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Burn-Out Proof Your Ministry

Greg Baird

There he sat, under a broom tree (what exactly is a broom tree, anyway?). He was beaten, battered…burned out! After all the great victories and the shining moments of faith in this man's life, Elijah had had it. He wanted out. He couldn't see beyond, well, the broom tree! " 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life' " (1 Kings 19:4).

What brought Elijah to this point?

He had experienced some of the most compelling "ministry moments" described in the Bible. Remember God holding back the rain until Elijah spoke? Or God providing unlimited oil and flour for the widow? God used Elijah to raise this same woman's son from the dead. Then after three years in the desert waiting on God, Elijah came back and went head to head with one of the most wicked kings ever to set foot on the earth -- Ahab, along with his wife, Jezebel.

Finally, a stunning victory over the prophets of Baal and an Olympian effort racing down a mountain had left Elijah running for his life. The enemy, in this case primarily Queen Jezebel, had had it with Elijah, and she was out to get him. Elijah finally came to a point of giving up. "Just end it all right here, God" was his pathetic plea. He was burned out on serving the Lord.

Have you ever been there? As children's ministry leaders, serving as paid staff or volunteers, sometimes we get to the point where we just want it all to end. We start looking for a way out of our "ministry lives."

In spite of the victories -- the child coming to Christ in our class, the teenager we invested so much in as a child who now lives a life of faith, the families we've been privileged to impact-our enemy (or sheer exhaustion) has caught up with us. We feel isolated, as though we're fighting the battle alone, and we're overwhelmed. Elijah said to God, "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty… [but] I am the only one left" (1 Kings 19:10). We, like Elijah, feel we just can't continue. We just want it all to end.

Is this how God wants us to end up? Of course not. Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not become weary in doing good." But how do we do that? How do we keep the discouragements from overcoming us? How do we keep from "ministering" to the point of exhaustion -- physically, mentally, or both -- when we sometimes are out there on our own? Let me suggest, instead of getting burned out, stay F.I.R.E.D. U.P. Here are seven ways to do that.

Focus on relationships. Relationships are what ministry is all about. First and foremost, ministry is about relationship with God. When you're feeling a little burned out, ask yourself, "How is my relationship with God?" Are you getting necessary time in God's Word? Are you spending time in prayer, sharing your heart and listening to God's heart?

Are you making church attendance a priority? Too often in children's ministry, we allow our attendance in the church service to suffer while we serve the kids. This is understandable sometimes, because serving kids often takes place while the service is going on. But you must be renewed with worship, teaching, and fellowship. Don't skip too often.

Family relationships are another high priority. We can pour ourselves so thoroughly into our ministry that our home relationships can suffer. Your family is your first area of ministry concern and, while you might ask your family to make adjustments to accommodate your ministry to kids, don't focus on your ministry to kids at the expense of your family.

Finally, remember that ministry to kids is all about relationships with kids. Sometimes our sense of burnout can result from focusing too much on trying to make the kids "do" what we want them to do instead of investing in helping them "be" who God wants them to be.

Identify your calling. Why are you doing what you're doing? Is it because you're called by God to do it, or is it because you felt sorry for someone who was desperate for a preschool Sunday school teacher? For a season you might step in and assist in an area of great need, but over the long term, you must be doing what God has called you to do or your serv­ice will surely lead to burnout.

What is a calling? It's simply "a divine summons." It might be something that lasts a lifetime, or it might be an "assignment" given by God for a shorter time. It's always something you feel compelled to be part of, to accomplish, or to commit to. Not doing it leaves a sense of dissatisfaction and incompletion. To stay fresh in children's ministry, you must have a sense of calling from God.

Recognize your gifts, abilities, and limitations. In much the same way as recognizing what God has called you to do, you must also recognize what you're gifted at, what your past training and experiences have prepared you to do, and also what you're not good at.

As a children's pastor, my gifts and abilities are in the areas of administration, leading and training others, and teaching large groups of kids. What I'm not gifted at is teaching small groups of kids. If I were required to do so, I'd be burned out in a matter of weeks!

Aligning your strengths with your ministry requirements will not only help you avoid burnout, but it'll also energize you to complete the ministry you're called to do. First Peter 4:10 (NLT) says, "God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God's generosity can flow through you."

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