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Avoiding Burnout

The problem of a few carrying the majority’s workload is a common one no matter the size of the church. The reasons can vary. Our TV generation is used to just absorbing as opposed to being involved, and that lifestyle often carries over into the church. This can be due to either a lack of commitment or a lack of teaching.

The church body needs to be taught regularly that the body is not made up of one part but of many (1 Cor.12:14). If any part of the physical body, or the church body, is not functioning–not doing its part–the whole body suffers. The church body will only grow into Him who is the Head and be built up in love as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:15,16). By being taught regularly, I am not referring to bringing up these verses only when attempting to recruit workers, as that comes over as being condemnatory. But a senior pastor, in preaching the whole gospel, should regularly be preaching on a believer’s responsibility to find and fulfill his/her ministry gift, i.e. the area of ministry that God has planned for him, and get involved there. God gave pastors and other church leaders to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith…and become mature…(Eph. 4:11-13). When the church body hears frequently from the Word of God about their ministry responsibilities to God and the church body, they clearly understand that ministry involvement is an integral part of scriptural principles; then, most people will willingly respond and get involved as ministry opportunities are presented. (For example, a well-known model church in the US, in addition to preaching it from the pulpit, requires as a part of membership personal commitment to an area of ministry. That leadership is committed to teaching ministry responsibility to the body.)

The problem of a lack of ministry involvement is compounded when we as pastors (or as lay leaders) all too often forget that we should be teaching others to be involved and not doing all the work that God intended the rest of the body to be doing. As a pastor, and having grown up in a pastor’s home, I’ve been to many retreats and conferences for ministers regarding this subject–as well as experiencing these situations first hand. For a senior pastor, incorporating spiritual responsibilities into his sermons, if he isn’t already, shouldn’t be a problem. Hopefully, people will respond to the conviction of the Spirit in that area. If they don’t, the other solution is not as easily incorporated. The other solution is to begin limiting the areas of ministry being offered to the body. If the body will not take their rightful places of responsibility, some ministry areas cannot be offered. A pastor, with God’s help and wisdom, will have to choose which ones are the bare bones or vital ones that will remain. This is extremely difficult for any pastor. (Of course, a lay leader should never implement something of this sort without working with the pastor. However, a lay leader may be more knowledgeable as to which areas have stable workers, or are most requested, and needs to communicate that.)

However difficult, we must realize the consequences that result by not following through with such changes. If a few attempt to fulfill other people’s callings, as well as their own, it will destroy them; it will eventually render them incapable of continuing their own God-given ministries. Why? Because they aren’t obeying God’s structure. A hand is trying to do the work of the feet, an eye, an ear, and the elbow! But of even more importance is realizing that by giving in to the urge to do everything that needs to be done, one is actually causing the remaining congregation, church body, to stay in a place of disobedience to God and not feel any remorse over it. They are not reaping what they’ve sown if you, as a pastor or lay leader, take on their ministry positions. You are interfering with a spiritual law. If they are not willing to take up their God-given responsibilities, they should feel the pain of losing the benefit of that ministry area. If this in any way sounds harsh, it is not. It is obeying Biblical principles. Obviously, the whole matter should be done in firm love, just as a parent does when allowing a child to suffer consequences from irresponsibility, even though their desire is for that child to never have to suffer at all.

Now, as a leader, let’s focus a little more closely on the personal effects of fulfilling the responsibilities neglected by the body and consider how to deal with your own need of limitations. Often, a leader in the above situation will rarely, or even never, be in the sanctuary church service. Not being in service to be fed yourself for an indefinite amount of time is not right. Scripture exhorts believers to come together for corporate worship all the more as we see the day of His return approaching (Heb. 10:25) and that command is still to you as a believer. You need corporate worship for your own spiritual health. The lack of passion and desire for children’s ministry that you end up feeling, often described as burnout, comes from abusing your own spiritual needs (and physical needs). Though you have a vision for your particular ministry, you still need to be hearing, and involved in, the vision God is giving your whole church body because you are a part of it.

The problem with being a giving person is that such a personality type makes it hard to know where to draw the line for your own benefit. By not being fed, by going beyond what is good for one’s own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, you become incapable of ministering at all. You end up too run down to be effective. This is never God’s will! By not setting boundaries for your own well being, you are limiting your ability for effective ministry to the amount of time it takes to get burned out, rather than setting limits and being able to continue effectively for a life-time. The latter is God’s will! Remember when Jesus asked the disciples to come away from the crowds for rest (Mark 6:30,31, 45)? They had Jesus with them in the flesh and yet He told them to stop ministering and get rest. He knew that they could not continue to be effective without it. A Sabbath rest is the first command in scripture, instituted at the beginning of creation long before the law. Those who minister cannot rest on the Sabbath that the congregation does, so that rest, renewal, and a day for focusing on God will need to come on another day during the week. A decision needs to be reached between yourself and the senior pastor as to which service during the week will be your Sabbath service to attend. The common, overwhelming feelings to do anything that you see not being done will have to be dealt with. You will need to set your boundaries unusually high from that point on and lovingly, but firmly, stick to them. If people come to you in a panic during your Sabbath service because someone didn’t show up, you will have to be able to say, I’m sorry. I just can’t do that right now. You will need to ask someone else. They will be used to asking you if they know you are used to giving in, but they will eventually realize that the need to get other help during that service. It will not be easy but you must get exercise sticking to your boundaries. When you are not used to setting boundaries, it is usually necessary to find someone who will be a support to you during this time–encouraging you to uphold your boundaries and reminding you that you are doing the right thing even when you start to feel guilty for saying, No. Remember, you are obeying God’s plan, so even when your heart condemns you, God is greater than your heart and He knows everything (1 John 3:18-20).

One last aspect should be mentioned. Not only do you answer to God for taking a time of personal care, spiritually and physically, but you answer to God for the care, physically and spiritually, of your family. Neglecting your family to fulfill other people’s ministry in the body is not the Lord’s plan either. What if that neglect were to, God forbid, keep a family member from serving the Lord? Nothing would be worth that. Scripture states that to not provide for your family– and provision goes beyond the financial to emotional, physical and spiritual well-being –is to deny the faith and be worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). Again, it is a matter of setting boundaries. The amount of ministry responsibility you can physically, emotionally, and spiritually handle in addition to your God-given family responsibilities are where you have to draw the line. To do more will harm to your ability to fulfill your personal, God-given areas of responsibility.

For those who feel the need for more help in the area of setting personal boundaries, you may want to purchase a book from your local bookstore called, Boundaries. It is written by Christian counselors and deals with the subject in much greater detail, such as how to have the backbone to set boundaries, how to set them in proper ways, and where to draw the lines. The first few chapters are a little technical, but if you can wade your way through them to Part II which covers practical ways to set boundaries and where to set them with family, friends, work, etc. (ministry involvement is included), it will be an incredible help. Any local bookstore should be able to order it in for you. The ISBN # is 0-310-58590-2. We’ve gotten them at Books-a-Million and Barnes and Noble. Your pastor may want to read it as well. Many churches even teach this book as an adult Sunday School class after the teacher’s lives were changed by reading and implementing the ideas in it.

© by Alisa Linn
Children’s Ministry Today

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