Ministry burnout - Serving God with Proper Boundaries

To Avoid Ministry Burnout, Set up Proper Boundaries and Learn How to Say No



People who participate in any ministry of caring and nurturing run the risk of burn out unless they have developed proper boundaries. The attitude of serving one another is highly valued, especially within the church. Jesus said if one wants to become great in the kingdom, be the servant of all.

Notably, Jesus seemed to have a good awareness of when He needed rest and rejuvenation. He would often withdraw to a lonely place and pray. His life was described as totally given over to listening to His Father, speaking His Father's words, and doing what His Father was doing.

Without the same kind of reliance and without this dependence upon the Spirit, believers can get overwhelmed while doing good work for the kingdom of God.

For those who have a gift of compassion and are empathetic, it is important to remain aware of where they end and another person begins. This type of personality can inappropriately take on the problems of others line they were their own. Believer are in fact called to bear one another's overload in the letter to the Galatians, but in that same letter, Paul reminds the churdch that their primary responsibility is to bear one's own burdens. In other words, believers are to have compassion and empathy without entering into unhealthy codependent relationships.

When a Christian serves another in need, it should be a free choice one makes, not out of duty or coercion. Jesus said that his disciples have received freely; therefore, they should also freely give of themselves. But it must remain essentially a choice. When it ceases to be a choice of free will, over time it may cause exhaustion, and for some, repressed anger resulting in depression.

If a person begins to feel they have no choice, no control of their schedule, no time for meeting their personal needs --which by the way, are important, they can easily get burned out. This does not mean it will be always convenient to serve. It may be a real sacrifice. But one must take the responsibility and choose.

When considering taking on a new responsibility, a believer should ask themself: ”Is this of God? Do I have the time and resources to help?&ldquo: If the answer is yes, then serve with gladness as Saint Paul says..

On the other hand, is that person is maxed out on duties and doesn't feel called by the Holy Spirit to act, then it becomes necessary to say so and either set another time to serve or refer this person to someone else who can help them.

Jesus never called disciples to serve in a way that injures oneself, and in the long run facilitates burnout. The long run is the goal; ones Christian experience is a distance run, not a sprint. No one can continually sprint. Believers must learn their own limitations and recognize when their proverbial plate is already full.

Within a person's work environment, they may need to learn negotiation skills. When first entering into ministry either part-time, full-time or as a church volunteer, one may think that because this is a church environment, being assertive is unnecessary. Wrong Grasshopper! One is in fact there to serve, but when they are up to their neck in alligators, it is easy to forget their original task was to drain the pond!

In other words, an employee may at times need to negotiate with their employer in a tactful way to say, “Having been assigned this new responsibility, which of the previous assignments would you desire that I delegate or temporarily lay aside?” If this is not accomplished, one may begin a downward spiral of panic, resentment, anger, passive aggression or other unhealthy coping mechanisms..

Certainly authority figures can be insensitive, even uncaring, but everyone must take personal responsibility for their own emotional health and not allow themself to continually blame others for their feelings. As Gary Smalley and his son teach in their book and DVD series called the DNA of Relationships, when you point your finger in blame, three fingers are pointing right back at you.

James the apostle said that we have not because we do not ask. Certainly there may be those who need to extend their limits and boundaries which are too limited when compared to God's original design for them, but those who are serving in nonprofit caring and nurturing environments often need to learn that serving others is a choice and that one must take responsibility for their choices and at times negotiate for emotional and physical health.


Written by: Larry Kennedy