What is Christian burnout, and what is the cure?
By Judy Turner
Maybe you’re at church again spending long hours on a project. Nobody else is there, and you bang things around. Why are you always the one left with the responsibility? But you wonder if it’s right to be angry. After all, you said you’d do it. You sigh. You note that you’ve been sighing a lot lately, and you wonder how long you’ll be able to keep up this work for the Lord. As you are truthful with yourself, you don’t want to keep on this religious treadmill one more day. If you could escape to the Bahamas, you’d go in a heartbeat. But then you reprimand yourself. A Christian must persevere and pay the price. You pray for the energy to get this project done, but you don’t really want to pray. You’re disappointed with God. Doesn’t the Bible say we’re supposed to experience joy in serving Christ? So where is the joy?
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing burnout. And yes, good Christians do burn out in their serving.
What are some symptoms of burnout?
Loss of joy in serving Christ
Feeling of always giving and not receiving
Resenting the people we are serving
Possibly seeing diminishing effectiveness in your serving
Other people expressing concern for you
The causes usually fall under four headings: Wrong Priorities, Wrong Motivation, Wrong Ministry, or Wrong Way of Serving.
What about PRIORITIES? Your serving is most satisfying and effective when it flows out of a close and growing relationship with God. Ironically, when you’re most involved with doing church work, you may think you have the least time for your own life with God. Churches often applaud “Christian workaholics”. You may not find a lot of support and encouragement to seek rest and spiritual renewal. But you can take charge and stop the activity long enough to listen to God. God may show you how you need to reorder life to have Him at the center and to experience everything flowing out of a vital relationship with Him. Recovery and renewal may start with stopping long enough to listen to God.
What about MOTIVATION? If you are showing signs of burnout, it may be time to examine your motives. Trying to please or impress people in the church, seeking to earn their approval and escape their criticism, is deadly to your own spirit. Often Christians who burn out have trouble setting boundaries and are unable to say “no” to the requests and expectations of others. But sometimes we have our own high expectations of ourselves. When we don’t see the results of our efforts we hoped to see, we get disheartened. When we continually fail to measure up to what we think effectiveness or success looks like, we may become discouraged to the point of wanting to quit. We may express the hurt as disappointment in ourselves, or perhaps as disappointment in God. Pain and disappointment can turn to bitterness when we believe that God has let us down. Recovery and renewal may start with a very honest conversation with God in which you pour out all the pain, disappointment, and bitterness within you. Then you can ask God for God’s perspective on your situation. You may hear God questioning your motives, and wanting to give you different motives, based on His purpose for your life, rather than on your own or other people’s expectations.
What about the MINISTRY you’re doing? (The use of the word “ministry” does not just apply to vocational ministry, but the particular type of service any Christian offers.) Are you doing what you’re “wired by God” to do? Is the ministry a match for your spiritual gifts and talents? Does it really engage you at a deep level? Many of us end up spending a lot of time and energy doing something for God that is not really our passion or our calling. Recovery and renewal may start with a prayerful examination of what God is calling you to do. It may be that a particular ministry was right at one time, but God is calling you to begin a new adventure in serving. God may be releasing you to a new ministry in a new season of your life.
What about the WAY you serve? Are you trying to do it all yourself when you could be delegating, building teams, and helping others use their gifts? Often people say, “I hate to ask anybody to do anything. I would rather just do it myself.” Granted, it can be frustrating trying to organize others. Other people can fail to show up or follow through. But the solution is not doing it all yourself. Recovery and renewal may start with prayerfully asking God how He wants you to do this ministry, and who He wants you to do it with. Renewal may continue as you ask those people to pray about serving on a team with you.
Pouring out your heart to God, expressing everything you truly think and feel
Listening for God’s response
Letting God heal you, change your inner motivations, and your priorities
Making your relationship with God a priority, and doing the things that help you grow closer
Building spiritual growth and renewal time into your life
*Weekly “Sabbath Time” (Article on Sabbath Time in the “Thorncrown Journal”
*Annual Spiritual Retreat
Getting clear on what God is calling you to do
Learning to say “I’ll pray about it” when someone asks you to do something
Learning to say “no” unless God is not giving you a clear “yes”
Creating ministry teams and delegating
Praying with scripture passages such as:
Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”
Mark 6:31 “Come with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest”
Matthew 11: 28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”