Happy Wednesday, Folks!
If this is the first Wednesday you’ve dropped by here in a while, let me fill you in on what you’ve missed! A little over a month ago, my pastor/blogger/musician friend, Jason S and I started a series on overcoming burnout in ministry. We gave away a handful of copies of Anne Jackson’s excellent book, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic. And now, we are on our fourth weekly discussion about burnout. If you missed a discussion, please go see them here:
And today, we move on to Chapter 4, which talks about External Risk Factors.
As I was reading Chapter 4, the overwhelming thought I had was: How many of us have lost track of Who we are serving and why?
Last winter, just before I crashed-and-burned, I remember realizing that I was coming close to burnout. After a period of several weeks of working in ministry all day, then driving 45 minutes from work to my church for choir, praise team, and/or drama team rehearsals, we had opening night of our Valentine’s dinner theatre. Sitting backstage, waiting for my cues, I confided in another choir member that I felt overwhelmed. He suggested that I take a little time off, but I balked at the idea saying, “But Richard, if I don’t do these things, who will I be?”
Richard heard his cue and headed for the stage without finishing the conversation. But I knew that it was something I was definitely going to have to talk to God about. I had stopped finding my identity in God and had begun finding my identity in work.
Along those lines, there were two quotes of Anne’s that made me stop and think.
When we think that our calling is to be the biggest, the most creative, or the best, we have completely lost sight of the only important fact. We are called. (p. 77)
I’ve also realized who I really work for. I work for God. (p. 87)
Today, while I was driving home and pondering this chapter, I had a visual image pop into my mind. I was thinking back to some movies I saw as a child where a person would get trapped in a room and then the ceiling and walls would begin to close in on them. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I feel sometimes. Every time I take on one more responsibility or say yes to one more favor or bring home another briefcase full of ministry work, the ceiling gets lower and the walls begin to press in.
I love ministry. I love being at church and doing God’s work. I feel fully alive when I’m ministering. But each time I take on a load that God has not assigned to me or I try to do a task in my own strength, the box begins to shrink. And it happens so slowly that I don’t notice until I suddenly realize that I’m entombed in my own work and no longer know how to reach the tasks that God has assigned to me.
This week on Twitter, a person asked the question: “How do I know when I’ve taken on too much?”
My answer: if you have to ask, that’s a pretty good indication.
I know in my heart what the answer is. Whenever a task presents itself, I must ask God if I’m to take it on. Then, I only take on those tasks that God has assigned to me.
My problem is that I don’t naturally think like that. When I’m asked to do something, I use my likes and dislikes as a barometer. Or what the pastor or other leaders will think of me. Or that I feel guilty that I said no to that person before. Or that I should because I’m single and childless, so I have less responsibility than the poor lady with six kids that will be stuck with it if I don’t do it.
You see how I got sidetracked there? All of a sudden, it wasn’t about God or what He would have me to do. It was about people. It was about ME.
How do we keep from getting sidetracked? What are some of the thoughts/emotions/other things that sidetracked you? How do you deal with those?