Leaders that last

Dr. Bruce Hopler

Vice President of Church Strengthening

  • Church & pastoral health


While this year has been undoubtedly challenging for everyone, it has been brutal for pastors.

They’ve had to lead their congregation through massive and sudden change without warning and without a roadmap. And while they make the best decisions they can, it’s pretty much guaranteed that a large portion of their congregation or leadership will disagree and sometimes with a great deal of emotion or anger.

Pastors are weary. They have decision fatigue, emotional exhaustion and some even full-on burnout.

That’s why we began this video series geared toward the emotional health of a pastor. Each week, I will interview a pastor or leader to give us some practical wisdom and guidance. This week’s guest is someone who I work with quite a bit. It is the vice president of Church Strengthening for Converge MidAmerica, Bryan Moak.

Bruce Hopler: Bryan, welcome.

Bryan Moak: It’s good to be with you, my friend.

BH: Hey, so Bryan, first of all, before we dive into your specific topic, is this what you were seeing? Are you experiencing some of this as well?

BM: Oh, absolutely, and we are, we actually have a thing called the MAP program, which is a counseling opportunity for our pastors and families, and we are up about 35% in spending for that. So what I mean by that is, yes, our pastors are finding themselves needing the help to figure out some of these issues of burnout and stuff.

I’m hearing things like, “My wife has checked out and wants nothing to do with ministry anymore,” and or, “Maybe I need to do something else. I’ve got no joy in preaching and leading anymore. I don’t know what’s wrong, and maybe I’m not called to be a pastor anymore.” I’ve heard guys say that to me or, “I’m just sick and tired of fighting with my board. They just don’t seem to get it and I don’t see anything changing,” and it goes on and on and on, and I think that there is this real dichotomy in so many lives of pastors between this irrevocable call of God and the reality that there are some really serious and difficult things happening, and especially right now in these days, that make us question it all.

BH: You said a lot there, I want to break that down a little bit. So first of all, let’s talk about the question, why is it that you think that pastors are just gutting it out right now? Why do you think that is?

BM: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of reasons, so I don’t wanna just overly simplify it, and I don’t wanna just give the Jesus answer for the sake of the Jesus answer, but it kinda is I think a Jesus answer for us. And I think that sometimes part of our distress is coming from mistakes in our thinking, have we maybe, even inadvertently, replaced the call of God as pastor with something else. And, you know, Deuteronomy 4:9 says this, “Only take care and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.”

And so I think we have to take care of our soul care, making sure that Christ is centric in everything that we’re thinking so that when these difficulties come, we can process them through the right frame of reference.

BH: So you were talking about this irrevocable call of God that we have, as those of us who are in the ministry, and that’s a powerful thing when you first get, maybe get ordained or you start your first role, and then reality hits. There are difficult and draining seasons, and this 2020 has been no shortage of those challenges. How do we reconcile this irrevocable call and the reality for these difficult, draining seasons?

This is a spiritual battle that we are in. We are in a spiritual war, and we are the target of the enemy.

BM: Yeah, I think we have to be aware that there can be again mistakes in our thinking. Where is it that the enemy is gonna try to attack our thinking, to make us lose our real purpose and sort of replace it with something else? And any time we replace the call with something else, we fall into temptation, temptation to think differently, to think wrongly. And so I think that’s a really important piece to remember that we have an enemy who wants to destroy us, but who is taking advantage of this time to say, “Now I’ve got the pastor, now I’ve got his family, now I can destroy this church.”

And so we really need to be reminded that this is a spiritual battle that we are in. We are in a spiritual war, and we are the target of the enemy and so I think it’s really important to remind ourselves to think well and to process well.

BH: You know it’s amazing, Bryan, there are so many things that we believe in our theology that we will preach in our sermons, and we know about spiritual warfare and we know about these things, but it’s amazing on how you kind of forget all of that and you can get into a downward spiral real quick when you’re the one that’s in the middle of it, and you start doubting your call, you start doubting, you know, your ministry.

And I know at your role and my role, we’re having to deal with a lot of pastors that are just in pain right now, and having to process a lot of that. So let’s get real practical in this segment. What are some ways that we have inadvertently replaced that call with someone or something else?

BM: Yeah, and these aren’t by the way, unique to my thinking, as a matter of fact, I’ve stolen them from things that I’ve read and so I just wanna be clear about that. And I don’t wanna overly simplify things either, because again, I know it’s hard, I’ve been there, done that, and it’s super easy to sort of look over and say, “If only you could …” In the reality it is difficult and so I wanna be careful about that.

The main obstacle to loving God is service for God.

Henri Nouwen

But I do think that sometimes we can have our ministry replace Jesus, what I mean by that, Henri Nouwen says, “The main obstacle to loving God is service for God.” And you know, if we’re not careful, our identity and intimacy with Jesus can be replaced by ministry and the ministry can occupy center stage in our time and affection and our focus and well that certainly has been the case in these days is we have so many things that we have to get done. We have to learn how to do online services, we have to learn how to do temperature checks and sanitize the church and all these sorts of things that if we’re not careful, we can inadvertently give our life and love to the work of the Lord while neglecting the Lord of the work.

BH: Well, and you know, isn’t it amazing, I would bet that every pastor who’s listening, got into ministry ’cause they love God and they love people and they felt called and they wanna serve. And before they knew it, they started being a slave to a machine, you know, just trying to keep that machine, that church machine rolling and, you know, again, we can become almost submissive to the work rather than, you know, to the Lord himself, so thanks, and what else?

We can easily allow people pleasing to replace God pleasing.

BM: I think another one is that we can easily allow people pleasing to replace God pleasing. I mean, that’s always a battle that we have, but oh my goodness, it certainly has come to roost during these days. I’ve done a couple of these video messages, I don’t do ’em every week, but I’ve done a couple of ’em and man, I’m on that church’s Facebook page on Sunday morning and seeing who’s on and how many people are leaving while I’m preaching and I mean, it’s just constantly, and then, we’ve got people, we have no shortage of opinions with our people, right?

And we’ve got people telling us, “You need to open now,” or, “You need to not open till we have a vaccine,” and everything in between, and everybody’s telling us the best way to do that. And if we’re not careful, we can be about pleasing people instead of pleasing God, and that’s really hard, and someone said once anonymously, “My goal is to please one person each day, and today is not your day, Furthermore, tomorrow is not looking good either.”

And I think it’s a mentality we have to work on as pastors because we’re in the people business and we wanna love people. But the reality is we need to please God first. A friend of ours, yours and mine, shared not too long ago, and this was really eye-opening to me, and she said, “25% of people will like you no matter what you do, they’re just your people. 25% of people will not like you no matter what you do,” you know, how could that be? But that’s reality. “50% of people could go either way,” so depending on the issue. And so, man, let’s just recognize that if we’re gonna try pleasing people, we’re never gonna get there. We need to really seek out God and make sure that we’re fearing him and not fearing what man will say.

BH: It’s amazing how innocently we get into it. Obviously we need to gather some opinions. What do you think? What do you think? You know, we’re not gonna just, a good leader is not gonna be devoid of the people. So them it starts off well, but then you start getting pulled into, well, I’m trying to please ’em, you know. So it starts off with a good motive and ends up in a bad place. Or you’re talking about the online sermons, you start watching other sermons because it’s a good thing, you should be the ever learner. What are some things I can improve on? What are some things that I’m doing? But then by the end of the day, “Boy, what I’m doing is bad. Why can I be like that?” you know. And you start comparing yourself. You got into it innocently, but before long, you were in a bad place and so you meant well, but it didn’t end up that way.

BM: Yeah, that’s right.

BH: OK, so accept the fact that not everybody’s gonna like us, to make Jesus first. You know, we know that’s oversimplification, but it is such a deep rooted truth that we wrestle with, anything else?

BM: Yeah, there’s a lot more, but I would say the third big one, especially for right now, is allowing busyness to replace visioning. Man, we are busy right now. We’re not taking time off, we’re not sabbaticalling, we’re trucking in because we gotta figure all this stuff out.

And if we’re not careful that busyness can sort of, you know, the tyranny of the urgent can keep us from looking ahead. And so we have to be careful that we are thinking management, we have to manage the things that are happening, we have to care for what is, the here and now, but we also have to be concerned about the what could be, what’s off in the horizon. Leadership is all about taking people from where they are to where they could be, we know that. And so, we have to have a microscope of things that are close in, but we also have to have a telescope that allows us to see things from far off, and so are we spending that time? Are we spending that time visioning? Are we spending that time looking ahead?

I, actually, driving into the office today, I was thinking, you know, we have schools that are gonna be kind of starting this fall, and again, parents who are working full time are gonna have to figure out what to do with their kids if they’re not gonna be at school. Man, what if our churches looked at providing childcare during these days, while we’re still struggling with the COVID thing, especially in the fall. What if we could do that? What if we could love and care for these families in our neighborhood in real practical ways that would maybe result in us being able to share the gospel with them? I mean, I’m just sharing that as just a little thought to say, are we spending time? Are we spending time setting aside, hearing from God, looking ahead at what God is saying?

And then can you articulate for people, the people that you’re leading, what are you hearing from the Lord regarding the future? What is God telling you? Your people need you to be thinking that way.

BH: You know, it makes me think that, I don’t doubt that everything every pastor’s doing is important, but the problem is that we focus on the urgent important and spend all that time in the tyranny of the urgent, when some of the things that might be more important are not crying out, such as how can we be missional in our community? How can I do my soul care?

Those aren’t crying out, so we get such into the thing of the tyranny of the urgent that even if we get a little bit of space to focus on non-urgent but important, we just crash, much less being in a position where we first ask what’s most important, not what is crying out the loudest. And it’s a nasty cycle that we can get into. Feeling like, again, back to what I said earlier, getting into it innocently, feeling like you’re doing a good thing, but in the long run, you’re saying, “I’m done, I quit.” That’s not good, you know, so you kinda created that because you didn’t set some boundaries upfront.

BM: Yeah. That’s good.

BH: Bryan, I appreciate everything that you have to do and how you’re serving all your pastors there in MidAmerica, and I thank you for your friendship, and I know you have a lot more of these, and I know that you at the Unleash conference, you’ll be probably talking about some more of those in a breakout, but thank you for your serving. Bryan, could you end our segment by just praying for the pastors?

BM: Yeah, sure, absolutely. Lord, I remember very specifically when you called me to ministry and it was a powerful time in my life to sense that you were directing me to what I think is the best gig ever to be a pastor, but Lord, it also awakened in the spiritual realm a battle and Lord, that battle has waged for 25 years of pastoral ministry. And Lord, when I clung to you, when I put on the full armor of God for you, it always worked better than when I tried to do it on my own. And so Lord, in all of that, I just pray for our pastors that they would recognize that they need you desperately, that they need to cling to you, they need to care for their spiritual souls, they need to care for their emotional well-being.

God, I pray for pastors that they would not feel weak to ask for help, that they would actually see it as a sign of strength to make sure that they are not burning out, that they are not falling into temptations of all sorts. Lord, protect our pastors, encourage our pastors. God, may this be some of the most fruitful days our pastors have ever seen as they seek hard after you and seek hard after what you’re doing in the lives of your people for the sake of the name of Jesus. And God, we’ll stand before you one day and it won’t be about how cool our lighting was or how cool our online presence was, it will be, have we been faithful to the call to shepherding, to pastoring, to leading your people, and so Lord, give us a new heart for that, even today, we pray in Jesus name, amen.

If youre a pastor and you need someone to talk to, contact us.

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Dr. Bruce Hopler, Vice President of Church Strengthening

Dr. Bruce Hopler has been coaching pastors and church planters for over 20 years. He now serves as the executive director of Church Strengthening at Converge. Bruce started a church in Maryland against all odds with no core group and no upfront funding, but it has grown for 18 years. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was the Spiritual Formation pastor for the eighth-fastest growing church in America. During his time in Vegas Bruce completed his doctorate in spiritual formation and leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. After four years there, he moved to Orlando to join Converge. Bruce loves planters and pastors. He has been certified in StratOps, Church Unique and SOULeader coaching. He strives to help pastors discover what healthy means, within their unique calling and context.

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