The Path from Burnout to Engagement

If you are not experiencing burnout, there is a good possibility someone you love is. With COVID-19, burnout appears to be at an all-time high.

When you factor in the overwhelming news cycle, pandemic fears, and forced quarantines, people of all different occupations are heading toward burnout.

For example, burnout is such a possibility during the pandemic the CDC has a dedicated webpage for it.

Surveys have found “76% of frontline healthcare workers report exhaustion and burnout,” and “roughly 9.8 million working mothers in the U.S. are suffering from workplace burnout.”

Burnout also affects those who work in ministry or serve in churches. For years, burnout has been a taboo subject in the church world, even though Barna found 1 in 3 pastors are at risk for burnout.

Ministry leaders have quit as a result of burnout.

People who volunteer in their churches and communities experience burnout and simply walk away.

Burnout is a real occupational phenomenon.

By taking time to learn what it is and how it manifests, we can prevent ourselves and our loved ones from its devastating effects.

The good news is God doesn’t want us to live this way.

He wants us to stay engaged throughout our lives as we serve him.

Let’s take time to talk about what this looks like.

The booklet, Burnout: Resting in God’s Fairness, by Brad Hambrick is our guide.

What is Burnout

The word burnout conjures up an image of a lit match that has burnt out. The match no longer gives off any flame or light. The match no longer seems to serve much purpose. Sound familiar?

Sometimes people confuse burnout with fatigue or stress.

In both cases, the fire is still lit, but it is struggling.

With burnout, the light is gone.

Hambrick describes it this way: “Burnout occurs when the things we once relied upon for life and energy become a source of discouragement and a drain. Burnout occurs when we begin to live as if caring were a necessary enemy, and we begin to prefer the ‘living death’ of numbness to ‘caring exhaustion’ of Christian relationships and service.”

Ultimately, those who care the most are the ones most in jeopardy of experiencing burnout.

However, when their level of care surpasses the time and talents God has given them, they experience burnout.

What Causes Burnout

According to Hambrick, “Burnout is a result of how we have managed our life as a whole.”

In other words, burnout is not the result of one area of your life spinning out of control.

Instead, burnout is the culmination of the decisions you make every day regarding how much of your time and energy you will give.

Ultimately, “Burnout is the result of living beyond our means with the time God has provided” (Hambrick).

Living Beyond Your Means

We often hear people discuss living beyond their means when they speak about finances; however, the same can be said for how we spend our time.

Today’s culture seems to place value on so much to do.

As a result, “We live as if God expects us to do every good thing that is asked of us and might benefit those around us” (Hambrick).

To put it simply, we just don’t have time to do everything.

Consider the way you manage your time.

You have 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week.

However, many of us try to fit 200 hours’ worth of stuff within our 168-hour week.

Hambrick explains, “This means that even if there are 200 hours’ worth of excellent things to be accomplished in a week, we can have assurance that at least 32 hours of our agenda is outside the will of God for our life.” Even if it’s good stuff, godly stuff.

Instead, we need to be intentional about how we spend our time to avoid burnout.

This means budgeting time just as you would money.

You need to budget time for rest, work, and family, as well as time for recreation, maintenance, and service.

Brad Hamrick has created a Time Budget PDF you can download and use.

Fill out the time budget based on your current lifestyle; then, develop a burnout-proof plan.

When Serving Consumes the Servant

Part of the extra time we have each week should be used for serving God and others.

However, serving can quickly lead to burnout if you don’t pay close attention to your time and talents.

Serving should come from your generosity (the extra time you have to give) rather than as a sacrifice (forcing you to give up time you don’t have).

Hambrick explains, “Sacrifice […] should be relatively rare because it is unsustainable. Sacrifice is good only when it is a sacrifice and not a way of life.”

When church members or volunteers move beyond generosity into sacrifice, burnout is on the horizon.

In Exodus 18, the father-in-law of Moses even pointed out that this type of sacrificial servitude is unsustainable.

When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” -Exodus 18

Likewise, when we attempt to serve beyond the time we have, this is unsustainable and “not good.”

Hambrick claims, “When we fail to account for sustainability, serving eventually consumes the servant.”

Motives for Burnout

While time management is part of burnout, we also need to consider the motivations that led us to make such detrimental choices affecting our time and energy.

For example, pride, fear, codependency, guilt, productivity, and perfectionism are all root causes of burnout.

These are self-destructive forces that turn us away from dependence on God.

How to Prevent Burnout

Burnout looks different from one person to the next, but there are some basic steps you can take to prevent burnout and continue feeling engaged.

  • Spend time alone with God.
    Don’t give in to the temptation to make this another thing to check off your list. Instead, use it as a time of rest and restoration.
  • Take care of your physical health. Eat, sleep, and rest.
  • Use time planning tools and live within your means timewise.
  • Enjoy relationships with people that don’t require anything from you (people who don’t see you for your title – pastor, teacher, boss, parent, etc.).
  • Stay attuned to your emotions.
    Changes in emotions, including less desire to do things you enjoy, are signs of burnout.
  • Look for walls.
    Who are you suddenly tuning out? Why?

As far as occupational burnout, Hambrick offers, “When work loses purpose, the potential for burnout increases. When work is done as a slave instead of a son, the potential for burnout also increases. Connecting your work with God’s service and viewing God as a caring Father is an important balance in preventing burnout.”

Take time to discern your motivations for pushing yourself beyond your limits and remember that God already loves and accepts you. You do not have to do more to gain his acceptance or love.

Lastly, when you find yourself beyond your breaking point, remember that Jesus withdrew to solitary places (Matthew 14:13) and He napped (Mark 4:38).

Warren Wiersbe said, “Sometimes the greatest thing you can do for the Lord is taken a nap.”

Take time to rest.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30

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