Refreshment or burnout?

Jen and I have just been to an excellent Pastoral Refreshment Conference, an annual event at Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire. It’s run by Living Leadership, an organisation which aims not only to train pastors, but to enable them to be able to sustain ministry over many years.

It’s an issue I’m passionate about because I’m all too aware of how often ministers burn out or fall into serious sin. For example, at a well-known Anglican church over the last twenty years, two associate ministers had to leave because of depression, two others through having affairs, and then the senior pastor had to leave, also because of an affair. I am convinced that ministers need to be living healthy, balanced lives – and failure to do so impairs our witess to the good news of the gospel, which is at the heart of what we do.

Mark Meynell, the speaker at the Pastoral Refreshment conference.

Mark Meynell, the speaker at the Pastoral Refreshment conference. (source)

The speaker for the conference was Mark Meynell, who was an associate pastor at All Souls, Langham Place. Jen had heard him speak regularly and had found his preaching to be particularly helpful. Then after some years Mark admitted that he had been suffering from depression throughout his time there, and some time after that resigned from his job.

Jen and I missed the first talk on the Wednesday evening (we were late!), but heard the evening session when Mark talked in detail about his depression. He described what it was that had triggered it, and how he coped (or didn’t) with the aftermath. It was a powerful session because he didn’t give easy answers, and shared honestly about the bleakness and blackness of the hardest times. (His blog describes some of this experience here).

At one point the next day, as Mark was describing the reality of being in depression, I wasn’t entirely sure how he was going to pull the series through: after all, the conference was about ‘refreshment’ rather than ‘depression’! I need not have feared because his talk on the final morning was both refreshing and very challenging. He didn’t join all the dots, but he’s writing a book that probably fills a few of the gaps.

Inferring somewhat, at some point Mark took a step of faith to believe that the gospel is true, even though he didn’t have the right feelings. A key verse for him is from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “we live by faith, not by sight” (here) – in other words, if it’s true, it doesn’t matter what we feel. What the New Testament doesn’t offer Christians is an easy, struggle-free life – and Paul certainly doesn’t, either. When he talks about “light and momentary troubles” (here), he’s downplaying the ordeals that he describes in detail elsewhere (such as imprisonment, floggings and shipwrecks: here).

Towards the end, Mark played us a song by Steven Curtis Chapman which expressed his own battle after heart-rending tragedy.

After returning from the conference I came across a very moving interview with Chapman himself, a year and a half after his own tragedy. It’s a very powerful testimony (so much so that one of the interviewers struggles with his own emotions).

One of the most refreshing aspects of the conference was the willingness to tackle a difficult subject. The more healthily pastors can talk about issues like depression, the more easily we’ll be able to assist those going through similar experiences – but also, the more we’ll be enabled to take preventive steps for ourselves.

Getting refreshed

Jen and I went to the Pastoral Refreshment conference just over a week ago, organised by the Living Leadership team. The aim of the event is to provide an environment for churh leaders to be refreshed in the Lord, rather than being trained or motivated or equipped with new techniques.

The headline speaker was Terry Virgo from New Frontiers International. He’s an inspirational speaker, and I particularly appreciated some of the enriching insights he gave into scripture. For example, in one session he looked at Jesus turning the water into wine in John 2 (a passage that’s close to our hearts because it was the one which Rico Tice preached on at our wedding!). He drew attention to Jesus’ command to the servants to fill the six purification jars with water, saying that it was ‘specific, unreasonable and required faith’… it would have been easy for the servants to argue the point with Jesus saying, “Jesus, it’s not the water that’s the problem, it’s the wine!”. The servants had to do it Jesus’ way – otherwise nothing would have happened.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the conference was the welcome and hospitality, so that it was easy to mix and converse with other participants, however long they have been coming to the conference or have been in ministry. There was an atmosphere of humility which was most refreshing. Jen and I both felt that the relationships we’ve begun to develop this time might be of great value over the coming years.

On the Thursday afternoon, we had some free time, so we went to Rutland Water: Jen took the opportunity for a ten-mile run, while I went birdwatching! I’d heard that there were some smews, and was lucky enough to bump into a birdwatcher at the visitor centre, who directed me to Lagoon IV. As soon as I arrived in the hide, I opened one of the hatches – and there they were!

"We need to talk", said Mrs Smew, as Mr Smew sailed serenely past.

“We need to talk”, said Mrs Smew, as Mr Smew sailed serenely past.

Smews (male and female) at Rutland Water Lagoon IV.

Smews (male and female) at Rutland Water Lagoon IV. Both images are worth clicking on to see the higher resolution versions.