Exhaustion means you're tired, lacking energy, and you need to take a break and rest your eyes, slow your thoughts, or even change scenery so you can focus on recovery.
Burn out means the passion is gone; the fire isn’t there. It means the edge is missing and you not only feel too tired to accomplish something, you actually no longer even want to do it.
Ministerially speaking, exhaustion makes sense; it’s human,normal, and there is a fairly simple (yet disciplined) solution for it when it comes, and it should be noted that exhaustion is unavoidable.
Burn out, however, is an all out collapse that can be avoided. It certainly happens, and for some with much guilt, but if you're doing God’s work then you've been shown and taught a better way with a promise that we will endure until the end. So if you find yourself struggling to stay engaged, there are likely a few things at play:
1. We are working in our own strength
The longer we do ministry the more confident we are in our own ability to do ministry. Most of us spend our ministerial careers repeating what "worked" in one place or another and re-packaging it somewhere else. The old "if it ain't broke don't fix it" motto seems to get the best of us and in our own strength, we shut down and simplify as much as we can. We like to find systems and routines that work because we know what we can do and what we can measure. But every time we do what "we do", we fail to invite God into the picture to give us a fresh vision of what we could do, if we added Him back into the mix. Imagine a fresh, spirit-filled vision for every person we encounter and every problem we have to solve. Truly fresh- not just the same old thing repackaged.
How would your ministry change if you stopped thinking about what YOU can do, and started thinking about what God wants to do? The possibilities with God can seem so BIG. But then, so is God. So if you've found yourself settling for the simple answers every time, or easily exhausted when you think about a whole new approach to what you've been doing (since you've likely tried a bunch of different ways already) then perhaps you're like the rest of us and you've come to rely too much on you.
God wants to use your strengths, gifts, talents, and skills- but he is looking to use them to build His kingdom. So you need HIM to pull of the vision he's placed in you. He can get along without you- but that certainly isn't his preference. Consider making some time to recenter your strength in him each day, and confessing the areas where you've fought for control.
2. We’ve allowed the opinions of others to overwhelm us
Let's cut to the core on this one. Most of us have worked to focus on God's will, plan and opinion of us in order to do His work in the midst of the opposition and challenges of working with others. But even on our best days when we claim we "don't care what anyone thinks!"... we lose heart and energy when there is conflict or contradiction to where we want to go.
People have this great knack for exposing all our insecurities. Even when we've grounded ourself in Christ, there is an innate human desire to be loved and accepted by others. We want to build and inspire teams. We want to respond to the built in accountability that comes with relationships. We want to practice genuine pastoral care and listen as much as we counsel. But if you're like me and so many others I've shared the ministry journey with, I find myself subconsciously considering the opinions of others frequently. I don't mean we compromise the gospel. I just mean there's too much talk that sounds like this:
"The reason I did it was because"... Know when to defend yourself.
" I'm not sure we can make a change like that since there is so much pushback from"... Great reward requires great risk.
"We just want to move forward in a unified fashion".... Define "unified" for your context.
"I'm not sure I did the right thing when I said"... Assess your actions in alignment with your God given goals.
Consider an inventory of attitudes, comments, and opinions that may be at the root of any tension or anxiety you're feeling. Usually there is a name and a face associated with the voices in your head. Once you identify them, replace the destructive words with truth from God's word.
3.We’ve lost motivational focus
Finally, almost every ministry will struggle to stay on focus with your God-given mission. Some, because we've never taken time to discover it, and others because we've become consumed with other great ideas and services along the way. Think about it like a trip out for dinner. When you know what you want to eat, and you show up to a shop with too many things not he menu, it's hard to focus on what drove you there to begin with. Sometimes you get lucky, and what you order is ok... but often you leave disappointed that you got off track from why you went there in the first place.
If you want to stay the course- with energy, motivation, and focus to share with others on your team, then you've got to regularly and consistently clarify and communicate Why you are doing whatever it is you are doing. Don't fall to the "pick up sticks" strategy where you throw out a bunch of ideas and start testing out any and all that you can pick up. Prayerfully, diligently, and carefully craft your focus, revisit it regularly, and develop tools to evaluate how effectively your entire team is supporting said focus. You might discover that the reason your nearing burn-out is because better boundaries are needed to get ahead. It's exhausting to run ministry all week long only to find you've not gained any ground! You've got this!
May you find the time to take a break when you're exhausted, and to structure systems and boundries that will battle against burnout for life!