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How to Prevent Burnout: The Ministry Axiom

In my last article, I talked about The Ministry Axiom, a way of thinking about our time and resources that can help cope with burnout. Now, I want to look at the example that Jesus gave for dealing with his “>” followed by practical steps for preventing burnout in your own ministry life:

Jesus Stayed Connected to His Power Source

This is of course not the only record of a time when Jesus withdrew to pray, we can see many examples in the gospels of times when He withdrew to spend time in deliberate solitude with the Father. Now stop and consider this for a moment: if Jesus, the Son of God, the God-Man, needed to take a pause from His ministry in order to keep things in balance and be recharged by spending time with His heavenly Father, how much more do we need to? There was no end in sight for the amount of good He could do. He could’ve done non-stop ministry around the globe, and yet even He needed to take solitude. And please note the usage of the word “often” in this passage.

Martin Luther once said, “Tomorrow I plan to work, work from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” You’ve probably read, cited or maybe even preached this quote before, and yet how many of us actually DO this? If you lost the power supply for your iPhone, how long do you think it would continue to operate? You get my point, but tell me, are you sufficiently plugging in your spirit into the power source of your soul, God’s Word? Not for study or preparation purposes, but for Your own personal time with God? It is so easy in ministry to replace serving Jesus with spending time connecting with Him. While you might not have three hours ‘to waste’ tomorrow, just think about how different your day would be if you spent the first three hours connecting with your Heavenly Father?

Jesus Understood the Power of “No”

Being in ministry does not mean that you say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone who comes your way. In fact, Jesus was someone who wasn’t afraid to say ‘no.’ He said ‘no’ to meeting His own family when they came to reclaim Him from the crowds (Matt. 12:46-50). He said ‘no’ to lesser missions (like becoming King of Israel) to say ‘yes’ to His ultimate mission, the cross and the redemption of mankind. He said ‘no’ to temptations, like the ones Satan and even Peter presented Him with. Let’s follow Jesus’ example here. What things have you said ‘yes’ to (especially seemingly small things) that are good things, but things that keep you from achieving the real mission God has given you? In other words, you can do a lot of things ineffectively or a few things effectively. Jesus dealt with His “>” by saying no.

Jesus Practiced True Discipleship

One of the most genius aspects of Jesus’ leadership style is His usage of multiplying discipleship. Instead of trying to do everything Himself, Jesus invested Himself. First and foremost in the three guys closest to Him, and then in the other nine disciples. We could literally spend all day attending to the squeakiest wheels in our ministry (those who have the greatest needs and ironically the least investment) OR we can deliberately invest in a few key people who will multiply us. Four can do a whole lot more than one. Jesus dealt with His “>” by multiplying Himself.

Jesus Knew Whose Ministry This Is

In John 6:38, Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”
Jesus made it crystal clear throughout His ministry that His will (and therefore His ministry) was not His own.   He was a great example of knowing His role, even in His own ministry. His job was to do the will of the Father. Jesus also said, “Upon this rock I will build my church…” (Matt. 16:18, italics added). Remember that this is His ministry, not yours, and He will build it according to His plans, not ours. Ministry will continue on, often in spite of us, not because of our efforts. That is a freeing concept that will help you overcome the tyranny of your “>”.

 

So how we wrap up this math lesson? There’s always homework involved with a math lesson, right? So here’s yours:

1) Take some time to go through your calendar. Put in some appointment times with God. Some will be short, like daily devotions, some will be 3 hour entries, some will be one or two day retreats, and others will be long term sabbaticals every seven years or so. Keep those appointments. You can set aside time for God or you can end up like an uncharged iPhone.

2) Next time you get some alone time with God, seek His face on the most important (2-3) activities He wants you to be doing in your ministry. Then show Him your calendar for the past couple of months. Compare it to these activities and then say no accordingly. Be aware that saying ‘no’ to someone or something will always cost you something, but it’s better than costing you everything.
3) Jesus told us to go and make disciples. Your ministry may be about disciplemaking, but who are you discipling and pouring into personally? How are you multiplying yourself in order to make your ministry more effective?

 

4) Evaluate the places in your ministry where you’ve been holding on with a closed fist vs. an open hand. Ask yourself, who owns this, me or God? Remember that you are just a steward placed in charge of the ministry, you are not the owner. That’s God’s place and His alone.

 

The Ministry Axiom may seem like an unfair reality, a price too high to pay for those in ministry. And yet the Ministry Axiom is what makes ministry a joy. If you did have all the internal resources necessary, then you wouldn’t need God, and you’d never get the opportunity to see what He can do through you. So enjoy the journey and watch the Lord build His church through everyday people just like you and me.

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