Going down in flames on the Mission Field at one time was a sign of total commitment to Christ and His cause. Today most of us consider it a loss to the Great Commission enterprise. T. J. Addington would agree as his article here on “Ministry Burnout” indicates. Lesson: Don’t Burn Out on the Mission Field or in the Pastorate!
T.J. Addington is a Senior Vice President with the EFCA and the leader of ReachGlobal, the international mission of the EFCA. He has served as a pastor, consultant and denominational leader. He resides with his wife of 36 years, Mary Ann, in Oakdale, MN and is the father of two sons and has two grandsons.
“Ministry burnout is one of the real risks any in ministry have. There are simply too many needs to be met, too many people who desire attention and the pressures can be intense. Early in my career I experienced this after dealing with dysfunctional leadership for a number of years. Every year ministry burnout takes good people out of the game and no one is exempt from the prospect unless we take precautions against it.
The signs of burnout include fatigue, sometimes anger (at the very people we are here to serve), a desire to be somewhere else or doing something else, lack of interest in being with God (we are too tired) and emotional overload. It is often a sign that we have not put adequate boundaries around our schedules, what we agree to do and are carrying emotional loads God never intended us to carry.
Looking back at my own situation I realize that I took too much personal ownership over things that were God’s problems not mine. I also stayed too long in a dysfunctional system that I could not resolve. There are situations we cannot resolve and the longer we try to resolve them the more burnout we can experience. One of the things I learned was that some problems don’t get resolved this side of heaven.
This is a dangerous place to be as there is a tipping point where our emotional, spiritual and physical resources become so exhausted that it can take years to recover. I have often counseled people to leave their ministries and seek another before the toll is so high that they must leave ministry in order to recover. It can be an arduous journey.
For those who are experiencing the symptoms of burnout in ministry I have these suggestions.
One: Guard your schedule so you have adequate time for rest, reflection and refreshment. If there was ever a time to do less it is at this juncture. We often think if we work harder we can push through the challenges but that is often the worst thing we could do.
Two: If you are in a dysfunctional workplace don’t assume that you are the one who can make the breakthrough that is causing your situation. Sometimes we need to move on and leave the dysfunction to those who are causing it. This is not surrender but can be self preservation.
Three: Get good counsel from trusted friends to gain perspective. In the midst of burnout our own thinking is often faulty and not reliable. Listen to those who know you best and follow their advice. Often what keeps us from doing this is our pride – we think we ought to be able to figure our situation out but this is the time to put pride aside and seek help. Even professional help.
Four: Focus on things other than work as often as possible. Spend time doing those things that fill you and remember that ministry is not all there is. When our whole identity is wrapped up around ministry we contribute to the depletion of our emotional resources. Life is more than ministry. It is family, recreation, friends, and the joys of life. Develop ways to get emotional distance from your work situation. Spend time with those who love you and give you life when you are with them. Don’t do this journey alone!
Five: Don’t take on burdens that are God’s. As Jesus said, “my burden is light.” He did not intend for us to carry around burdens that are His to carry. We are to do our best and leave the rest to Him. Jesus came to save the world. We participate with Him in His work but we cannot save the world and often not even the situation we are dealing with.
Finally, press into Him and your identity in Christ. It is where we find rest for our souls and a divine perspective. Learn to give to Him what is His to carry.