For the past decade-plus, I have had a front-row seat to witness how leaders in different ministries can abuse themselves and their families in the name of Jesus. I am talking about leaders in various areas of Christian service and multiple types of organizations who model pace and priorities very differently than Christ did. It is both ironic and sad to witness gifted individuals wear their souls thin, sow strife into families, work themselves into illnesses – and worse – in the name of serving Jesus.
If I am honest, I have flirted with some of the same habits that lead to burnout for the sake of mission. By God’s grace and some radical reprioritization, my family is in tact and I am not in that place today. But if I am not careful, I could at some future point forget the learning of this season and fall back into old habits.
Therefore, to avoid burning out in Jesus’ name, I challenge myself to live by following his example – not something contrary yet branded as him. Here are seven examples from Jesus’ teaching and life modeling that could help protect from burnout if faithfully lived.
From personal experience, I know it is easy to talk yourself into believing that you are serving God when really you are serving self. It can be an easy narrative to believe that long hours and excessive time away from family or fellowship are about living out faith when, in fact, there can be other motives at play. It could be creating a sense of self-worth or filling some other void that is really the driver for excessive ministry activities.
Jesus criticized the pharisees and keepers of the law that, under the pretext of honoring God, self-promoted. Jesus named their motives for what they were and challenged them to recognize the truth of their actions.
Purge the chaos from the holy.
I have seen some very frenetic scenarios in both church and faith-based organizations. Sometimes it is in the open, sometimes it is behind the scenes. Behaviors and level of activity can usher in the very opposite of peace and turn man’s facilitation of God’s work into something different from God’s nature.
Jesus literally lost it when he saw how men had turned his Father’s house into a radically different place than it was intended to be. In righteous anger he drove out the perversion of what was sacred. He insisted that respect and order be given for the place of God’s presence.
Start small and empower big.
It can be tempting to promote ministry visions before their time. With the idea of helping God build his Kingdom, church and ministry leaders can go big fast. Growth can become an idol that distracts from substance or that simply wears people down.
Jesus’ example was of pouring intensive teaching and equipping over time into a select few. Simultaneous to that preparing, he sowed a vision of what they were to do with what they were learning. He then released them to do the work towards achieving the vision of his Kingdom.
Be selective in opportunities.
I have seen Christian leaders in different contexts walk through any door that appeared even slightly cracked open. Anything that could possibly lead to more funds, more reach, more lives helped – all noble notions in and of themselves – are sometimes pursued for fear of losing out.
Jesus did not accept every ministry opportunity promoted to him or every invitation to show his power. He was judicious in recognizing what was the right time for engaging. He even instructed his disciples on when to cease activity that was started, by shaking off the dust and leaving.
No matter whether you are inherently energized by people (an extrovert) or naturally need more space to recoup (an introvert), all ministry leaders need frequent time and space away from service. To leave yourself in a constant state of “on” does not allow space for quieting your spirit, reflecting and hearing in new ways from God.
Jesus routinely withdrew from crowds. He even took alternate routes to avoid them at times. He would go by himself or on occasion with his closest friends, but he made a regular habit of getting out of the fray.
Know when to “be” and not “do.”
In the common culture of this day and age, workaholism is a status symbol and busyness is often a badge of honor. This is true in society at large, and ministry is no different. Swapping tales of days full of meetings, hectic travel schedules and competing family priorities can be almost an expectation in a good catch-up conversation.
When Martha asked Jesus to scold Mary for not helping with the to-do list, Jesus turned the chiding back on Martha. He validated that the moment was right to sit and be rather than run about and do.
Pause to pray.
In the rush of working to do good in the world, it is so very easy to focus on the task list and jump straight into what feels possible to advance from a human standpoint. The stewardship perspective for a trained ministry worker can be to not waste time advancing what can be turned into measurable progress.
Jesus would regularly combine his retreats with prayer, or pause to publicly pray before performing key ministry activities. He was very clear on his source of power and would transparently draw from that well through prayer.
I write these lessons because I want to remind myself of a Jesus-modeled approach to ministry, not the ministry at times any of us might simply name after him. There can be a notable difference between the two. One can lead to burnout, while the other leads to a brighter and more enduring reflection of Jesus and the Kingdom he desires. I pray I live by the latter and shine long for him.
From your experience, what would you add to the list of Jesus-modeled ministry approach? I’d love to see these ideas expand with your comments below.