I’m going to be honest: every item I list here is based on tendencies I’ve noticed in myself over the past several months. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, maybe you’ve even noticed some of them pop up in my previous writings. When I take a step back and write about it, it’s so easy to see how foolish I am. Burning out in ministry is not a sudden event in time that will take me by surprise, like a bursting firecracker on the 4th of July. Instead, it’s a slow process over time, like holding a burning match. If I’m not careful these things will eventually creep up on me, burn me, and render my leadership useless.
I doubt I’m alone in this. Here’s how you and I will crash and burn-out in ministry:
1. Ignore spending time in the Word and in prayer. Ministry is easy — you can do it all in your own strength. It shouldn’t be based on God anyway. Spend all your time teaching others how to develop their relationship with God instead.
2. Accept responsibility for everything. Say “yes” to whatever is asked of you and your time. It doesn’t matter if it could easily be handled by a volunteer, take it on anyway because you’re the guy they pay to do it. Besides, there may be no one else willing or available to do it besides you, which obviously indicates how important it is to everyone else.
3. Become emotionally attached to every situation. Whenever someone has a need, be the first to jump in, provide all the emotional support they need and rescue them from the problem. After all, everyone needs a savior.
4. Always serve God in ministry. This is so important that you must sacrifice all personal down-time and fill it with good things like meetings, events, Bible studies, evangelism, mission trips, prayer groups, small groups, and knitting groups.
5. Attempt to control everything. Control all the planning, the results, the future, the people, the workplace, the weather and God. You are the sustainer of the ministry on whom it is all built. If you take your eyes off of any of anything it will collapse and fail miserably.
6. Base your self-worth on the “success” of your ministry. You’re investing your life into this ministry thing! How it grows and flourishes indicates how important you are and how pleased God is with your labor. If your ministry is struggling, there must be something wrong with you.
7. Feed spiritual consumerism. So-and-so left the church and is attending the “mega-church” down the street because they have a better youth ministry. Now you need to quickly compete by offering the same programs but better. Otherwise, the entire congregation will migrate and leave you out of a job.
8. Focus your ministry on programs. This may come as a result of #7. Remember that vision and relationships are secondary to programming. Look at Jesus for example: His ministry was all about getting things done, not about growing disciples through relationships or communicating His vision for the world.
9. Dwell on all the problems. So it turns out that your ministry is the only one in the world that isn’t perfect. Let it consume your thoughts, your heart and your emotions. It’s important to focus on internal problems so there’s no time left to reach the lost souls that are dying all around.
10. Avoid transparency at all costs. Vulnerability brings the potential for rejection, criticism, and people losing respect for you. As a church leader, everyone must think you’re perfect, strong and invincible. Otherwise, the perfect people in your church will have no reason to follow you.
11. Focus only on what’s in front of you. Dreaming a huge vision for the future only makes people feel uncomfortable, probably because of item #5. Passion can become contagious and take the ministry in scary and risky directions, so it’s best to avoid these dreams altogether. It’s always safer to wander aimlessly by staring at your feet than it is to walk toward God’s beautiful horizon and risk tripping.
Posted on February 6, 2007