Burn Out, Rust Out, or Stay in the Game

A number of years ago I was talking to a ministry leader about serving. He was expressing his frustration about how some Christians do nothing with their faith. He stated, “They rust out. I don’t want to rust out, I want to burn out.”  That sounded so noble at first. Going out in a blaze of glory while serving God and others.  But then I thought, both these ways of living share something in common – they are both “out.”  Is that what God wants for us?

Fathers, mothers, singles and ministry leaders are all susceptible to burning out.  Some of us get so focused on our jobs we neglect our family, friends and even our own wellbeing. We can get so involved in serving everyone else that we crash and burn. We need space.

The flip side isn’t healthy either.  If all of us are just sitting around doing nothing, “rusting out,” what’s going to be accomplished? Where is the meaning in life? We can be so easily pulled in either direction.

God wants us in the game. He calls us to a life of service. Matthew 20:26 tells us if we want to be great in God’s kingdom we must become a servant. Service isn’t a season but a lifestyle.  But how do we avoid burning out?  In my last post we began the discussion of balancing the demands of ministry and life. In that post I reminded us that Jesus had boundaries.  He took time to rest and get away. Without rest, the demands in life can overwhelm us and render us ineffective and burned out.

In my last post I gave you some questions that would help you take an honest inventory of your life.  (See Balancing the Demands of Ministry)  The next step is getting some honest feedback.  First I will address those of you who are married and then those of you who are single.

For Those Who Are Married

When spending long hours climbing the corporate ladder, serving the community or the church, it is easy to lose sight of how our actions impact our families.  We convince ourselves we are doing this for them.  We think, “I may be sacrificing my time with my family, but it is for a good cause.” Too many marriages and families fall apart because we are doing too much of a good thing.  We are so busy that we have no time or energy for our families.

As a pastor, ministry never ends.  There is always someone else to counsel, sermons to prepare, and programs to run.  After seeing so many marriages implode, I employed some simple ideas to help me stay more balanced.  I asked my wife: How am I doing?  Am I giving you enough time?  How about the kids?  Am I giving them enough time?  I gave her the freedom to speak up at any time she felt I was spending too much time away from her or the family.

As my kids got older I checked in with them.  I didn’t want to be an absentee father.  When I knew a busy season was coming, we would talk about it. I became more aware of  how my choices impact my loved ones. These simple conversations built trust and helped my family know that I care about them. These conversations helped me to know when to say no.

One of the qualifications of a pastor is one who manages his household well (1 Tim. 3:4, 5).  That is a qualification that often gets overlooked – but that is a discussion for a different day. The point is that I need to see my family as my first area of ministry. If I don’t prioritize them the rest of my ministry will crumble.

For Those Who Are Single

When you are single there are so many things you can do.  You don’t have a spouse asking you to slow down.  When I have talked to singles, they share how they see life as their oyster and they live it to the fullest, only to find out they too have limitations.  Some of them feel like they are on a merry-go-round and can’t get off.  They come to me burned out and exhausted. After taking time to listen and ask questions, I encourage them to find a mentor or accountability group who knows them and their schedule. This needs to be an individual or a group who is safe. Someone who will listen and graciously speak into your life.  Someone who will ask questions to help you think, not necessarily tell you how to live.

God doesn’t want us to rust out or burn out. He wants us to stay in the game.  It starts with personal reflection on how we are managing life’s demands and then moves to feedback and accountability. We all need a small community to help us stay in the game.

Question: Are you talking to your spouse, family, a mentor or group about balancing the demands on your life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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