Note: This article is excerpted from our resource Avoiding Burnout.
It's the day of your small-group meeting. As you get ready for the meeting, you feel stressed, tired, disconnected, overwhelmed, and even a bit resentful. You wonder how many people will show up, when you'll have time to prepare, and how you'll summon the energy to listen to the "difficult" people. You wish you could just cancel the meeting and relax in front of the TV.
You're not alone. Most small-group leaders will experience this at some point. For some, these feelings last only a short while, but for others, they can linger on for weeks, months, or even years.
We often lose the joy of ministry and feel burned out because we focus on what we're doing rather than who we're doing it with. We pay more attention to the outcome than the process. We live in a culture where our value is often derived from what we do and how well we do it. This orientation can creep into our ministry where we get caught up in striving and producing. Our spiritual health, however, cannot depend on how many people come to group meetings, the number of curricula and service projects we complete, or even how much members are growing (or not growing) spiritually. Instead of focusing on the tasks and goals, we must focus on abiding in Christ, inviting him into our daily activities, and following the Holy Spirit's guidance. Only when we focus our eyes on God, rather than our own achievements, will we be filled up and not in danger of burnout.
Are you in danger of burnout? Here are nine warning signs to consider:
- Your prayers for your group and its members are increasingly limited and/or superficial.
- You become more impatient and critical of people in your group.
- During meetings, you feel like you're just going through the motions.
- You make decisions based on what's easy, not what's best.
- Caring for people in your group is a stressful and unwelcome burden.
- You avoid contact with your small-group coach or pastor because you feel guilty.
- You have stopped expecting God to transform you or anyone else in the group.
- You rarely open your Bible except to prepare for the group study.
- Your ministry responsibilities seem to leave little time or energy for life with family or friends.
Of course there may be occasions or a season of ministry where you might experience some of the dynamics listed. However, if any of the above statements has become a repeated pattern in your life, you are at risk of ministry burnout. But there is an antidote.
Connected to the Vine
During Jesus' ministry on earth, he used a metaphor of a branch being connected to the vine to instruct the disciples to abide in him. John 15:4-5 (NKJV) says, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." The word abide is also translated as: to remain, dwell, join, or live within. Jesus is exhorting us to engage in a life with God. Abiding is not a feeling but an action verb, requiring intentional movement on our part. Bruce Wilkinson in Secrets of the Vine states, "To abide means to remain, to stay closely connected, to settle in for the long term. With this picture Jesus is showing the disciples how an ongoing, vital connection with him will directly determine the amount of his supernatural power in their lives."