Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley grew up in a home with one of the most popular Southern Baptist pastors in the country, so he saw many major pastors and religious leaders come through his home when he was a kid.
Stanley said there were certain ones which would cause his father to later say with a shake of his head — in the privacy of the family — “that man doesn’t have a burden.”
What did Charles Stanley mean by that? It was his judgment that a particular pastor might be talented and popular and respected, but the man wasn’t driven inside by a burden for anything he was trying to change or anyone he was trying to help.
That phrase resonated with me when I heard it this week in an interview with Andy Stanley. Maybe it makes so much sense to me because I’ve heard it used in church all my life. People who talked about having a burning need to minister to certain people would talk about having a burden for them: “I have a burden for young people who are growing up in broken homes,” or, “I have a burden for young mothers who have been abused and have nowhere to go.”
In my experience, those who had a burden on their hearts for certain people were the ones who were effective and made a difference. Those who didn’t have such a burden were just going through the motions — and their words eventually felt phony.
When I served as a youth minister on a church staff while I was in college, I spent many Sunday afternoons with our pastor’s family, especially when we had visiting preachers or dignitaries. It was my first long-term experience of listening to pastors speak in public and then spending time with them in private.
I soon learned that there were some men — they were all men back then — who were just as privately burdened about their work as their public appearances made them appear to be. These were the men who believed passionately in what they were trying to do and worked tirelessly because they were genuinely burdened by a need to change things.
There were other men — a majority of the ones I met — who didn’t seem like the same people in private. It wasn’t that they seemed evil or untrustworthy. They were simply more concerned — behind closed doors — about how successful they were and whether they might move up in denominational politics. Those men seemed to care only about themselves. Their public appearances seemed more like a performance. They seemingly had no burden for any people or any cause.
In the interview I heard this week, Andy Stanley was talking about this idea of having a burden in the context of organizational leadership. He meant that a leader has to know why he’s doing something. If a leader doesn’t feel a burden — or a passion — about something, he’s not going to be able to fake it for too long. He’s going to burn out or at least reach the point that he’s just going through the motions of living a fairly meaningless life.
I think this idea applies to all of us. Everybody who has a burden for something has a reason to get up in the morning — and it’s not just so he can be more powerful or make more money. A really successful person ultimately has to have a burden for something he needs to achieve in the world.
The burdens I have mostly revolve around communicating ideas to individuals. Why do I care about those things? It’s because I’m extremely sensitive to a world that is full of miserable and hurting people — and I have a strong burden to share some ideas about how we can collectively learn to quit hurting each other and I have a burden for figuring out ways in which we can live together in peace without destroying one another.
Those things don’t start with politics or public spectacle. They start with choices that we individually make. They deal with how we choose to love each other as individuals. They deal with how we choose to raise our children. They deal with how we choose to separate ourselves from a culture which is toxic and which leads us to individual and collective misery.
If you have no burden, it’s hard for me to see how you’re going to achieve anything worth doing. Even if you’re smart and talented and hard-working, you don’t have enough of a “why” to drive you to make any difference.
Just having a burden doesn’t mean you’ll automatically achieve anything. It doesn’t mean you’ll definitely be successful in helping the people for whom you have a burden. You might fail. But without the passion that comes from a burdened heart, it’s unlikely you’ll ever even try to do anything worth doing.
At different points in my life, I’ve struggled to define exactly what my burden for the world is. I’ve interpreted it in various ways — and I’ve made different plans based on my changing understanding — but I’ve always known the burden was there. I feel it more strongly than ever today.
Do you know what your burden is? What is your purpose? Do you have anything you’re really trying to change? Or is you life locked on the autopilot of daily living that will leave you an old and bitter person who wakes up one day and realizes you never really lived?