Do you ever feel like serving God has become a chore? Perhaps you’ve become discouraged or disillusioned and feel completely unmotivated to do anything.
Maybe even the simplest of tasks seem to require tremendous energy and you find you can’t even do the normal things in life, let alone operating above that level.
If that’s the case, you may be experiencing burnout.
Whether you’re involved in full-time ministry, volunteering your services on a Sunday or during the week, or simply doing something for God, it’s easy to feel like you have nothing left to give. You can’t imagine how you can help someone else when you’re barely able to attend to your own needs.
What do you do if you’re feeling this way and how can you ensure you don’t fall into this trap?
Here are 6 steps you can take to avoid burnout while serving God.
What is burnout?
There’s a chapter in Christopher Ash’s book Zeal without Burnout by Dr Steve Midgley, the director of Biblical Counselling UK. In it, Midgley explains how, when there is pressure on us to perform, it motivates us to better and go beyond our normal limits. That’s why Olympic athletes or musicians can perform better in a live situation rather than in a practice session.
However, there comes a tipping point where the increased pressure can begin to have a detrimental effect on us. It results in poorer performances.
What happens? The pressure becomes so great that they fail to produce even an average performance, let alone an exemplary performance.
Ministry or spiritual burnout occurs when we take on too much work for God or we’re serving for a prolonged period without allowing time for our spirit to rest and recuperate. It can feel like the well has run dry and you’ve got nothing left to give. The fire and passion you once had can feel like it has almost gone out.
Midgley explains how prolonged stress over a period of time depletes our reserves. We begin to feel demotivated and worn out by the demands placed upon us. If we take a break, we can recover and recharge our energies. But other times, if we have pushed ourselves one too many times over a period of time, we can feel like we’re breaking down. Our system shuts down and we “burn out”.
The symptoms of burnout can manifest itself as chronic fatigue, lethargy or depression. That can further lead to a loss of confidence, low self esteem and the general feeling of failure.
The steps I’ve outlined below to help you avoid burnout aren’t meant to be a completely exhaustive list. This is a vast topic that I can barely do justice and would require plenty of research. The steps are merely tips to help you recognise the warning signs or to ensure you’re not over-exerting yourself.
6 TIPS TO AVOID BURNOUT WHILE SERVING GOD
1. Take time to rest and recharge
In Exodus 20:8-11, God commands His people to observe the Sabbath, just as God Himself rested on the seventh day after creation.
Although God didn’t require physical recharging Himself, we as humans have our limits. We need time to recharge our batteries and to focus on God.
When we put all of our efforts into serving, ministry or even our work, it is as if we are taking things into our own hands. We’re effectively believing we are the ones in charge of our own destiny and the ones responsible for making things happen. When we believe that we have to strive to make things happen, then we can quickly burn out as we’re operating in our own strength.
By contrast, when we rest, we’re trusting in God and acknowledging that all things come from Him.
2. Know when to say “no” to things
It’s easy to end up saying yes to everything and to take on too much. There are always people who will be demanding your time and needing your assistance in some way. If you never learn to say no to certain opportunities, people may take advantage of that and see you as someone they can always ask for help.
We can think we’re indispensable or irreplaceable, and that the church service or ministry won’t function without us. It’s true that sometimes we are the only ones available, and we need to make sacrifices. However, others can sometimes take advantage of our generosity and willingness to serve. Certain ministries can still function without us even if they’re a more cut-down version of what people are normally used to having.
Equally, we can sometimes have FOMO – Fear of missing out. If we are serving for the wrong reasons, we may feel we always need to be serving in order to maintain our sense of identity. As a result, we can end up accepting every single invitation to serve. However, that is driven by a fear that if we don’t contribute, we are missing out on being noticed or feeling essential to the church.
As well as resting and observing the Sabbath, we need to also take the opportunity to receive from God. I know personally there have been times at church when I’ve been playing in the worship band for an extended stretch. Occasionally this has week after week for months on end, and then I can’t even remember the last time I simply sat in the congregation at church to receive.
We mustn’t feel that we need to always be giving or serving in the church. It’s important to pace ourselves and not apply excessive energy to something, otherwise we can begin to feel overwhelmed and lose the joy of serving.
3. Be aware of when you’ve just been serving
After you’ve given a talk, led worship or served in some kind of ministry, it’s common to experience a spiritual lull. You’ve spent all your energy or poured your heart into something. In those times you can be more sensitive to other people’s comments which can come across as criticisms of you, your ministry or your abilities.
It’s easy to feel more depressed or under spiritual attack after you’ve just been serving. When you experience these feelings, you can begin to feel unappreciated and disillusioned about your ministry or the area in which you are serving. That can make you wonder what is the point of it all, and on future occasions it can begin to feel like more of a chore than a joy.
It’s important to take time to spiritually recharge and spend time with God than jumping straight back into more ministry. If we continue to proceed in our own strength, that can lead us down the road of burnout.
4. Examine whether you’re serving for the right reasons
If you’re serving God out of self interest or to boost your ego in some way, it’s going to be difficult to keep this up over a long period of time.
After a while, you may find you lose interest or lose sight of why you are doing this in the first place. Are you putting yourself first or putting others first? Is the reason you’re serving in order to glorify God or yourself?
When discouragement comes, you will begin to fall away and won’t be able to sustain either your interest or the pace.
If serving gives you your sense of identity, then if that is somehow taken away, you can feel that you are empty without it.
One of the reasons for resting is to avoid making our work or our ministry into an idol. When we feel that serving or being in ministry gives us a sense of self worth, meaning or importance in other people’s eyes, then we’re doing it for the wrong reason.
Even if we start out with the right reason, when we give ourselves over completely to our ministry and forget to include God in the equation, what we’ve started out in God’s strength can end up in our own strength.
Taking time to rest gives us the proper perspective and allows us to refocus our eyes on God again.
5. Check you aren’t serving outside your area of gifting or competence
Sometimes when there is no-one else to do something, we can step into roles that are not within our area of gifting. It’s true that God can sometimes use these to help us step outside of our comfort zones and to serve in ways in which we might not normally get involved.
In management, there’s a principle known as the Peter Principle, developed by Canadian educator Laurence J Peter. This suggests that a person who is competent at their job will often be promoted to a more senior position within an organisation which requires a different set of skills.
Sometimes they will be competent at this new position and can do the job. However, there are other times where they will not be up to the task. If this is the case, they will find themselves stuck at this level of incompetence for the rest of their career.
This can happen even within a church organisation where we’re serving in an area of ministry. Sometimes we can be serving at our level of incompetence.
Romans 12:6-8 tells us that God has made us in a particular way with gifts that He has imparted specifically to each one of us. When we try to be like someone else or operate in an area where we’re not naturally gifted, we can end up spending excessive energy which can lead to added stress. Someone else might be able to do it with much less effort.
Do you find yourself struggling to do something that doesn’t come naturally to you? Have you taken on a position of responsibility that you’ve fallen into by accident? If you try to operate in this area for too long, you might end up being burned out.
6. Have others around you for support
It’s important to have a good support system around you that can encourage you and build you up spiritually. This can be your connect group or a few prayer partners with whom you can share your struggles. They will be committed to praying for you on an ongoing basis.
As far as you can, try to meet up every now and again with other Christians. It’s essential that you’re not operating alone without the prayer support of others. When you feel isolated and as if you’re the only one going through trials, it’s easy to burn out and feel like giving up.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says:
9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labour:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
It’s important to have others around who will encourage you and help you reach your full potential. Conversely, if you find yourself in constant conflict with others, this will make your task much harder. Indeed, this will prevent you from reaching your full potential and doing the best job that you possibly can.
Another result of this is that others may not see you in a positive light. They may end up not recognising your value or your accomplishments. This in turn can make you feel unappreciated, or that your gifts or talents are being buried by others. I’ve written more about this here.
When you have others around you to support you, they can bear your burdens and help you avoid burnout.
Have you ever felt burnt out after serving God in an area of ministry? Can you identify the cause of it and how did that make you feel? And how did you overcome or avoid burnout?
I’d love to know your thoughts. Leave me a comment below.
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.