A couple days ago I came across the book entitled Zeal without Burnout, by the English pastor Christopher Ash. I remember reading about burnout in ministry years ago but couldn’t put my finger on the details. So, I thought I’d take a try at this short book. It was well worth it to be reminded of the things that can burn us out in ministry, whether personal or professional.
While Ash writes from the perspective of burnout as a full-time pastor, he also writes as someone who has experienced burnout himself. And he includes several stories of others who went through similar, but different, things. There is plenty in this book that a layman in a church setting can learn and use to evaluate how close he might be coming to burnout – and what to do to prevent burnout from taking hold of your life.
Here are a few quotes that I thought were “post worthy.” (I left the British English as it was.)
“Many zealous Christians juggle the responsibilities of pressurized work and busy family lives with a desire to serve the Lord in the church as Elders, Bible-study leaders, or ministry with children and young people. Those of us who are pastors can be guilty of underestimating the stresses they face as they seek to serve the Lord in ways that are often invisible to us.” (page 16)
“There’s always more we can do in ministry, but God is not asking, “Can you do more?” He is asking, “Do you love me?” Some of those extras are not always as vital as we think them to be.” (page 32)
“Or perhaps you are still in that successful career, but serving whole heartedly in your local church. The prestige and status given you by that career matter more than perhaps you realize. The wholehearted local-church service you squeeze into a busy life gives you very little affirmation and praise from others. It is tempting to pitch our energies into the activities that result in praise from others.” (page 86)
“The really important stuff—changed hearts—cannot be measured. Go din his grace sometimes gives us a glimpse, an encouragement, some evidences of grace. But it can’t be measured. You pray for someone and they don’t change. Who knows but they may change years later under someone else’s ministry (I planted, but Apollos watered). Or the fruit may come after you die. I don’t know; you don’t know. But we do know that in the Lord Jesus our labour is not in vain. (page 99)
And finally, spiritual “gifts without grace save no one’s soul.” (page 106)
That quote about not seeing measurable ministry outcomes spoke significantly to me. My tendency when not seeing the outcomes I desire causes me to consider working (ministering) all the more, harder and harder to reach an objective. And that, Ash explains, is what leads so easily to burnout. He provides seven things that can help us avoid burnout; although none of them are simple steps. They require us to speak the truth to ourselves and allow others to do the same – to speak to us whenever we need it.
Words like: “Remember, there is only one Saviour of the world; and it’s not you, and it’s not me.” (page 62)
This book took only about five hours to read. I would recommend everyone read it once, and keep it somewhere that you can read it again, perhaps each year.