"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Personal Life of the Youth Worker

Avoiding Burnout

Ministering for the Long Haul

Danny Jones

I heard recently of a young man who suddenly fell to the ground unconscious. When taken to the hospital and examined, he was found to have absolutely no nutrients in his body whatsoever. He had been living on a diet of candy bars and Coke. His body had used up the last of its strength and when there was not more it collapsed. Although such a life and diet sounds crazy to most of us, often we live and minister to others at such a pace that we can?t sufficiently care for our own needs. We can run on stored up "energy" only to a point and then run out. When this happens we feel that we have burned out and most of us decide that the cost of ministry is not worth it anymore. Recently I met with a group of 15 leaders who acknowledged that they were facing burnout. We found some common threads in our lives and ministries. Perhaps by understanding these threads, you can avoid the burnout that so many experience.

  1. We are truly physically tired. When Elijah found himself in such depression following his encounter with the prophets of Baal that he was suicidal (I Kings 19:1-5), he lay down under a tree and went to sleep. Doctors have found that there is a process of renewal of your body that begins taking place only between the 6th and 8th hours of sleep. If your body is not regularly getting time for this rebuilding, it can cause depression and loss of hope. Turn off the TV! Get off the Internet! Get a regular 8 hours of sleep each night. You need it to survive.
  2. Our resistance is low because we don?t eat right. The other thing that God did was to give Elijah some food. If you are not eating a balanced diet of all foods, including fruits and vegetables, your health and attitude will suffer. Eating is not something we do so that our stomach won?t rumble. Just like the quality of gas effects the performance of your car, so the nutritional quality of your diet effects your performance.
  3. We don?t know how to say "NO". Sometimes the most spiritual answer you can give to a request is "No." Agreeing to do something is not always God?s will. And just because something is good and is beneficial for the Kingdom of God doesn?t mean that I am the one to do it. Because we can?t say no, we become overworked with many things that have nothing to do with each other. The result is that we can never do anything with excellence and therefore never feel satisfied with what we are producing. This leaves us feeling like our work has no meaning and is not worth continuing. It is important to know clearly what God has called you to do. When you know this you can say no with a clear conscience to everything that doesn?t fit into this calling. What if someone in authority over you is demanding things that you know don?t fit into your calling? You need to have enough confidence in God?s call for your life to explain this to your authority and say that you can?t be faithful to God?s calling and do the other thing as well.
  4. We have never learned to empower through delegation. At times this is due to pride in my life. I think, "I can probably do this better so I will just do it myself." At other times it is due to a feeling that there is no one to whom I am delegate. Both of these ideas are false and produce burnout in our lives. Maybe you can do certain things better now, but if you will just give others a chance, they may prove to be better than you are. You also may not be able to delegate everything, but start with something, even with those who may at first seem to lack responsibility. This may be a great way to help them develop, thus freeing you to do the things that only you can do.
  5. Our spiritual well is completely dry. Because we are tired and overworked, we don?t have time to read and study God?s Word. As a minister of God?s grace, time with God and his Word is not optional. If we don?t have time every day for the Word, we need to change our schedules. If we knew that in order to stay alive physically we needed to spend an hour each day on a kidney dialysis machine, we would make it a priority. We would not rationalize that we are too busy. We would change our schedule or plan accordingly to make it happen. We must see our time with God from the same perspective. It is not a legalistic thing that says, "if I don?t do it God will not love me." It has nothing to do with God?s acceptance. God loves me if I never read the Bible. It has everything to do with spiritual survival and growth, especially if I expect to have anything to give others. Solitude played a significant role in Jesus? life. Most of us don?t have time for it. But in times of solitude that we can evaluate and refocus our lives and ministry.
  6. We feel alone in our lives. It is said that "it is lonely at the top." Leadership can leave us feeling as though we have no one with whom we can truly have fellowship. I asked this group of leaders how many of them had a true friend that they spend at least an hour a week with in open, honest communication. Only a couple said they did. Often this is caused by our own fear of people getting too deep into our lives. We are afraid that we will lose our credibility if someone knows our true struggles. This is certainly Satan?s lie to keep us closed up within ourselves and away from fellowship that will keep us healthy. Sometimes it is due to feeling that I need to spend all my time with "those that need me."
  7. There are basically four types of people. There are those who drain your tank. It doesn?t matter what you do with them, when you leave them you feel drained. This is not a bad thing. A lot evangelistic relationships are draining. But we cannot spend all our time with these types of people. We will not survive spiritually and emotionally. In the second group are just average people who really don?t either give or take away from my life. They are just there. The third group is made up of teachable people. These are people who are hungry to learn and change. They value the relationship with you. They may be believers or unbelievers, but they are teachable. Even though this is time of ministry and giving, you still are energized by time of ministry with these people. The final group is what I call the tank fillers. It doesn?t matter what you talk about or do together, after spending time with these people you feel energized and refreshed. Christian leader and author Gordon McDonald says that he feels you should spend 80% of your time with those in that are teachable and tank fillers. I don?t know if I agree exactly with the percentage, but I do know from experience that if I am constantly surrounded by people that drain my tank, the result will be burnout. Even Jesus had a special three with whom He spent most of His time.

  8. We have lost our vision. The reason that we are leaders is that we are able to see the future and what could be. We are motivated to empower others to reach their full potential. Challenging people to expect great things from God in their lives and then helping them to reach that potential energizes us. But when the everyday busyness of life and ministry consumes our time and energy, it is easy to lose sight of the future and vision God has given us. We become robots, doing what is expected and needed and we begin thinking this is the essence of our ministry. Without a clear understanding of where I am going, why I am doing what I am doing, and what God is using me to accomplish in the lives of others, I will very soon burn out.

Sometimes burnout can be a surprising blessing from God that causes me to stop, evaluate my life and ministry and make changes that will enable me to be more effective in the future. The question is what will I do when I realize I am in this situation.

What can I do if I experience burnout?

  1. Take a break and get some rest. Understand your physical limitations and accept them. God probably has much less expectations of you than you have of yourself.
  2. Change the habits in your life that are unhealthy - whether eating, sleeping, exercise, etc.
  3. Write out a clear statement of your specific calling in ministry. Share this with a close friend. Make a commitment to not accept any offers that do not fit clearly into this calling and ask this friend to help you make decisions accordingly.
  4. Make a list of everything you do in a week. Draw a line through anything that doesn?t help you accomplish God?s calling in your life. Next, underline the things that you do that could be done by someone else. Write the name of that person next to this thing. Delegate! What are left with should be the things that ONLY you can do. If these things are really God?s will, you have enough time to accomplish them without burning out. If not, you still need to draw some lines through more things.
  5. Designate one day a month for solitude. Find a place with no distractions (including your mobile phone) and spend the most part of one day there.
  6. Make a list of all the people that you spend time with on a regular basis. Next to each name, determine if they are drainers, average, teachable or fillers. If you find that you are not spending most of your times with the latter two, make the necessary changes.
  7. Review your vision statement and the goals that you have set to accomplish this. If you have not yet written these things on a piece of paper, do this during your day of solitude at the monastery.


Danny Jones lives in Slovakia training youth workers with Reach Out Youth Solutions. This article was originally published in Slovak in the Slovak National Network's (SIET) monthly resource packet. Find out more about Reach Out and Slovakia's National Network by visiting their site at ______.