In this series we are going to explore the idea of burnout in ministry.
We’ll start this series off by looking at three stories about youth workers who are all different, but are all in the process of burning out:
Kate: Kate works in the inner city youth detention center. She felt a clear calling to go out and reach those on the fringe with the love of Jesus. She is a volunteer and works a fulltime job. She has been working at the detention center for eight months and has quickly become one of the best volunteers in the program. She is smart, cheerful, and full of boundless energy. All of the youth there are drawn to her magnetically. Lately, Kate has become exceedingly curt and short-tempered with the youth. Everyone has begun walking on eggs shells around her, afraid of upsetting her. She complains all the time and people avoid her because she is so negative about the work she does, the youth, and life in general. Kate often blames others for being uncommitted and makes an inner decision to redouble her efforts to be the best volunteer in the universe.
Mr. O’Brien: Mr. O’Brien has been a youth ministry small group leader for the last two years. In that time he has brought sweeping changes to how the ministry does small group. Before he came on board the small group components was just something they had so they could say they had it. Mr. O’Brien’s approach changed all that. Formerly, the last place a student would go to for help was their small group leader. Mr. O’Brien casted a new and exciting vision for what small groups could be. He brought excitement and clarity to the mission of the ministry. He raised the bar for volunteer recruitment and training. Youth group attendance increased overall since he came on board and the youth pastor on staff would fight a bear to keep Mr. O’Brien around. What the youth pastor doesn’t know is that Mr. O’Brien has fantasies about sending the entire student body to a Siberian POW camp. Mr. O’Brien hasn’t had a new idea about small groups since he implemented his original ideas and is beginning to wonder if this is really the kingdom role for him. Attendance is up but has leveled off. During the small group he leads he spends a lot of time looking at his watch and just thinks about going home, not really listening to the 9th grader across the room from him. That poor boy has been sharing for 10 minutes about some problem he’s having and Mr. O’Brien can’t remember two sentences he has said.
Josh: Josh has worked at a mega church for five years. His student attendance pushes the boundaries of their gymnasium style youth room. He has just received a local honor of Servant of the Year award from his peer in the community. He is recently married to his soul mate and they are expecting their first child soon. His senior pastor and elders are thrilled with the success of the ministry and are pushing him to continue to build kingdom by investing more of himself in the local community. Every night before he goes home, when no one is left in the church, Josh relieves the stress and constant pressure he is crumbling under by looking at porn in his locked office. It’s just a quick escape before he transitions to his responsibilities at home. Saddled with student loans, a house that is too small, continuing pressure to grow the ministry, and a secret struggle with pornography, Josh stops by the pharmacy on the way home to refill his antacid prescription and takes one in his car, hoping that the burning pain in his stomach with quickly die down.
So what do these three kingdom workers have in common? They are all alike in that they are all empathetic, sensitive, humane, idealistic, and people oriented and have been highly dedicated to their unique calling. However, like others in helping/serving professions they are prone to burnout with tendencies toward anxiousness, obsessiveness, excitability, a bit neurotic, and often over-identifying with their students.
For each of them, one or more of the following have been laid as a building block for burnout:
- Role Ambiguity: They lack clarity concerning rights, responsibilities, methods, goals, status, and accountability to themselves, others, and God.
- Role Conflict: Demands placed on them are incompatible, inappropriate, and inconsistent with values and ethics.
- Role Overload: They quantity and quality of demands placed on them have become too great.
- Inconsequentiality: They have a feeling that no matter how hard they work, the outcome means little in terms of recognition, accomplishment, appreciation, or success.
- Isolation: They have little social support either in the ministry or outside of it.
- Autonomy: Their ability to make decisions as to what they will do and how they will deal with those in the ministry are co-opted by the bureaucracy of church politics.
These foundations for burnout are not laid quickly but are instead they are built slowly over time due to faulty systems and dynamics. The first step to addressing burnout is to identify and name it.
In your quiet times when you sit before the Father, take you concerns to Him. Ask Him to reveal to you the exact condition of your heart and situation. Ask the Spirit for insight on how to begin addressing these concerns. See, we need you, your students need you, and their families need you to be healthy. We all need to be around for the long haul.
You’re too important to lose to burnout.
Abba Father, help me to recognize that you have called me to be faithful not successful. Help me to focus my efforts in pleasing You alone, not people. I will not take on more responsibility than You intend for me and I will be careful to humble myself as a faithful steward whatever the outcome; through Jesus Christ your benevolent Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, in Oneness and power, now and forever. Amen.