Shrewsbury. That first REVS group has just grown from there, and quite naturally I just fell into this pioneer role as God opened the doors bit by bit.
I had spent quite a bit of time in my teenage years trying to marry having a faith and being a car fanatic. Can you be both? Because I thought that surely cars are very materialistic. Over these years I have come to a position that, yes, you can do both; and perhaps in the church we should stop dividing ourselves up into our work life and spiritual life etc. I feel just as called on a Sunday morning to be in a carpark peering into somebody’s engine bay as I do in a pew. I think it’s a by-product of our evangelical underpinnings, where we see God purely in terms of church, but He is out there doing stuff and calls us to join in; often in the most surprising places.
I have just as many encounters with God around cars as I have anywhere else. Because cars give space for a community to walk with people through the highs and lows of life, and for me that is my calling. Not so much to preach at people but called to walk with them, weep when they weep, and to celebrate when they celebrate; all with the perspective of God’s kingdom.
Chris: How have you found the reception of your faith and reflections on faith in such a secular space?
Adam: When I put things out, like a Fuel for Thought, there will be people in the group who are way off the spiritual radar, others who are curious, and others who are onboard. The challenge then is how do you talk about Jesus in a way that people won’t switch off,
but a way that puts it in their language. One of the things with REVS that I felt called to ask was “what does the kingdom of God look like in a car community?” For me, that is one of the key questions that I go back to. Aspects like radical generosity, compassion, healing, forgiveness, and wholeness. What do they look like in the car community? The Fuel for Thought reflections seek to do that, and to meet people where they are at.
Church language just doesn’t work in this space, people are so unfamiliar with it, or have a simplistic one-dimensional understanding. Instead of typical church language we talk about “rust,” and “restoration,” all grounded in the car stuff that we know and love, and from there we can ask questions.
It’s what Jesus did, taking the language of fishing, planting seeds, building houses—the language of his every day—and applied the gospel to what people are familiar with. With REVS we do a “Carols by Carlight,” and use metaphors of journeying, like the Pilgrim Tour along an ancient Christian pilgrim route in North Wales. I liken it to being bilingual, speaking the language of our host culture, and being familiar with the church and theological language.
Chris: One of the challenges with car culture is that there is often a self-reliance, a stiff upper lip, and people don’t want to talk about their struggles. How have you seen REVS speaking into that space?
Adam: I think that initially it is rooted in my own walk with mental health, in that I have struggled with anxiety and depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder for around 25 years now. It has become part of our life, as a family, and we have learnt to manage and live with it. Part of my ministry came from sharing that story, and from the fact that after a major breakdown I have had the sense of God restoring me bit by bit. I just started telling my story.
Psychiatric nursing gave me an awareness of mental health, but it was my own story and God’s restoration that really promoted it. REVS really is a story of God’s restoration, it’s not a story of my own ministry, because several years ago I really thought that I was on the scrapheap.
Telling my story was the first stage, and then meeting others with a similar story, paired with a general cultural willingness to start talking about mental health. COVID and lockdown certainly had a knock on effect with people’s mental health and gave space for talking. The REVS-Limiter online community itself was borne out of our shared lockdown frustration. Charlotte—my wife—asked me one day why I was grumpier than usual, and I said, “because I can’t get the car out and meet with others,” so she suggested taking it online. I remember thinking that if I get a few people watching along it would be amazing, and by the end of the first event we had almost 3000! We made sure we talked about mental health, offered prayer, and finished each event with a prayer of blessing. REVS-Limiter doesn’t hide faith away, instead people know that as a vicar I am probably going to mention Jesus at some point, and people are open to it.
Chris: The Barna group recently found that 42% of those in ministry have considered quitting in the past year alone. Pioneer ministry is often seen as this super high stakes environment. How has the REVS ministry been a blessing to your own mental health?
Adam: Like any kind of ministry, it has its demands, and it sometimes feels like we are just making it up as we go along. Some things work, and you are amazed; then other stuff won’t. There is a great deal of introspection, which comes with ministry anyway, but heightened because this is new and different, and a sense of wanting to do things right. All things which play into my anxiety. Here the artwork that I do is great, not just as a tool for starting conversations, but also to switch off and refresh myself. But I have to be careful with my art, that it doesn’t just become another ministry tool and kill my enjoyment of it. There is a challenge with having refreshment so close to ministry. It really takes some discipline, especially as the ministry keeps expanding.
Chris: What advice do you have for others who want to engage in pioneer ministry?
Adam: You can do the same with anything. People who run groups which are all geared around baking bread or making stuff to eat, others doing stuff with animals. Dog walking is a massive way to meet people and becoming a community of some kind. In some ways I am not doing anything radical or different, certainly not from Jesus did. I’m just doing it in a different context. With REVS we talk about being community, we aren’t a car club, but a community that is open and welcoming and allows people to celebrate their own piece of car culture. Just trying to model the kingdom of God in this space.
When I was first thinking about REVS, a friend of mine advised me to be straight with where you are coming from. Because there is nothing worse than going to something and finding that you have been pulled into something else. The bait and switch of “come watch a film… oh it’s a film about Jesus.” People know where I am coming from, and who I represent. Sometimes that busts their ideas about what a vicar represents. With REVS-Limiter we say that there will be faith posts there for you to think about and reflect on, if that isn’t your thing just pass on by, but there might be something to engage with. Being up front with it leads to things like being on a podcast and having the hosts open up about their own faith journey, or others praying for people who are struggling or have had their car stolen. We need to take faith into people’s lives and go be where they are at rather than expecting them to be where we are at. Like mental health it is all about just being honest and saying, “this is me.” When you are in that space, then get people around you. For so many clergy there is a sense that they are the only ones who do ministry. Particularly within some of our more middle-class churches we have inherited this model where people come, sit, and go and that is all their involvement. Actually, that is not the church that Paul was talking about or that Jesus started, where people came, got involved, became an active community, involved in every area of life. We have made it very personal and private, with the vicar doing all the ministry. It is little surprise that many get to the point where they just can’t keep going on like that. Certainly, in the UK we have significant clergy burnout, as there is no one to help and support. With REVS I was getting to the point where I realised that the ministry needed more than just me to be involved. I have a very good group of directors around me, who are keen to release me to do the bits that I am good at and know me well enough to support my mental health.
Adam Gompertz is Station Chaplain to Bicester Heritage, and @revslimiter on Social Media
Editorial Summer 2022
- Written by: CHris Porter
In early 2022 the US based Barna group released a study which found that in 2021 42% of Christian workers have considered leaving ministry early, up from 29% in 2020. Preliminary indications for 2022 show this trend continuing. If COVID was the pandemic that brought the world to its knees, then burnout and mental health is the same for Christian ministers. Indeed, many studies have found that those in helping professions—including ministers— are often worse than the general public at managing their own mental health and stress levels. This is only exacerbated by a perception that the church—and church workers—need to be self-sufficient and self-feeders for effective ministry.
While some church initiatives—such as spiritual direction, supervision and mentoring—have been introduced to address these challenges, many have only seen them as another imposition on already busy ministries.
This issue is firmly focused on encouraging Christians to consider their own mental health as we engage in ministry.
The lead articles come from less traditional ministry environments. The first from an interview with English Pioneer minister Adam Gompertz about his ministry engagement and mental health strategies.
The second from Queensland Uniting Church minister Ralph Mayhew about his life-giving photography and Youtube pursuits.
Spiritual director Fiona Preston, and pastoral supervisor, Joel Kettleton have brought their disciplines to bear on burnout, to give some insight into support that is on offer. While Samuel Crane reflects on the benefits of peer mentoring—which returns in a book review. Finally, Fergus King reflects on John 3 as he has walked with traumatised ministers.
The book reviews all focus on mental health, and sustenance in ministry. I pray you will find this issue edifying
CHRIS PORTER, EDITOR
Essentials - Summer 2022
- Written by: Chris Porter
Essentials Spring 2022 pdf (4MB)
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Book Review: Be Thou My Vision by Jonathan Gibson
- Written by: Hilton Jordan
Gibson, Jonathan. Be Thou My Vision: a liturgy for Daily Worship. Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois. 2021.
If you, like me, have struggled with focus, freshness, and a framework in your private time of prayer and Bible-reading (or quiet time) then “Be Thou My Vision - A Liturgy For Daily Worship” by Jonathan Gibson may be just the tool you are looking for.
“Be Thou My Vision” is essentially 31 days of gospel-shaped liturgy borrowing heavily from the gospel structure of the services in the Book of Common Prayer 1552 … but with a wonderful variation. The variation is that most of the prayers don’t come from BCP but from a great variety of writers from church history.
The ‘contributors’ to “Be Thou My Vision” include saints the likes of: à Kempis, Ambrose, Anselm, Augustine, Baxter, Bucer, Calvin, Chrysostom, Edwards, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great, Luther, and Patrick; as well as Church of England saints, such as: Cranmer, Herbert, Johnson, Taylor, Toplady, Wesley, and Wilberforce.
The author, Gibson, a Presbyterian pastor and Cambridge PhD, was struggling with his private worship during the COVID-19 lockdowns. An Anglican Australian friend recommended he apply himself to compiling a resource that others could use, and the product of that is “Be Thou My Vision”.
The basic structure of each daily liturgy is: call to worship, adoration, reading of the law, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, creed, praise, catechism, prayer for illumination, Scripture reading, prayer of intercession, petitions, the Lord’s Prayer.
There are also a treasure trove of appendices which provide: musical tunes for the doxology and Gloria Patri; the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism; the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan; the collects from BCP 1552 (many of which date back to the early church); and an author and liturgy index.
“Be Thou My Vision” is a feast of spiritual feeding as the different contributions are not only theologically profound but they are also thoughtfully, creatively, and sensitively combined. It is considerately prepared so that each daily liturgy is able to be completed in approximately 20 minutes (even the Athanasian Creed is wisely broken up across three consecutive days). In addition it is beautifully presented in a box with a cloth-bound hard cover and three differently coloured bookmarks.
“Be Thou My Vision” does, however, have a few ‘weaknesses’. For example, the language used is the original English or English translation, which can be hard going for some, yet with American spelling. The variety of authors from different church ages means that the expression is quite a mix of quaint and sophisticated, of dense and pithy. I also occasionally find myself distracted by a minor theological quibble, such as the beatitudes being presented as law or encountering descended “into hell” - rather than “to the dead” - in the Apostles’ Creed.
“Be Thou My Vision” is an enormously helpful resource for private worship which could well revolutionise your quiet time or, at least, breathe new life into your time alone with God. Although the book is presented as a resource for personal or family worship, I would only recommend it to adults and especially to theologically mature readers.
Hilton Jordan is Senior Pastor of RAFT Anglican Church in Rowville, Victoria.
- Written by: Chris Appleby
If you're looking for preaching resources may we recommend the following:
EFAC's Expository Preaching platform. Here you will find a range of sermons by EFAC members. You are welcome to add your own sermons provided they use expository methods and on the condition that you provide either a full text or at least a detailed outline of the sermon in the Message Text section.
The Australasian Academy of Homiletics brings together teachers of Homiletics across Australia and New Zealand for the purpose of studying the place of preaching in theological education, discussing and sharing ideas and methods, and fostering scholarly research in Homiletics and other related disciplines.
Useful for articles on preaching
Our mission at the Centre for Biblical Preaching is to encourage and foster expository preaching and teaching in local churches throughout Melbourne, Australia, and in other countries, by providing workshops, conferences, seminars, and mentoring for preachers.
We strive to be a training centre that effectively equips churches throughout Australia and the rest of the world in expository preaching. This vision is founded on the conviction that the first and most important mark of a healthy church is faithful exposition of God’s word.
The Centre arose from the unique and ground–breaking partnership between St. James’ Old Cathedral in West Melbourne and the Church Missionary Society—Australia.
Book Review: The Sexual Reformation by Aimee Byrd
- Written by: Elizabeth Webster
Byrd, Aimee. The Sexual Reformation: Restoring the Dignity and Personhood of Man and Woman.
Zondervan Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2022.
Aimee Byrd’s take on Song of Songs is a lot less risqué than it may seem, or is it? Byrd ventures through this oft ignored - because we don’t know what to do with it - part of Scripture to try to give us a new way to look at the relationships between genders. Her aim is to show the intertwined nature of male and female voices in the story of God and call the church to reconsider the way it has limited the voice of women over the centuries. She does so without being heavy-handed, though sharing some of her own personal struggles in using her voice in the church sphere. Byrd is calling us to go beyond the mechanics of the egalitarian v complementarian debate and get to the heart of the matter, the love of God for all his people and his desire to see them flourish.
She does a fantastic job of relating each of her posits to the whole story of Scripture tying her ideas through Genesis to Revelation, wanting to explore a renewed understanding of the dignity and personhood of each gender. She wants to get away from defining genders based upon roles and move towards a new, or reformed, understanding of what it means to be men and women. For someone who already subscribes to the idea of mutuality between genders, Byrd’s take was refreshing. She’s not trying to tell us what we can or can’t do, but rather, encouraging us to find value in our biological sex, something that the world around us is currently breaking down.
Overall, the book gave me a fresh understanding of the Song of Songs, showing the different ways to read it, and encouraging a broader look at the beauty of the language held within, without getting caught on the erotic nature of some of the text. The book seems to say, it’s time for the church to stop feeling uncomfortable in these conversations, and try to step forward and encourage healthy conversation around gender and sex.
While anyone with a good biblical knowledge can probably get around it, I would recommend a read through the Song before you venture into this book.
Elizabeth Webster is an Assistant Minister in the St Hilary’s Network, Melbourne.