“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30
A few months ago, I was feeling the excruciating pressure that is often accompanied by church work. It’s that insurmountable feeling you get when frustration and tiredness meet you like a close friend and then bury you in a sea exhaustion with a millstone of tasks chained to your ankle. If you have worked, volunteered, or ever been a part of a church, then you know this feeling all too well: It’s called burnout, and as the name insinuates, it will burn your wick until there’s nothing left.
Burnout happens everywhere, and it happens in growing church starts. As I mentioned before, burnout is a combination of frustration and work overload. It’s that unholy moment when expectations aren’t being met, growth isn’t being observed, and either subsequently or coincidentally tasks are being added to the church starter and the church starting team with no reprieve in sight. Speaking from experience, the sustainability of the church start from the church starter’s perspective looks most bleak during these moments of burnout than at any other moment of true crisis in the church.
So how do we avoid burnout as church starters or church starting teams? Where do we go as church leadership during these tough moments of burnout? Though I am by no means an expert in this field, I hope that the following three pieces of reflection might give you a bit of hope to make it through these difficult times.
3. It is God who grows the church; not you; not your team; and not your program.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses his struggling church start in the city of Corinth. The church in Corinth had become majorly divided in its membership with some wanting to claim Paul as their mentor and others Apollos, leading Paul to deliver a beautiful analogy concerning how the church should function as one body. Early on in the epistle, Paul reminds the church that though Paul planted the seeds of the gospel and Apollos watered said seeds, it was God who gave the growth, and it is still God who grows them.
God is responsible for his church start. God will give the growth.
Most of us need to step back and give away the burden of church growth back to God. A lot of times, our feelings of frustration are caused when we exert large amounts of energy expecting immediate growth, and we subconsciously put ourselves at the center of the church taking upon ourselves responsibility and burden that we should have never carried. When you take a step back from the church start and realize that it doesn’t “make or break” on you, you’ll begin to feel your frustration slip away, and you’ll realize that what God has called you to is his work and his plans. Not yours.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
We are human. We were made to take rest. Yes, I know that we have a countless number of tasks to perform, but that’s just it. They are countless! They’ll be there tomorrow in greater numbers all the same. If we do not stop and take the rest we need, we will grow tired of the work that God has called us to.
The subject of Sabbath may be a bigger issue for some than others, so I would like to help get you started by telling you that if you can’t find time, make time. Make time by calendaring an appointment with yourself, an appointment with your family, or an appointment with your friends. And just like you would never answer a call or respond to a text during a meeting with one of your church members, don’t pick up your phone during these times. Having an immense sense that everything is semi-urgent will send you so far down the road to burnout that you’ll actually believe that you work all the time, which you honestly probably do, and you need to stop. Put. The phone. Down. This article will still be here when your done resting.
1. Share your burdens with your team
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16
Early in the church start, I held in all my exhaustion. This caused a variety of problems for me in my marriage, and it really didn’t get resolved until I slowly started sharing with my church start team the burdens that were weighing me down. I knew I couldn’t do this alone, but for a while, I was behaving like it was only me. I wish I would have started sharing my struggles with the team earlier because having others walk alongside you is an immeasurable strength.
James 5:16 invites us to share our sins and pray for one another. It reminds us that there is power in the prayer from a good friend, and there’s this sort of exchange too. When you share your burdens with your friends, they take on a bit of that weight that you feel in the same sort of way that I imagine Christ takes on our sins for us.
I hope these three pieces of reflection help you somehow in your church start, church life, or in the leadership role that you serve. Know too that if you’d like, I’m here to talk. You can hit me up on twitter @createdlove or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll do the best I can to encourage you through these tough times, and I’ll pray for you too.