September 10, 2019

Keith Farmer’s Story

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KEITH FARMER’S STORY – burnout, recovery and mentoring

Today’s guest blogger: Dr Keith Farmer.

I had been in full-time ministry for 11 years (in two churches in Sydney) when I accepted a dual ministry in Melbourne (half-time as an Associate Pastor in a local church and half-time as a Faculty Member of a Theological College).

My teaching areas were Pastoral Theology and Practical Ministry. I was close to being Registered as a Psychologist in Victoria, having trained in Psychology concurrent with my Theological training and previous ministry. (I maintained my Registration for about 30 years). Understandably, my ‘on the ground’ ministry involved a significant counselling load in both of my ministry roles.

I had not been trained in and was not very effective at setting boundaries—partly because there was a part of me that needed to be needed and found fulfilment in helping other people. Within about 15 months I became quite anxious, particularly before and after counselling people. I began to shy away from answering the phone or the door and avoided contact with people as much as possible. My ‘fuse’, particularly with my children, became shorter and shorter. I was running out of emotional resources. The Principal of the College recognised my dilemma and asked me to cancel all counselling appointments for at least one month and arranged for me to see a Christian Psychiatrist. I withdrew from all ministry responsibilities for about six weeks.

This was quite a devastating time for me, as I had prided myself on being resilient and able. I was very despondent about future ministry because I had burnt out through ministering in areas that were supposedly my strengths. I was teaching others in these ministry areas.

This traumatic time became a watershed in my life and ministry. I realised that I needed to ‘go deeper before I could go further’. The counselling I received was very helpful. I realised some vulnerabilities which indicated some ministries should not be an emphasis in my ongoing ministry e.g. I should not do any medium or long-term professional counselling.

Once I began to recover my resources, I was gently led to a spirituality which I had largely ignored because of my activism. Some of my theology (particularly about the nature of God) changed and I became more and more a committed and passionate follower of Jesus—gradually being more willing and able to invite Him and others into what life involved. I became more constructively vulnerable.

In the 35 years since my burnout experience, I am thankful that I have continued to go deeper with God. This has helped my character development. I have really enjoyed the great privilege I have experienced in and through ministry.

Keith Farmer, B.Comm., B.A. (Hons), D.Min.

Keith says “Mentoring is a major resource for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.”

“For the last 15 years, my ministry has involved mentoring an aggregate of approximately 200 Christian leaders from a wide range of ministries across Australia. I believe Burnout is the single most powerful and most likely challenge to the wellbeing of Christian pastors today. I am convinced that Mentoring, among other pastoral supports, is a major resource for helping to ensure that Christian leaders are healthy and that they have a sustainable lifestyle.”

Keith Farmer has been my mentor and coach in mentoring since 2015.

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