How To Avoid Ministry Burnout

Letting Go of Personal Control and Giving God the Control Results in Freedom from Anxiety and Burnout



There is a powerful scene in the movie Instinct where Cuba Gooding Jr. is counseling Anthony Hopkins who was in prison for murder. (He was actually defending his gorilla family from poachers). Gooding declares the session over but Hopkins puts a headlock on him and jams his head down on the table to illustrate that his feeling of control is simply an illusion.

After quizzing him as to this fact, Hopkins releases the counselor but the lesson is not lost to Gooding Jr. This is a great truth with which every person, whether they have experienced burnout or not, must grapple. Those who struggle with burnout generally try to control as a coping mechanism.

Everything seems out of control to the burned out person. The result is anxiety and even panic if these feelings persist. Some counselors actually suggest that the person suffering make friends with panic attacks in a manner of speaking. As the counselor comforted, “Though you feel like you are going to have a heart attack and die, you are not. Make a cup of tea, sit down and relax.”

The very idea that one is in control is an illusion. The fact that one would want to be suggests an ill-informed arrogance, as non-malevolent as that may be. No one would say they want to be God, but that is what it amounts to when a person tries to control everyone and everything in their environment. Anxiety and panic result because it is impossible to do so.

There is a balance in one's assessment of the sovereignty of God. On one side there is the passive attitude that believes God is in control and one can do nothing to resist his will. this is a form of stoicism. The other extreme is that man is in control and captains his or her own ship at will. As far as these two positions go -- never the twain shall meet.

The dilemma of theologians and philosophers will not be solved in this short article, but the answer perhaps is both and, not either or. God is in control, yet He has chosen to include His children in the process. He has paid a very dear price, the death of His dear Son, to insure freedom of choice for His creation. Men will resist as history proves. Still, the word says that even the wrath of man will praise Him. He moves in His sovereignty behind the scenes, to accomplish His purposes..

But in God's graciousness, He also desires to see His children triumph over the forces of darkness even as His Son did. That is why Paul states that we are more than conquerors. The battle belongs to the Lord, but one still must fight the enemy to take the promised land. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you," Saint Paul states.

Therefore, believers are yoked together with Him in fulfilling kingdom purposes. It is in this sense of coregents that one takes responsibility. In reality, it is delegated authority that one exercises without entertaining the humanistic belief that one is his own god. Jesus told Pilate after he threatened Jesus, saying he had the power to end his life, spoke truth when He said Pilate would have no power except that which was given by God. Therefore, in order to avoid burnout, one must release the illusion that control is possible. There are some things however that one can control, such as the choices one makes. People need to release the need to micro manage every detail of life. The motive is fear, the purpose is protection and the result is a sure ticket to anxiety.

The mantra of one experiencing burnout needs to be, &ldqu;All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purposes.&rdquo (Romans 8:28) What freedom, what comfort, and what release can result in trusting God at this level. If there is going to be any control, let it be from the magnificent administrator of heaven, the Holy Spirit of God.

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; if the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead is living in you, He will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who lives in you." (Romans 8:6-11). "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (and daughters) of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear, but you have received a spirit of son-ship (and daughterhood); and by Him we cry, &ldquo: Abba father."” (Romans 8:14-16 feminine gender added).

Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, though they share in His suffering will also share in His glory! May His disciples learn to be free to walk in the assurance of children who are cared for, adopted into His family, and joint heirs with His Son, who can trust that He is working together only for their good.

Written by: Larry Kennedy