Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Concerning burnout. I've had a few people share candidly with me that they are a little ragged these days. So I have a few words to say to help move people forward. However, they are not as comforting as I might like. Not because of a lack of empathy, but because of experential and Biblical reflection. It is relatively easy and tempting to put a salve on an open wound, but for the true surgeon that is concerned about thier patients survival and healing he must often cut out the infection before the salve is applied. So if you have a bullet lodged in your heart we will go right past the hand holding, whisky drinking, and cut the thing out. So if you have been in leadership and feel a bit fried...take a deep breath...

My thoughts: [which take much of thier cues from 1 and 2 Peter, which was also a man who had to pastor some people via letter in the midst of thier struggles and challenges]

Burnout is real. It has two major roads that lead to dead-ends and one off-ramp back onto the freeway.

Dead end 1:

Basing emotional expectations on others performance. When we do things and look for our primary encouragement and comradery from others we allow them to emotionally hold our emotions hostage and subject to their actions. The more we are disappointed with others the more we tend to disengage from them, isolate ourselves, and seek to be protected from deeper damage by exiting anything that holds a trigger for former pain. We are indeed victims, and always will be; what we do with that reality is the difference between burnout and survival. In the Bible Elijah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk are the best examples of this. In all 3 situations God’s cure is to lower expectations concerning others and focus on serving and following Him alone with a whole heart. Read thier stories! Read slowly, and feel thier pain, and listen to God as he addresses you through them.

Dead end 2:

Basing emotional expectations on self. For both the perfectionist and the procrastinator drawing on personal skills to manifest God’s kingdom eventually shows the resources of our flesh to be both bankrupt and blemished. In the Bible this is either the victim language of Moses or the mistaken Pride of David. God must again and again crush our self sufficiency and self-loathing and expose them for the pride and narcisistic actions they are. Thus broken we can repent and agree “that apart from YOU we can do nothing…and that with YOU all things are possible.” In the midst of great pain the last thing we want to discover is we have done something else wrong, but the fact of the matter is often we have; and hiding from that reality only prolongs the healing we need.

The freeway:

We base our emotional standing on the finished work of Christ and His calling on our lives. Our emotions are to be solely yoked to Jesus and the active work of the Paraclete within us. Thus Paul says, “In all things I can rejoice…chains, beatings, whatever!” This doesn’t imply we won’t have heaviness of heart, but that our heart will be heavy as it beats with Jesus…not in our religious isolationism. We will be broken by what he is broken by, and healed by His nearness….but when we wander off we are neither on His emotional page, nore available for his emotional restoration. We need to look not at others or self but keep our eyes firmly on Christ the author and finisher of our faith. In such a situation numbers, nickels, etc no longer matter, they fade away to one crucial question: are we obeying? Success is obedience! Even good, better, best or failure dim in this view…God is not depending on us; He will build His church. He is forming us and flowing through us, but he isn’t dependant on us! Freedom is resting in this fact, and doing the best we can to simply trust and obey. Yes there is a time to re-evaluate, take Sabbath rest, and re-calibrate our boundaries and self maintenance, however, after all is said and done it is not the therapist or therapy that will reenergize our healing it is reengaging our personal missions that most often allows God to reconstruct our hearts. Notice: All Biblical people who faced burnout were given some space to breath by God, a confrontation about sin, and a firm but forceful call back into mission. None of this is deeply comforting to me because I really wish Oprah and Dr. Phil could fix me or offer me pharmaceuticals. But God has a better plan, one that makes sure we don’t fall-off-the-grid as so often happens to us when life is hard.

The Myth of the Balanced Life

Much of the advice I have heard about avoiding the emotional and physical exhaustion associated with burnout involves striving for "balance"-- the elusive ingredient we need to keep life in perspective. Without balance, it is said, we're likely to become overly involved in ministry and burn out. And the key to being balanced? Learning to say no to requests for time, as there are more worthy causes and needy individuals than we can possibly respond to.

I believe that seeking a "balanced" life is not only unbiblical, but potentially dangerous. When we leaders focus on being balanced, learning how to say no and protecting themselves from the demands of ministry, we can easily lose sight of the gospel. Little in scripture implies that spending too much time serving others is harmful. Jesus doesn't teach "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." Rather, Jesus calls for a costly commitment: "Seek first God's kingdom, … and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33); "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24); "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39).

Jesus' message is clear: we gain life by pouring out our lives for his sake and the gospel's. That's not to say that too many activities can't cause burnout. They can. But simply saying no and cutting back on our commitments to others is not a sure-fire antidote, either. In fact, if we begin to view ministry as something we need to be protected from, something that saps life from us, we may actually cut ourselves off from life-giving experiences God wants for us and plunge further into feelings of burnout.

So how can we avoid or recover from burnout? I believe several key principles are illustrated in the lives of two ministers of God--Elijah and Jesus. Elijah experienced burnout, and God responded to him in his time of need. Jesus avoided burnout by making wise choices in situations much like those we face as leaders on campus, saying both yes and no to seemingly endless opportunities for ministry

Elijah: Feeling Like God's Lone Workhorse

The prophet Elijah certainly ranks as one of the all-time big hitters in the hall of fame of faith. Yet 1 Kings 19 records how even he struggled with burnout.

A chapter earlier, Elijah had won the showdown of the century against 450 prophets of the local god Baal. He and they had assembled at Mount Carmel, and both had called on their god to bring forth fire from heaven; but only Elijah's God, Yahweh, delivered. When the people saw Yahweh's power, they helped Elijah slaughter the prophets of Baal. Talk about a mountaintop experience!
Back at the royal palace, however, Queen Jezebel was not happy with the outcome of the match. She threatened to kill Elijah upon his arrival home, and so he ran away into the desert.
Though he has just seen the power of God at work, Elijah is now exhausted and depressed. He wants to die. After forty days God asks him what's wrong. Elijah complains, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left; and now they are trying to kill me too" [1 Kings 19:10]

Elijah was suffering from burnout. He felt like God's lone workhorse, and he wanted a break.

Embracing Our Dependence on God

God's response to Elijah's complaint is interesting: "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by" (v.11). God doesn't seem to address Elijah's complaint at all. Rather, he invites Elijah to experience his presence.

Like Elijah, we Christian leaders on campus desperately need a sense of God's presence in our lives. If we try to minister to others without letting God minister to us, we will, indeed, barrel toward burnout. More than any earthly father, God cares about our needs. In 1 Kings 19:5-8, in fact, before God and Elijah ever conversed, God sent an angel to Elijah twice--not to communicate some startling revelation, but simply to fortify him with the food and water he so badly needed.

As leaders we sometimes forget our own limits and lose perspective on where our responsibilities end and God's begin. Have you ever believed that you are the only one in the church who is trying to be faithful in some area? The only one committed to evangelism or the only one with a heart for missions or the only one while will get the flyers printed up and posted? Sometimes those feelings will be accurate--humanly speaking. But the bigger reality is that God is more committed to evangelism, missions and even our publicity campaigns than we are. Elijah succumbed to burnout in part because he was feeling alone. God, in his compassionate response, made it clear that God, not Elijah, was running things; and from where God sat, everything was still under control.

We need to be leaders who operate with a clear understanding of our dependence on God in all that we do, and even in all that we don't have time for. One way we can do this is to take a Sabbath rest to spend time with God and let him renew us. In contrast to saying no to ministry opportunities to protect yourself from burnout--a decision made out of fear--taking a Sabbath rest involves faith that God is the one giving you life and energy for ministry, and faith that God can provide for the people you may need to leave behind for a day.

Recovering a Sense of Purpose and Partnership

After Elijah stands in the presence of the Lord, God again asks him what is wrong. And Elijah makes the exact same complaint as before! Once more, God's response is not what we might expect.

He doesn't offer a shoulder to cry on. Rather, God's response to Elijah in vv15-18 is, essentially, threefold: I've got something for you to do; I've got a partner for you, Elisha; and you are not, in fact, as alone as you believe, for 7000 people in Israel have not bowed down to Baal. God is reminding Elijah of his purpose and of his need to be in partnership with God's people.
Purpose. God helps Elijah recover his sense of purpose by giving him direction. "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel" (vv. 15-16). To avoid burnout, we Christian leaders need to experience a deep sense of the purpose of our labor too. Even exciting tasks can cause burnout if the underlying purpose is forgotten--and conversely, even the most mundane responsibilities can be energizing when the purpose behind them is keenly felt. Ask yourself: Do I sometimes resent God for calling me into the drudgery of leadership team? Do I tend to forget that the purpose of this time-consuming skit is to make 5 stones more enjoyable and inviting? Do I care more about being noticed for all the hard work I am putting into publicity than I do about helping make the gospel more accessible?

Many leadership teams spend time before the beginning of the year deciding what the group's purpose for the year is going to be. If I agree with that purpose statement at the beginning of the year then we should remind ourselves of it throughout the year. With a clear sense of purpose--and a clear sense of how we as leaders are called to help accomplish that purpose--we can be energized to continue working toward our group's goals, long after our initial excitement has worn off.

Partnership. Elijah became depressed because he thought he was the only man of God left in Israel. God responded by giving him a partner, Elisha, and by reminding him of 7,000 others, "all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him." (v.18)

Burnout is most often caused by too little dependence on God and his people--not by too much devotion to the needs of others. Ask yourself these questions about your fellowship's leadership team: Do I feel that the leadership team wants what's best for me? Do I have partners on the team who know my limitations and lifestyle? Would they challenge me if I am working too hard, or falling short on my commitments because I had taken on too much?

If you are in a team but you approach ministry like a single workhorse, then you are probably not relying on the partners God has already given you. What steps could you take to partner better with others on your team?

If you aren't in a team, ask God for one or more ministry partners to help; you continue to enjoy the ministry he has given to you. Often overworked leaders delegate their tasks in order to spread around responsibility and increase ownership, but if you only delegate tasks and never seek partners to help you with them, you may still feel isolated and burned out.
When you do delegate tasks, do so in the context of community. Use teams and lead with them wherever possible. Teams can be formed around many different jobs, including as small group leadership, outreach, drama, youth, children, and worship.

Jesus Saying "Yes" and "No"

Even if we carry a keen sense of purpose, depend on God and partner with others, we fellowship leaders cannot possibly say yes to every ministry opportunity that comes our way. And yet vigilant protection of ourselves and our schedules from the needs and requests of others is not a biblical solution. Rather, I believe that we need to use the kind of discernment Jesus showed in saying both yes and no to requests for his time.

In the first chapter of Mark, we read about a busy day early in Jesus' ministry. After calling his first four disciples, he teaches in the synagogue, heals a demon-possessed man, and then goes to Simon's house where he heals Simon's mother-in-law. After dinner, he says yes to many requests for healing, late into the evening.

The next day Jesus goes off to pray. When Simon and his companions find him, they exclaim, "Everyone is looking for you!" Now I can imagine Simon having already been busy that morning setting up lines of sick people. Perhaps he had visions of starting up, "Jesus & Simon's Country Clinic" after witnessing so many healings. But when Simon finds Jesus and tells him about the waiting crowd, Jesus replies, No, "Let us go somewhere else--to the nearby villages--so I can preach there also. That is why I have come" (v38). Jesus' answer was, in a word, no.

The first observation to make from this passage concerns the clear sense of purpose which dominates Jesus' ministry. His authority is evident in every interaction whether with a tax collector in a tree or with Pilate in his governor's palace. Everywhere and all the time his purpose is the same. Jesus' life is lived and poured out for others, extravagantly, like the perfume in Mark 14. From the day he walks into Galilee calling his disciples to the night he tells his them they will all fall away, he lives out his clear sense of purpose in everything he does.
I like this story because Jesus so clearly models for us how he responded both yes and not to requests for his time. He says yes to the people who gathered about the door late into the night. But the next morning he says no to those who wanted to keep Jesus in one village as the country miracle worker. Jesus could say a willing yes without reserve a straightforward no without guilt because he had a strong sense of purpose borne out of a time spent in prayer with his Father. He knew what he was supposed to be about and stuck to that. Jesus avoided burnout in part because he did what mattered most for others, not self! His focus was SOLELY on following the Father…thus he narrowed success to 1 issue; obedience. Burnout is only possible in the much of agendas, goals, systems, dreams, expectations etc.

Yes, Jesus grew tired. Purposeful labor is tiring. But in contrast, purposeless labor is nearly always tiresome.

We can have the fullness of life Jesus, Paul and many others have had. God has made known his presence with us and his purpose for us, and given us partners with whom we can accomplish that purpose. Therefore, "let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1).
A quote I have always thought was very wise: “Christians are not called to stop their hearts from breaking, but are called to be so filled with God that the endless supply flowing through them makes the brokenness less noticeable.”

My own journey has its own stories of up and down. But the Bible shows a way forward so radically different from traditional ‘therapy’ it is worth our time to stop and look hard at the scripture. His cures always involve our deep commitment, while most worldly cures allow us a measure of avoidance, feeling sorry for ourselves, and a variety of medications.

“Deny yourself…pick up your cross…and follow me.” In that declaration, command, and example are the cures for both the world as well as ourselves.

Suck it up - is unbiblical
Quitting - is unbiblical

Christians are less bulletproof soldiers, than limping marines. And Pastors while seeking to comfort must often confront even the weary...as God did.

There now, that wasn't so bad to read was it. But there is no anasthetic. [other than DEEP communion and worship with God] invest your time wisely so that you can get up off the floor and move staggeringly forward. Ministry is a M.A.S.H. unit and there are no vactions, furloughs, or cease-fires; and because it will last the rest of our lives we all need to know how to recieve enough healing to keep fighting and teach those around us how to do the same.

I snap off my surgical gloves and go cry. And the crying bleeds the pain out and makes room for God to fill my heart with joy again. Why? Because some of you will choose to follow this. And for the others there is another spiritual truth. "Wherever you get off the train, is where you get back on." And I'll always be there, with the same map, to the same destination.

[some of this article was cut-paste from other articles long ago saved in my hardrive but without citation...so if a brother or sister christian wrote some of this...forgive me...sue me...or agree it was all really from God]

Good movies that help are:

Heaven Can Wait
Stranger than Fiction
The Natural

These are my personal burnout movies...and they help


Anonymous said...

good words!!


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