Church Involvement

Category: burn out

Putting On the Brakes

brake3Putting On the Brakes

We sometimes infer a disdain for average or less-than-average performance in church ministry.   We are always striving to do more, be more and produce more.

We expect creativity, freshness, newness and the extra effort.

While I can understand some of this thinking–because our goal is maturity in Christ and because God deserves the best—this thinking, if misunderstood, can be very dangerous.

Why am I bringing this up?   At times, I see some servants in the church who are attempting the ‘humanly’ impossible.    Some are attempting to do more than God designed them to do—more than God wills for them to do.   Such folks need to learn to ‘put on the brakes’ or bad things will happen.

When we strive to do the impossible (and the unexpected), we get stressed and anxious or worse.   We can become critical of ourselves or others in the process.   Our thinking becomes imbalanced to the point that we think that God is not pleased with us.  This leads to other unhealthy thinking and living.   Our focus is on self which leads to other issues when, in reality our focus should be on the One who endowed us in the first place.   We become too dependent upon ourselves and lose our dependence upon Him.   It’s a matter of proper focus.

There are other factors that may contribute to our trying to do the impossible:  one is personality.   Some folks are perfectionists and feel inadequate if they don’t achieve some impossible goal.   Others are very compassionate and have great difficulty in saying “No” to any request.    Another contributing factor may be theological:   “I’ve got to do this because this is God’s purpose for me.”  And, then some of us quote that off quoted verse:  “with God all things are possible.”   While it may be the case that God has called you to do something (for which you are passionate), He does not expect you to do more than you are humanly capable.   And that verse about God doing all things: that’s God, not you.   You and God make a great team and even God recognizes your need for rest and recreation.

Even Christ, while here on earth in the flesh, was physically limited.  He simply did what He could.   He did not fix every problem or heal every sick person.  That’s the example we must follow because we are human.

“But how do I know that I have reached my limitations?”   I suggest the following:

  1.  When negative emotions appear, you need to reassess everything.  Remember Martha and her fit of anger.
  2. When others are telling you that you are overloaded, you need to listen.
  3.  Listen to your body, emotions & mind.  They will tell you.  Accept your limitations. 
  4. Ask for assistance with tasks.   Solomon said that two are better than one.    Listen to wise inspiration. 
  5.    Ask the Lord to show you—and He will.   Be sensitive to His answering you.  Neither church leaders, church staff, ministry participants, members nor God are demanding or expecting the impossible.   We are compassionate people who are willing to give what we have for the cause of Christ.  Let us be wise in recognizing our human limitations and do what we can for His glory.  Some of us just need to learn to say  “No” and say it in love.   It’s OK; even God says “No.”   We also need to recognize our limitations and work within them for His glory.

Travis Irwin

Learning to Say “No” without the Guilt

Learning to Say “No” without the GuiltNO4

Many good folks who have the gift of compassion have great difficulty in saying “No” to people with needs.   As a result, negative things happen, one of which is burn out.   When we can’t say “No” to people (specifically to the ones which we should say it), we feel guilt, frustration, irritability, entrapped, manipulated and discouragement.

In their book It’s Not My Fault, Drs. Cloud and Townsend wrote a chapter entitled, “You Can Learn to Say No.”     The context of this chapter is a person who has a life dream.   Tim Hoyt’s dream was to run in marathons.   However, his first child (a son) was born with severe disabilities.   For some time Tim and his wife considered their son as a hopeless situation.   However, it was discovered that Rick (their son), though severely handicapped physically, was very intelligent.

Rick and his dad formed “Team Hoyt.”   They have travelled extensively and have been in hundreds of marathons and triathlons all over the world.   Tim pushes Rick in an adult stroller.   Tim’s dream was fulfilled, and yet were there obstacles.   Tim had to learn to say “No” to any obstacles that stood in the way of his dream.   It has paid great dividends for himself and his son and tens of thousands around the world who know the story.   This is the story that begins this chapter.   Drs. Cloud and Townsend want us to know that we all have dreams and that we need to learn to say “No” to certain people and things that stand in our way of reaching for our life dreams.

To many of us our dream (maybe even our personal mission in life) is to help people and alleviate suffering (because we have the gift of compassion/mercy giving). However, if we are not careful, we can do more damage than good to others and we can suffer greatly to the point that we actually hurt ourselves to an extent that we can no longer help anyone.

What’s the solution?

  1.  First of all, you need to guard your heart; no one will or can do this for you (Prov.4:23).   If you don’t guard your heart, your heart can be broken, abused or damaged.   Each of us needs to take personal responsibility to guard (protect) our hearts.

The good doctors list several obstacles that block our fulfilling our dreams (e.g. technology, toxic people, negative people, envious people, controlling people, needy people [there are some needy people that we cannot help; we may need to refer them to others who can help them], and worthy but untimely opportunities)

2.  And, then the good doctors, mention one last obstacle that we all need to recognize: “your own codependency.”   Codependency is simply defined as a tendency to take too much responsibility for the problems of others.   Does this sound familiar yet?   Have you ever been accused of this?

While it is good and right to care for people, the codependent person crosses the line in relationship, the line of responsibility.   Instead of being responsible to others, the codependent person becomes responsible for them.

What’s the result?   Instead of caring and helping, you begin enabling and rescuing.   These do not empower anyone (e.g. the needy).   They only increase dependency, entitlement, and irresponsibility.   Love builds up strength and character, whereas codependency breaks them down.   Does this sound familiar? This is what is wrong with our country’s welfare system; it makes people weak and dependent and have feelings of entitlement.   It has not alleviated poverty; it has promoted it.

Codependency will take you away from your goals and dreams. It will hurt you and it will hurt those you’re trying to help.

We don’t want people sad, disappointed, unhappy, hurt, etc. So we think we have to fix everything so they aren’t these things.   We don’t want people to be uncomfortable, go without or suffer in any way.   However, we can’t make people happy or unhappy.   We can love, help, accept, empathize, advise, challenge, comfort and support.   We cannot and should not do for others what they should do for themselves.   We should not reward inappropriate decisions and behaviors.   Allow people to own their feelings and reap the consequences of their choices.

When you start saying no to your own codependency you will find yourself saying no to people you have been rescuing. You may feel guilt but you will discover more and more personal freedom and the guilt will go way.   Stay loving and caring while respecting the line of responsibility.

Learn to say “Yes” to the appropriate people at the appropriate time, and learn to say “No” in a similar manner.   Offer and give help that is truly helpful, not hurtful to you or them.   Trav

Suggested reading:

It’s Not My Fault by Doctors Cloud and Townsend

Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton

When Helping Others Hurts Them by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

When Helping You is Hurting Me by Carman Renee Berry


Burn Out: Its Stages & Prevention

Burnout-featureStages of Burnout

In July, 2003, after 30 years in fulltime pulpit ministry, I hit the wall. I had a physical, spiritual, emotional and mental experience that scared me and made me curl up into a fetal position. I burned out and it has taken years to fully recover. I share the following in hopes that no other church workers have that experience. Burn out is real and it can be prevented.

What is burn out? There are differing types of burn out.  My burn out was a result of exposure to overwhelming stress over a long period of time.   This type of burnout is dealing with more stress than a human can possibly handle.   Prospects for burn out are those who are in helping occupations and ministries.   It is sometimes called “compassion fatigue” as a result of empathy.  It occurs when a person empties him/herself in order to help others.   Those experiencing burn out have neglected themselves and in many cases they have also neglected those they love like spouses and children.

Please consider the stages of burn out (my personal experience); the first one is…


Yes, this is the first stage to burnout. When someone enters a new ministry or a new venture in life, there is expectation, anticipation, hope, enthusiasm and excitement. It is exhilarating. It is a time when one’s emotions and faith are high. It is also a time when folks around us may not understand us or comprehend why we are so excited. It can also be a time when we are not open to listen to others because of our euphoria . This stage of burnout is important because our excitement, if not handled wisely, can open us up to disappointments that create the next stage


In this stage we begin to doubt (for some reason) our original intentions or the intentions of others. This is the stage wherein a person has great (or unrealistic) expectations of  him/herself, church leaders and members.


When hope grows weak and doubt takes over, you will begin to feel fatigue with your ministry and at times even be disgusted with it. You may even experience a feeling of being trapped.

Over commitment and a personal determination to do things your way do not help this stage; they exasperate it.   In this stage I felt that I needed to do more; I felt this would resolve my fatigue.   One’s thinking is not clear and fullly rational.


The next stage is anger. When we experience adulation that is followed by doubt, fatigue and disgust, anger will follow.

Such anger can lead to bitterness and resentment; these can linger for months and years after the burnout occurs.

In order to get over any resentment, bitterness and anger, we must think through the whole process of what really occurred and be brutally honest with ourselves. I have since learned that the problem was me not someone(s) else.


When there is no resolution, apathy is the next stage. Unclear thinking and reasoning allow a person (in this downward spiral) to continue downward to apathy.

Apathy will kill any relationship or any leader. It happens in many marriages. It happens at work. It happens in the church. It is focusing on the wrong things and the wrong people.

All these stages are usually the result of an improper focus upon self and not on the Lord who is the one who ultimately empowers us and assists us in thinking clearly. With that said, however, there are legitimate times when we should step down from various ministries. We cannot be objective and clear-thinking unless we step down.

After I stepped down from my position, I still had anger and I tended to blame everyone else for my bad choices and decisions.   I have fully recovered and I will tell you that every negative thing that happened for MY fault.


It took me four years to get mentally and emotionally healthy again. I left full-time ministry in early 2004 and returned to part time preaching in 2005.  I returned to to full time ministry in late 2008 and it was not to preaching. My relationship with the Lord returned and my enthusiasm returned (notice the co-relation).  When I finally turned the whole thing over to the Lord and stopped living in the past, my healing began.


How do we prevent it? It is not enough to be involved in ministry where you are properly fitted. Your spiritual gifts, your life experiences and your passions are not enough to prevent you from burning out.

Let me suggest the following to prevent burnout:

1. Have a strong relationship with the Lord. Our enthusiasm should not come from people or even ministries; it should come from the Lord. In fact, the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek words “God in you.” If your enthusiasm is not from the Lord, you are more susceptible to the stages of burnout. Your goal should always be to please the Lord, not the brethren (see I Corinthians 4:1-4). If you try to please the brethren (which is an impossibility) you will fry. Your main relationship should be with the One who called you into ministry. He will bless your efforts. I cannot over-emphasize this point. The Lord refreshes and renews us daily if we allow Him. He should be our focus. He is the one we should seek to please. He is ultimately the One we serve.

2. When you feel like you are not receiving the support you need, verbalize it to those you feel aren’t supporting you—in a non-accusatory manner.

Don’t expect to always be appreciated and to have the full support of leadership or membership. People are people. However, there is no excuse, especially among leaders, to withhold encouragement and appreciation. You may have to be the one who teaches them this. Don’t be afraid to do so; the Lord will be with you.

3. When you experience burnout, learn from the experience and don’t repeat the same mistakes again. You will learn that God can use you in greater ways after this experience. You will be humbled and you will become more dependent upon Him.   If you haven’t experienced burnout you can learn from my experience.

4. Resign from a ministry before you get to the apathy stage. In fact, when your enthusiasm begins to wane, you need to do some self-examination (especially as it relates to your relationship with the Lord). Seek renewal then not months or years later. Take a break. Recreate yourself. Even Jesus got away from the demanding crowds from time to time. Get help before you get too far along in the burn out stages.

5. Pay attention to any warning signs. Know these stages; knowing them will help you. Other warning signs are constant fatigue, forgetfulness, cynicism/negativism or being critical of everyone and everything. Add to that list anxiety, dread, hopelessness and defeatism.

6. If you have a supportive spouse, listen to him or her! My wife attempted to talk to me; I brushed her aside (to my destruction and almost to the destruction of our relationship). I had 3 men (notice the gender here) tell me the same thing. Duh! Don’t be foolish as I was; listen to your spouse first. When others say the same thing, you can bet your spouse was right all along. Most spouses are very supportive and they hurt when they see us on a collision course.

7. Have realistic expectations. As ministers and church leaders we cannot expect people to be as “dedicated” or “committed” as we are. We cannot expect perfection and untiring devotion. This does not mean you compromise anything; it simply means you face up to reality and let the Lord do things His way in His time.

8.  Beware of the Messiah complex.   Some folks have a Messiah complex; they feel like they have to fix everybody and everything.   Carmen Renee Berry does a wonderful job of explaining this principle.   Her burn out cycle is based upon false concepts of one’s self and helping others.   Her book is When Helping You is Hurting Me.    This is an excellent read.    I find many of the things she’s says in her book would apply to me and she has challenged my thinking and has caused me to grow.

In closing, I think it is important for you to know that it took 22 years working with one congregation to get me to the point of burnout (30 years total of full time ministry). It may only take you a month or a year for you; everyone is different. However, if your thinking is faulty or you are co-dependent you are more likely to struggle with burnout in your future. Draw close to the Lord, seek wisdom, step down when you need to, humble yourself and seek wise counsel.


Suggested reading: Boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.

It’s Not My Fault by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.

Paul Tripp’s A Dangerous Calling.

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