You just started your new ministry job and your excitement can’t be contained. You’ve been dreaming of all the amazing things you are going to do and the lives that are going to be changed because of your work. This is how many of our ministry journey’s started. We were all young (this is subjective of course) and full of spunk and passion. We often worked far more hours than were expected of us and attended every event that our church was putting on, whether it was in our ministry area or not. We were just excited to be around and see God doing work. Our passion carried us through these early years, but as time went on our passion seemed to fade away and we somehow became bitter with hardened hearts. What happened? What changed? How did we go from passion driven work to dreading the next event? Somewhere along the way we’ve allowed our focus to become on the fruit instead of the root.
What does that mean exactly? Jesus tells us in John 15 that “I am the vine and you are the branches, if you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Fruit comes simply from abiding in Jesus. That’s too simple right? There has to be more to it than that. Not according to scripture it isn’t. For so many in our society and culture today, it’s all about the grind and the hustle. There are so many entrepreneur voices out there telling you to hustle, hustle, hustle. That good things come from your focus on the end result which is fruit right? For those in the business world it could be landing a new client, finding the right investment deals, etc. For those in ministry it is new people in your church, new candidates for membership, new baptisms, etc. But, what happens when our sole focus becomes on the fruit? Is not the most important part of the tree the roots? Can we do anything on our own, disconnected from the vine which brings us life? We all know the answer to this question.
When I first grasped this life changing truth, I was on the verge of quitting ministry all together. I thought I was doing all the right things, attending all the right events and more. I couldn’t understand why the people I was leading weren’t having their lives deeply changed or affected by Christ. It’s because I was teaching them to be focused on the fruit instead of the root. We all know what happens when a tree’s roots stop being the primary focus. The whole tree dies and rots away. However, what happens when a tree focuses solely on the roots? Everything from the ground up happens inevitably. It is the same with our walk with Christ. If we want to have a fruitful ministry and life in Christ, then we must focus on being rooted in Him.
I want to give you 5 signs that will help you to recognize when you may be at risk for burnout. These 5 signs come from my personal experience with the subject and from what I have discovered as I look at the lives of leaders who have succumb to this awful disease.
1. Hardening of your heart
This might seem obvious, however at the moment of burnout it’s the last thing you would be thinking of. After all, up to this point your heart has kept you in the game why would it let you down now? Your desire to reach the lost and bring them the hope that is found in Christ is what has driven you. This is an honorable thought, but when we aren’t taking care of our own hearts how can we ever lead others to find an abiding relationship with Jesus? 1Timothy 4:16 tells us this “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” When our heart becomes hardened, it isn’t only affecting us, it also affects those that we are leading. If your heart isn’t being nurtured by an abiding relationship with Jesus and you’re just “getting by”, burnout is close at hand if you don’t take action. Find someone to walk with you that can help keep your heart postured towards the Lord.
2.lack of vision
Where there is no vision the people will perish. Vision is what helps drive our ministry. If we don’t have a vision for how we want to accomplish the mission at hand, then we will be driving around aimlessly and never get anywhere. Having a vision helps keep your vehicle between the lines. In the context of ministry, our vehicle is our strategy/plan and without vision, those things just crash and burn. Vision is what people buy into. It’s how you grow your church’s leadership and how you maintain focus on the important things that help you arrive at your destination. So many young leaders never develop a healthy vision for their ministry. They are simply hanging on with white knuckles and hoping to arrive safely at their destination. There is a reason that the “lifespan” of a youth pastor is less than 2 years. Many of them quit and never return to the ministry again because they were overworked. I try to make it a regular habit of revisiting my vision on a yearly basis. I do this, not just for my ministry, but for all aspects of life; my personal goals, my marriage, my parenting, etc. This helps me to stay focused on what I need to do to accomplish my mission. I will post another blog that details the tools that I use to help me in this process.
3. spiritual immaturity
When I first became a leader in church, I was not a mature Christian at all. I thought that because I attended faithfully, was involved with serving and was a part of a small group, that I was doing my part to be a “better christian”. Because I felt like I was doing all of the right things, it was hard for me to understand why I felt like quitting ministry. I was a faithful member to that church, but I was only consuming spiritual milk when what I needed was to learn how to chew. Milk can only fill you up for so long before you need whole foods. Also, it was easy for me to be swayed by teachings that weren’t biblical. The author of Hebrews even speaks to this in ch 5: 11-14 when he says this, ” In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”. God calls us to be spiritually mature, as to attain to the full measure of what He has intended for us. This goes back to the previous sign of having a lack of vision. If we aren’t sure of where our spiritual maturity is headed, or worse yet don’t want to mature, how can we ever lead anyone else to a full, maturing faith in Christ?
The biggest help here, for me, was to find someone who was a more mature Christian with more knowledge and wisdom than I, to pour their life into me. At times those people had to speak hard truths to me, but as they did it in full confidence before the Lord, I was receptive and biblically exhorted back to Him. Which leads us into our next point..
4.lack of community
This is one of the most common reasons that I see young leaders quit ministry after burning out. They haven’t placed people around them to help hold them accountable to their faith and their actions. In the last couple of years, we have been seeing a lot of prominent Pastors falling from grace. What I mean by that, is that they have sin in their life that has become exposed to the masses. Christ gave us the message of reconciliation and called us to be ambassadors of that. When we put a brother or sister around us for the sake of them pointing us back to Christ and Christ alone, that is true community. So many times our “community groups” have become a place where we enjoy being around each other, but not in true biblical fashion with Christ being the center of it. Community for the sake of community can be found in any CrossFit gym you go to. Community for the sake of Christ, can only be found when He is at the center of that community. I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums it up pretty well in his book “Life Together”, when he said this: “Christ became our Brother in order to help us. Through him our brother has become Christ for us in the power and authority of the commission Christ has given him. Our brother stands before us the sign of the truth and the grace of God. He has been given to us to help us. He hears the confession of our sins in Christ’s stead and he forgives our sins in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God.”
Unfortunately, for so many Pastors and Leaders in the church, they don’t have this healthy picture of community. They don’t have anyone that they can confess their sins to like James 5:16 calls us to do for one another. If our abiding faith in Christ is represented by the tree’s roots, then our biblical community is represented in the trunk of a tree. What purpose do trunks accomplish? They help bear the weight of the canopy, the branches and fruit that will come. If we don’t have a healthy trunk, then we can’t possibly hold the fruit that will be produced, our tree will topple over and fall. I will expound on biblical community in a later post, so be sure to subscribe to get these directly in your inbox.
For so many leaders this concept of rhythm is unknown. We live in a world that is fast paced and constantly going. So many people believe that they must constantly be busy in order to be successful. Think about when you’ve ran into someone, perhaps in a store, that you haven’t seen in quite some time. The conversation generally goes like this, “Hey, how have you been doing?” to which they reply “Well, I’ve been super busy here lately.” We always reply with “Thats great!” But is it great? Where we designed and made to constantly be active? I think Jesus gives us a very healthy model of rhythm and retreat. He would frequently preach, teach and heal in the cities, but then he would withdraw to a desolate place to get some rest or spend time in prayer. ( Luke 5:16 and Mark 6:31) We must adopt this same rhythm of work and retreat that we see Jesus model. This takes intentionality in every way possible. When we retreat, it needs to be for 2 purposes: Rest and/or Solitude with the Father. So many leaders fall into the production trap of thinking they must constantly be producing something of value to others. They run a marathon at the pace of a sprinter. We all know this is unsustainable and ends with not finishing the race.
Let’s be honest here. Ministry sometimes get’s chaotic and we just need to take a break and rest for a while. That’s ok to do and is actually biblical. The other reason we need to retreat is to spend time in prayer, reflection and stillness so that we can hear the Father’s voice speaking to us. I think the best place to find this is often in the wilderness. What is wilderness for you? For me it could be a desolate mountain top where I spend a day or two camping and retreating with the Lord. Sometimes it means to get on the river and fish for trout. Wherever that place is for you, you need to make a regular rhythm of retreating. This is good for your soul and gives you much needed rest and perspective as to where the Lord wants to take you and where He has brought you from. The end goal here is to always go back into the city and apply what He has taught us in solitude.
I hope and pray that if you are reading this and have felt any of the signs mentioned above, that you will seek someone wiser and more knowledgeable than you to talk to. If you don’t know of anyone, please feel free to contact me. I would love to talk with you and pray for you. I hope that you found this post useful and that it will help you begin to develop a healthy ministry lifestyle that will keep you in the game for the long haul. Be sure and subscribe to get fresh resources delivered directly to your inbox on a weekly basis!