The word burnout seems to be a buzzword in Christian circles. Whether you’re a full-time ministry lead, bi-vocational pastor, regular volunteer, or occasional volunteer, at some point, you encounter the blister of burnout.
Personally, I believe the word burnout is often overused. Many times burnout is used to describe someone hitting their capacity and unable to find the breath to keep going, and sometimes it is used as an unarguable reason to not serve at church. Burnout used as the inability to move forward as one suffers spiritual desolation happens, and it is rough. Also, as the Bible describes, the solution is never to cut all ties and remove one’s self from all service.
So as we look at burnout in our spiritual journey, what does it mean?
Before I share what I think it means, let me share what it does not mean.
Burnout does not mean you don’t love Jesus.
Some people might be quick to judge that your burnout somehow implies your love for Jesus is lacking. Maybe you find yourself questioning your love for Jesus in your own self-talk.
Let’s just trash that garbage real quick.
Burnout doesn’t mean your love for Jesus has diminished. You could be burnout because you love Jesus. Your passion to serve Christ is so great you have taken on more and more responsibility and now your spiritual tank is empty, dry, and depleted.You could be burnout because you love Jesus. Click To Tweet
It’s never the nominal believers who find themselves burnout. It’s the passionate, sold-out, do anything, all-in-followers of Christ who find themselves in seasons of burnout.
Burnout does not mean you don’t love people.
I still consider myself to be a newbie in ministry having served in the local church for thirteen years. I’ve heard pastors who have reached the twenty, thirty, and even forty year ministry milestones say, “Pastoring would be easy if it weren’t for the people.” (They usually say this half seriously with a smile as if trying to convince themselves that they don’t fully believe it.)
Of course! Pastoring would be easier without people, but it would also be pointless. The very word ministry means to serve, so in order to be in ministry (full-time, part-time, or even one hour a week) you must serve people.
Burnout could very well mean you are serving people well.Burnout could very well mean you are serving people well. Click To Tweet
I love how Paul address this when he gives reasoning for why he was staying behind in Ephesus. “A wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 1 Corinthians 16:9
Paul wasn’t referring to political adversaries or financial adversaries. He’s referring to people adversaries. For Paul, effective service (or ministry) meant working with people – even those who challenge us.
Burnout does not mean you’re a weak person.
You may be tempted to think:
- “If I were only spiritually stronger I could…”
- “If I were a better leader then I would…”
- “If I physically or mentally could…”
Essentially we are trying to find the strength within ourselves to serve Jesus and serve others. That’s the way of the American culture: proud, individualistic, and self-sufficient.
However, to live fully by the Holy Spirit’s power we must be humble, dependent, and Christ-sufficient. Remember what the Lord told Paul. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
There will be times when we can’t operate out of our strength, but out of our own weakness. It’s in those moments of weakness and burnout that Christ’s power shines through brighter than ever.
- If burnout does not mean I don’t love Jesus.
- If burnout does not mean I don’t love people.
- If burnout does not mean I’m not a weak person.
What does it mean when I’m experiencing burnout?
Are you ready?
It means you love Jesus, you love people, and you’re operating out of weakness.
Think about this for a second. What if burnout is not a sickness to be cured? What if burnout doesn’t mean you’re broken in need of repair? What if burnout isn’t a sign that you’re doing something wrong, but rather a sign that you’re doing something right?!
Burnout doesn’t mean you need repair; burnout means you need refueled!
We could easily view ourselves with a hero complex as if we are superhuman and nothing will ever slow us down. Then one day we wake up exhausted, tired, overworked, passionless, burdened, emotionally wrecked, spiritually drained, physically beat, mentally handicapped, and just downright…burnout.
That’s when we recognize a very important life-long lesson.
It’s not Jesus who needs us, but we who need Jesus.
We need Jesus to refuel us for the work He has called us to. And He promises to complete the work He has called you to. “He who began a good work in you will carry it out until completion.” 1 Peter 1:6
In my car, there’s a little gas light that comes on when my tank is nearing empty. When the gas light comes on, I have three options. I can ignore the light, stop and question why the light is on, or put gas in the tank.
Options one and two leave me stranded and ineffective in reaching my destination.
Burnout is the spiritual warning light in your life letting you know it’s time to refuel. You have three options. You can ignore the light, stop and question why you’re burnout, or refuel and re-engage the mission Christ has called you to.
Options one and two leave you stranded and ineffective in reaching your destination.
Wherever you are in your season of ministry, minor exhaustion or severe depression, please pay attention to the warning light of burnout. It may be exactly what you need.
Next week, I’ll answer the question, “How’d I get here in the first place?”