“How do I know I’m really burned out or just temporarily discouraged?”
The power of burnout overwhelms normal discouragement. In a few days, normal discouragement starts to dissipate and our interest and zeal begin to return. We start coming up with new and creative ideas that might work. With burnout, discouragement only deepens in a downward spiral to depression. Our feelings become blunted, and we don’t even want to hear new ideas. We no longer care.
“What really is burnout?”
Burnout is coming to the end of yourself. Your ideas, your power, your strength, your will, your desires, your efforts to make life and ministry work. It is coming to the point of no longer kidding yourself and facing the fact that your belief system has flaws in it. The theology you subscribe to doesn’t work and you have deceived yourself, and now, you are facing that fact painfully. Burnout is the blessing of God upon you to bring you to greater truth and reality. Burnout is a major correction of love in your life and ministry.
“What causes burnout in ministry?”
Relying on your own strength instead of the Holy Spirit’s. Setting up expectations in your heart that were never true or promised. Having a flawed belief system that leads to disillusionment. A general misunderstanding of the fundamentals of the Gospel - after all, the Gospel is God’s message unto salvation - not burnout.
“Is burnout terminal?”
It doesn’t have to be. We believe it is Father’s way of arresting us, correcting us, and allowing us to move back into ministry, much more intelligent, balanced and with the proper focus. At the moment you may be in such inner turmoil and pain that you can’t see a future at all. We understand. Time and healing will change your current viewpoint.
“Do I have to pull out of ministry to get help?”
No, but you may not be comfortable getting help within your denomination. This can vary greatly. And in some cases, your denominational slant and expectations may be contributing to your burnout. At ministries like Smoldering Wick you can get counseling without fear of ramifications within the denomination. Some of the issues are incredibly sensitive, and you need love and encouragement without any strings attached.
“Is there some type of network or mentoring available for burned out ministers?”
Yes, the group is called “Caregivers” and it is an association of 55 or 60 ministries across North America that help burned out leaders. Web addresses to several can be found on Smoldering Wick’s Resource and link page. Smoldering Wick also mentors leaders in what we call the Tree of Life approach to life and ministry.
“I get excited about things sometimes, but not all the time. I can be really apathetic about stuff that I used to be passionate about. One book I read says you lose your “zeal” after burnout. Is this right, and will it ever come back?”
I do think we lose our zeal, but I like to look at it as a growth step. We can easily be fueled by youthful ideals, and call them Christian values and zeal. After burnout, the stark reality of this life is far more clear. It is a time of re-evaluating many things. We have the chance to toss out a lot and focus on what truly counts. Thus, in many areas of life we will not have the same zeal again. We can’t. The illusion has been shattered by burnout. But in a few selected areas, like a deep genuine relationship with Jesus, and time with our children and grandchildren - we can have real zeal again, with far more realistic expectations that don’t disappoint. Let the Holy Spirit fill you with zeal in a few areas and be happy in that corner of life.
“I feel that people want me to become more involved in the church ministry. I feel the ministries I am involved with currently at church are enough. Is this normal?”
Now that you have experienced burnout, you know better than the others how much you want to get involved. I think it is better to be involved in one ministry, and do a wonderful job and leave it at that. Plus, if you are still in recovery mode, do what Jesus told you to do - “Come to me all you who are weary” - take a rest. It’s OK. Take a rest. Yes, I think it is normal.
“I used to really enjoy reading and studying books, but now I feel like I can’t do it as well as I used to. Does this make sense in your experience?”
You can’t do it as well, or there is not the desire as before? You have been changed deep within, and you may still have the lingering effects of disillusionment. You may not be as keen to devour books to gain the knowledge - since all this great knowledge of the past may have contributed to your disappointment. Maybe some of that knowledge even set you up for disillusionment by misleading you away from the very foundation we hang our hat on. Relax, rest, plug away at ministries you enjoy, and make the rest of your life a focus on Jesus. Even within the church we can get carried away in ten thousand directions.
“Is God trying to get my attention?”
God is always trying to get our attention. He created us to worship Him. He allows the blessing of burnout to bring us to a halt, so we re-think and re-establish a proper relationship with Him. It is not easy or pleasant. It is hell at times. But this is boot-camp for eternity.
“How can this happen? Wasn’t I doing this for the Kingdom of God?”
Exactly, you were doing all this for the Kingdom. Any ministry leader operating out of his/her own strength will burn out. Busyness is not a virtue. God is not impressed by a type A personality. Remember spiritual burnout is a loss of hope and ideals, so you can be serving your brains out but if you are waiting for promises God never gave, or have a slanted view of the Gospel you will become disillusioned and lose your hope.
“Has God rejected me for ministry now?”
God is not in the rejection business. He is in the salvation business. Elijah needed many days and an interesting confrontation with God before he was ready to resume ministry - and it was God who sent him back to ministry! On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples needed a long talk and a new look at Jesus, then they were ready again, for ministry. God is not rejecting you. He loves you, so He is allowing this season of correction to come upon you.
“Where is God in all of this?”
If you feel God has abandoned you, perhaps you’re looking with the wrong focus. In your mind do a quick review of the ministry of Jesus. After the Sermon on the Mount. the whole group walks down the hillside to the road and immediately meets a leper. Every “follower” of Jesus backs off, and it is only Jesus who helps the roadside victim. Jesus and his “followers” are walking down the road past two blind men who shout out loud for help from Jesus, Son of David. The “followers” of Jesus immediately tell the wounded on the roadside to be quiet. Only Jesus stops and cares and heals. On the road to Emmaus the two disciples are burned and very disillusioned, and it is Jesus who comes to the rescue. On the road to Jericho, the Priest and the Levite cross the road to the other side and walk past the wounded because they have important ministry to carry out! Get the point? If you are looking for your denomination to help you, fellow pastors, the body of Christ to jump in and provide you with comfort and help - you may be very disappointed. When some of those followers of Jesus do jump in and help, be so thankful - they are rare people. The followers of Jesus are not exactly world famous for practicing the love they preach about. Those who do are very special people. Look to Jesus - He is the one who always stops and helps. Look to him and if a Good Samaritan also comes along be so thankful.
“How do I handle the feelings of rejection by God and others?”
You need to talk at length to someone like Smoldering Wick Ministries - we have been there. It is a living part of our experience. Talk and pray with someone like us and get a new perspective. You know somewhere deep in your converted heart that God hasn’t rejected you, but, right now it may feel that way! People indeed will reject you, but Kathy and I will not. Give us a call. Let’s talk and pray together.