Burn Out Burnout: An Open Letter to Leaders
by Gary Molander
The following letter is written from a church volunteer who asked to remain nameless.
By telling his own story, I pray it impacts the way we lead and the way we love:
I’d been serving in church for most of my adult life: worship ministry, teaching, children’s, youth. I’ve served on platforms and behind-the-scenes. I’ve sacrificed my weekends and evenings. I’ve served as an elder, and I’ve grilled hot dogs at the youth fundraiser.
But I woke up one morning, and realized a lingering resentment toward the church was beginning to grow into full-scale anger. When I began sharing these feelings with a close friend, my friend suggested I might be burned out.
He was right.
Over the next year, I backed out of every commitment at my church. I ended up leaving my church.
Why I Burned Out
Most leaders seem to believe burnout is nothing more than being tired and needing to be replaced.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In my situation, burnout wasn’t about being tired but about being recruited into ministry positions for which I was not well-suited.
Burnout was the worst experience of my life—more difficult than marriage or child-raising; even more difficult than the death of dearly loved family members. I don’t have any answers for pastors. I only know it took me five years to begin to actively re-engage in communal church life.
What Burnout Did to Me
Below, I’ve listed what burnout caused me to do, to think and to believe. It’s not pretty, but it’s real. I’m not blaming anyone or anything—I’m only reading my journal to you.
Burnout caused me to question everything—God, Jesus, the Bible, the cross, the resurrection. Everything.
Burnout caused me to question myself. During that five-year period, I’ve never felt like less of a child, like less of a beloved son. During that time, I identified myself as a failure more than any other identity.
Burnout caused me to seek and engage a Christian counselor.
Burnout caused me to become cynical of church leaders.
Burnout developed a hardening of my heart, even toward the people who are near to the heart of God—the poor, the downcast, the voiceless.
Two Thoughts about Preventing Burnout
I’m not an expert, so to try and give pastors an easy answer to this problem isn’t something I’m comfortable doing. But there are two things that need to be said.
First, please make sure your volunteers know you love them beyond the tasks they perform for your church.
Most church volunteers secretly believe their value to church leaders lies in their performance. Please help us put that false belief to rest. Or, if it’s true of you, please have a come-to-Jesus meeting.
Second, please help us find and discover the most well-suited ministry positions for us, not for you.
I know church leaders have “holes” in their ministries, but I don’t want to fill a “hole.” I want to impact the world. Please don’t use me to make your job easier, and call that “equipping.” Help me discover what I’m uniquely gifted to perform, then provide me with an opportunity to perform that thing.
I promise you—if you help me discover where I fit, and if you love me well, I won’t burn out.
As I’ve said before, there is no blame here. It’s more my fault than anyone’s. I’ve worked through these issues of burnout, and I’m once-again actively involved in the life of a local church. I’m now stronger than ever, and God has taken something the Enemy meant for harm, and has turned it into good.