Why Do Christians Experience Burn Out?
My wife and I just crossed the three year mark since we held our first service at our current church plant. I remember that service like it was yesterday. On January 28, 2018 we opened the doors at the Smith Middle School for the first time and boy was it a train wreck!
We had a missions team visiting from Northern Virginia, as well as several local people that had been preparing with us for that first day, all in attendance. The service began at 10am and finally, at 9:55am, one couple showed up. That first Sunday, we experienced worship with just one couple from the community. We praise God for that one couple!
We chartered that following September with 19 people and God continued to bring visitors and grow the church. The following summer, we had an average attendance of 45 people and our record high for that year was 66 people at our 1 year anniversary service. But the week after, the bottom fell out.
For multiple different reasons, our average attendance from October-December went from 45 to 30, with one week experiencing just 13 people! In addition, I experienced some of the hardest conversations with people that I had ever experienced in my short pastoral life. Overall giving was down, people were moving away and others just quit coming. People that I had poured my life into just "faded away". In addition to all of this, I experienced some health issues that furthered complicated matters. In December of 2019, I was feeling the lowest I have ever felt within my ministry career.
But on January 1, 2020, my perspective change. It was not until that day it finally clicked in my head- "God will do what He wills with His church". Now don't get me wrong, I had a head knowledge of this statement but I certainly did not have faith in that statement. See, it wasn't until that day that I finally committed my heart and ministry fully over to the control of God. And when I did, I felt a heavy weight lifted off my shoulders.
As I continued to grow as a Pastor as well as a follower of Christ, I began to see my shortcomings clearer and clearer. At the end of 2019, I was on the verge of burnout. Yes, I know that I had been a Pastor for less than two years but when your perspective isn't in the right place, that quickly takes a toll on the heart of anyone.
Why was I feeling so down? Because all of my hard work and efforts were in an attempt to foster the work of the Holy Spirit. I was trying so hard to grow a church through numbers that I would add a program here, schedule another visit there, and constantly worry about what other people thought of me and the ministry. Rather than just focusing on praying and preaching the word of God and leaving the rest up to God's working, I was trying to fabricate some sort of "spiritual revival" through my own efforts. And when people did not respond through attendance or membership, I would experience frustration which left my family with the brunt end of my horrible attitude. Something needed to change and it needed to change quickly.
I may be stepping out on a limb here through this assumption, but I believe I am safe to say that there are others that have experienced the same feelings of burnout. I understand that every situation is unique, but I do believe that one of the biggest culprits for spiritual burnout is our attempt to be the Holy Spirit in the lives of others and the church. In efforts to keep people or gain people we add another program or cater to another set of needs. I am not saying programs are wrong, but in my case, I was doing the programs out of the motivation to foster the Holy Spirit which, in essence, pointed to a trust in my own strength rather than God's will.
The Apostle Paul states in Colossians 1:28-29:
Him (Jesus Christ) we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.
Did you catch that? The Apostle Paul's goal for ministry was to preach Christ in order to present every man mature in his Christian faith. But Paul goes on to say that he does this through the power and working of Christ in him. This is the balance of the Christian life. Paul acknowledges the fact that ministry is hard, but he says that ministry must be through the power and working of the Holy Spirit. When we realize that our efforts do NOTHING for the salvation and maturity of others and it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit, then our focus will shift from "I must do this in order for God to work" to "I must faithfully serve God and leave the working up to Him". When our focus shifts, our hearts and desires shift, when our hearts and desires shift, we are reenergized to serve God with passion and vigor.
Don't let ministry become a chore. Faithfully serve God in the realm that He has placed you in, realizing that God is the One that does all of the working. When people don't respond to your efforts, realize that God isn't looking for a scorecard. He is just looking for faithfulness. The real tragedy is not when human goals aren't met but when men and women quit on God.
Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.
1 Corinthians 4:2