Image from flickr.com by Héctor de Pereda
Luke 22:26-27 “26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
Throughout my ten years in the church ministry, it has always been these verses that motivated me to continue. While I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the Lord through the music and children’s ministry, I cannot say that the journey has always been easy.
The truth is that most of the way has been tough and challenging, and I have found that sometimes, our work for the Lord leads us to a place where we feel uncomfortable and have to rely on our faith in Him to pull us through.
It reminds me of how Peter began to walk on water, only to begin drowning when he turned his eyes away from Jesus. My burnout experience is similar to this story.
Thrown into a big black hole
I recognized that I was experiencing burnout when these signs became very evident:
- Physical. I felt exhausted and tired all the time. Physical symptoms also included palm sweating, shortness of breath and headaches.
- Emotional. I became irritated and overwhelmed by little things, especially when it came to my ministry work. Then came the fears; and because fears tend to exaggerate the facts, I felt helpless and hopeless.
- Mental. My thoughts began to change too. When I became anxious, I started to worry about things that hadn’t even happened yet; like losing the ministry I loved to do. At times, I dreamt about terrible things.
- Spiritual. More than anything else, my spiritual life was affected. I was in a spiritual battle and Satan was using my burnout experience as his foothold. I felt that I had messed up, which in turn caused me to feel condemned and guilty.
Looking for a way out through a misplaced dependence
Reliable, good listener, self-controlled, calm, level-headed, and stable spiritual life—these are all things I had to thank God for. To my friends and ministry partners, I was a mature Christian. Yes, I listened and counseled people. That was one of my ministries as a mature Christian and that’s what I studied for five years in school.
Because of this, I thought I could handle my burnout alone. I wanted to take things into my own hands; I wanted to be in control and I tried all the possible things I could. However, in my attempt to solve things without any help, I only began to feel even more powerless.
Revealed attitude for serving
Because of my unwillingness to ask for help, God had to discipline me. He had to pull the objects of earthly dependence away from me so that I could learn to lean on Him alone, and slowly, He began to reveal to me why I was experiencing burnout in my service.
- Pride and glory. I knew that I had been given the opportunity to be in the ministry because I was qualified. I’m a teacher so I was placed in the children’s ministry. I knew how to sing, so I was accepted in the praise and worship team. I’m a counselor, so people come to me for counsel. Then, I started patting myself on the back.
- Self-glorifying motivations. Outwardly, I gave God the glory in whatever I did, but in my mind I was telling myself how well I was leading my team and how well I handled counseling situations.
- Something in return. I didn’t outwardly show people that I wanted recognition for serving them, but deep inside, I wished they would at least thank me for it. I was beginning to view God as a slot machine; if I did something for Him, I should get something in return.
The walk on water
Some of the things I loved to do in the ministry were taken away from me so that I could learn humility, and as changes started to take place, I felt uncertain about what was going to happen to my leadership position.
My prayers included so many questions, and to some of these questions, I have still not received answers. But what I do know is that my life turned around 180 degrees because of this experience.
Now, when I counsel people who are going through a burnout, I always remind them of Matthew 14: 29 “Come,” He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
The moment you turn your eyes away from Jesus, the source of your achievements and earthly possessions, you will drown in your own pride and selfishness. It is a matter of where you put your faith; when you put too much trust in yourself; you’re actually telling God that you don’t need Him.
I was disciplined by this experience in my Christian journey, and as a result, my ministry work has become so much more joyful and meaningful.
About the author:
Jane Bongato is part of the team behind Open Colleges, Australia’s provider of online counselling courses. Jane is an early childhood educator with a background in Psychology and closely works with children who have special needs for about 6 years now. She enjoys reading, painting or meeting friends during her spare time.