Burnout appears in many different ways. It encompasses everything from physical exhaustion to deep cynicism to escape into sin. Now, you may be asking yourself why I’m addressing burnout on a blog about small groups and discipleship. Some of you are burning yourselves out, and it’s completely unnecessary. Here are some ways to beat burnout:
Start with Your Physical Health
Focus on your physical wellbeing before you focus on the emotional or spiritual part. This may seem counterintuitive. In fact some may attempt to pray away burnout as an attack of the enemy or ask for supernatural strength. God could do that, but consider how God dealt with Elijah after the showdown at Mount Carmel. Elijah slept and ate and slept and ate and repeated (1 Kings 19).
If you don’t feel good physically, you don’t feel good about anything. Your temper is shorter. Your work is twice as hard. Maybe your brain is in a fog. Now, I’m not going to give you a list of 40 things you need to do every morning to succeed, because to me just the notion of 40 more things to do dooms me to failure. In your own way, factor in these things:
Sleep. Get adequate rest. Most adults require 8-9 hours of sleep per night. I know that Elon Musk only needs 4 hours of sleep, but you aren’t Elon Musk. Put your electronics to bed an hour before your bedtime. Turn off the TV. Maybe read. Then sleep. Try to wake up without an alarm clock.
Eat. Everybody knows what’s healthy and not healthy to eat. If you need a guide, follow The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Mark Hyman. Don’t do extreme diets. Eat your vegetables. Drink water. Lay off the bad stuff. As Dr. Daniel Amen says, your brain consumes 30% of all of the calories you take in. What you eat affects how you think!
Exercise. Do something physical every day. Combine exercise with something else you like to do. I walk 150 minutes per week. When I’m walking alone, I talk to God. When I’m walking with my wife, I invest in our marriage. Don’t put this off. Don’t buy a gym membership. Don’t buy a new outfit. Don’t put a new Peloton on your credit card. Open the front door of your house and take the first step. Find an exercise video on Youtube. Do something to move every day.
Get a Check Up. Don’t skip your annual physical. If you have a concern about your body, talk to your doctor. Don’t Google it. While a physical ailment can set you back, worrying that you have a health problem also adds to your stress.
Then Move to Your Emotional Health
After you’re getting adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition, then move to your emotional health. Improving your emotional health doesn’t require a trip to the counselor’s office, but it could. Choose a couple of things from this list to focus on:
Have you laughed several times today?
How do you talk to yourself? Is it positive?
What amount of time this week did you spend living in the present?
How are you relaxing and recreating?
What is your level of cynicism? Cynicism is often repressed anger, which comes from fear.
What are you over-doing? Over-eating, over-screentiming, over-anything.
Have you forgiven the last three people who offended you?
How much is envy affecting you? Most people are depressed after using social media.
Who have you talked to about your feelings?
How can you delegate strategically? Find someone to share the load. Empower your people.
Finally, Focus on Your Spiritual Wellbeing
When people sense burnout, they immediately want to reduce their stress, which is good. But, in many ways stress is caused by your perspective. Perspective is based on spiritual things.
Make Your Requests of God.Philippians 4:6-7 is my power verse for beating burnout. (It might be my life verse).
Honor the Sabbath. God worked for six days in creation, then rested. You are not better than God. For pastors and church staff, Sunday is not your Sabbath. Designate a day to rest from your work. Spend time with your family and friends. Relax. If you can’t manage a full day, start with half of a Sabbath.
Manage Your Expectations. I would never accuse a pastor of laziness. That’s why I’m writing an article on burnout. While you want to fully give yourself to the cause of Christ, Jesus will build His church. While you might consider your effort as diligence and faithfulness, you have to be careful that it’s not really co-dependency. Do you need to be needed? If you do, then you have to ask yourself: “Who is this about?”
Make a Joyful Noise. Sing praise to God. You can sing in worship services. You can sing with Youtube videos. I keep an old hymnal handy. Singing praise will lift your mood and your perspective.
Repent. Confess your sin to God and turn from it. Don’t try to justify or excuse it. Get rid of it. “Confess your sins to one another that you might be healed” (James 5:16). If you could stop on your own, you would have stopped. Break the power of sin in your life, which is the secret. Tell somebody. Call somebody. Confess to an Uber driver. Break it today.
Practice the Presence of God. Remind yourself that God is always with you. Thank Him for every little thing you can be thankful for as you go through your day. Stop and ask for wisdom when you need it. God is with you.
I’ve heard people say, “I would rather burnout than rust out.” I don’t think either ending is good. I believe God intends for you to wear out gradually.
Start with your physical wellbeing: Sleep, eating, and exercise. Start today. Don’t make a big plan. Just get going.
I must admit. I’ve never had a one night stand. But, I have offered them in a way over the years to the church.
Here’s what I’m getting at — church events are often one night stands, so to speak. These are conferences and seminars, retreats and even worship services. You get people all pumped up. You move people to a decision or commitment. People leave filled with hope only to run directly into real life. Decision is the first step to making a change, but change requires further steps to actually happen.
A classic example is the Promise Keepers movement in the 1990’s. The dynamic of bringing tens of thousands of men together in a stadium was truly inspiring. Every man pledged to be a better husband, father, brother, and son…and they really wanted to. I really wanted to. Before long, Promise Keepers inevitably became promise breakers. There were some exceptions. The issue centered around the lack of a plan. There was no next step for the men to take in order to keep those promises. This isn’t just my observation. This is the conclusion Randy Phillips, the former president of Promise Keepers, reached.
Should churches stop doing events?
Events are powerful. Women’s conferences, Men’s retreats, Marriage conferences, worship services — all of these things can be powerful catalysts for life change — but events alone do not produce transformation. Every dieter and debtor can attest to this.
Imagine the wife who has been longing for her marriage to improve. Her husband decides they should attend the church’s marriage conference. They have a great weekend. He aspires to be the godly husband she needs. She pledges to be the godly wife. The conference ends and things are different for a little while. Eventually, old patterns and routines begin to emerge. While they aspired for more, they are programmed for less. The marriage conference didn’t produce lasting change. In fact, it produced a great deal of frustration for both husband and wife.
To answer the question — if churches offer only standalone events with no next steps, then they should stop doing events. Decisions without deliberate steps lead to defeat.
Turn Wishful Thinking into Willful Action
For every event a church plans, you must ask the question: What’s the next step? Decisions without steps and support lead to discouragement and failure. This is why so many people in your church are faking it — they don’t want anyone to know that they aren’t as together as they appear. They know what they’re supposed to be. They’re just not that good. None of us are, really.
You may not have any influence over what events are offered at your church, but you are not helpless. Look at every event, every retreat, every conference, and every service as an opportunity to offer a next step. What is your church promoting right now?
A financial series — offer Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.
A marriage conference — Does the speaker have a book or a study to start groups?
A parenting seminar — Start groups with parents at various stages.
A weekend service — Create a sermon discussion guide (maybe with a short video).
You get the picture.
If you are responsible for these events, then you can insist on a next step. If you’re not, then you could certainly recommend one, and even offer to run it.
Is your church offering spiritual one night stands? If you are not capitalizing on the decisions and momentum of an event to create groups for lasting change, then you are squandering a great opportunity (and frustrating your people). Aren’t you ready to see lasting change?
Love God and love your neighbors. In the Great Commandment, Jesus boiled 613 commands down to these two. He went on to say, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40, NIV). In other words, if Jesus’ followers do anything, they should focus on these two things. The Neighboring Life focuses on the second commandment in order to follow the first one.
Who is My Neighbor?
The act of taking time to learn a neighbor’s name demonstrates obedience to Jesus’ command. Once a believer knows their neighbor’s name, then they can pray for their neighbor. Pray for their lives, their families, their jobs, and even an opportunity to get to know them better.
Neighboring is also serving next door neighbors. By offering a helping hand, often the next step is offering a listening ear. “We love our neighbors because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make them Christians,” says Rick Rusaw and Brian Mavis, co-authors of The Neighboring Church. “We need to stop hijacking the endgame with other things. It happens so subtly. We love our neighbors so they will go to church. We love our neighbors so they will join our small group…Those motives turn people to be loved into projects to be directed…People will know when they are a project.”
The Neighboring Life is the creation of Rick Rusaw, Brian Mavis, and the team at LifeBridge Christian Church, Longmont, CO. Built on the foundation of The Externally-Focused Church, co-authored by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson (Group Publishing 2004), LifeBridge along with many other churches, has sought to transition ministry from missional, community-wide, Service Day approaches to a more granular form of ministry. Rather than donning matching t-shirts, serving for one day, and making local headlines, The Neighboring Life is a daily, personal experience with one’s neighbors. More importantly, it adds the relationship component to serving.
“The bridge between being missional and incarnational is relationship,” according to Scott Campbell, The Ascent Church, Colorado Springs, CO. “You can be missional without being relational. You can’t be incarnational without relationship: ‘love neighbors as you love yourself.’”
“For years [LifeBridge Church] had been getting into the stream of our community to serve. A city employee asked if we would take care of a woman’s yard for her. I said I would look at the situation and get back to her,” said Brian Mavis. “As I was driving up, I spotted the house from blocks away. They weren’t exaggerating. The grass was almost as tall as I was. I knocked on the door and a woman in her young thirties answered. Standing next to her was a little girl. I learned that this woman had recently survived stage-four cancer, and she was taking care of the nine-year-old girl, who was in foster care. This woman was tearful and embarrassed about her yard, but she said her health prevented her from trying to take care of it.
“My heart broke for her, and I was happy that our church was going to help her. I gathered a dozen people and they brought their own equipment. A few hours later we had the yard looking almost as good as new. We came back the next week to put down some mulch. We prayed for the homeowner, and we felt great about what we had done. I was proud of our people, and I was glad the city knew they could call us and count on us to take care of it.
“Over the next year, I called the woman a couple of times to see how she was doing. After the second call, while I was silently congratulating myself, the Holy Spirit said, ‘This is nothing to be proud of. This should never have even happened.’ I immediately knew the full meaning of this gentle rebuke by God. The woman’s grass should never have grown more than six inches tall.”
What should have been done differently? “First,” said Mavis, “I wouldn’t just ask a dozen people from our church. Instead, I would look to see who lived near her. We have several families within a couple blocks of her house. I would’ve called them and asked them to help me help their neighbor. Then I thought I would go one better. I would ask them to help me, but I would also ask them to knock on their neighbors’ doors, no matter if they were Christian or not, and invite them to join in helping this woman…If the church had done a better job of helping our people learn to love their neighbors, then I never would’ve received a phone call from the city in the first place…For years our church was serving the community, but were we loving our neighbors?”
A dilapidated house or an unkempt yard are easily recognizable signs of a family in crisis. But, not all needs are revealed from the curb. Needs are revealed as neighbors are known. Since neighboring is not a program and neighbors aren’t projects, the focus on neighboring is more of a spiritual discipline than a ministry initiative. Neighboring is moving life from the backyard to the front yard. It’s taking time for a neighbor when they are outside. The heart of neighboring is putting others ahead of oneself.
Neighboring requires no special talent. Anyone can be a neighbor. Neighboring does require a shift in thinking for pastoral leadership. Emphasis is given on scattering equal to the emphasis on gathering. This is not to discount the value of gathering, but to balance receiving and giving.
Stay, Pray, Play, and Say
Neighboring almost seems to harken back to years gone by when neighbors knew everyone and helped each other. It was the norm. Today, the norm is cellphones, garage door openers, and quiet streets in neighborhoods. Neighboring requires intentional effort.
The practices of neighboring are simple, yet significant. They can be summoned up in four words: Stay, Pray, Play, and Say. Stay means being available to get to know one’s neighbors. It’s stopping to talk to a neighbor instead of hitting the garage door button. Maybe it means sitting on the front porch instead of the back porch. Pray means praying for neighbors. Praying for both neighbors who are known and those who are unknown. Praying for opportunities to connect and serve. Play is offering hospitality to neighbors from dinner invitations to backyard barbecues to small scale events. The fourth word is say. When the opportunity arises, Christian neighbors are prepared to share Christ with their fellow neighbors. This isn’t the completion of the “project.” This is the start of a new journey.
Once pastors and staff have some experience with neighboring, the entire church can be engaged with The Neighboring Life study and companion video used as a church-wide campaign, group study, or individual study. These resources are available at TheNeighboringLife.com.
Jacob & Mary Alice: An Unlikely Pair
Ever since his wife’s death, 80-year-old Jacob called his neighbor, Mary Alice, regularly. Somehow Mary Alice had broken the ice with this self-proclaimed “crotchety old Jewish man who doesn’t make friends easily.” The two were quite a pair in the neighborhood: a mom of two teenagers chatting the ear off the grumpy old man.
When Jacob’s number came up on caller ID, she answered it, but on this evening, when she picked up the phone Jacob wasn’t talking but she could hear difficulty in his breathing. Rushing over to his house, she found Jacob at the bottom of the stairs and quickly called 911. The paramedic in the ambulance, the emergency room receptionist, the technicians drawing blood, and the doctor all asked her, “Are you his daughter?”
“No, I am just his neighbor” she answered every time, as she kept Jacob calm and answered their questions about his past medical history. As Mary Alice left the emergency room after Jacob was fully stabilized, the doctor asked her with a smile, “Will you be MY neighbor?”
Neighboring requires no special talent. There are no scripts or methods to follow. The heart of neighboring is taking an interest in one’s neighbors. Pastors can start their own neighboring movements by encouraging their members to take a few minutes to talk to their neighbors when they see them outside. This might be an introduction to a new neighbor or a bit of an apology for living next door for so long and having never met. This shouldn’t be embarrassing. It should be a start.
As churches embrace neighboring, any step toward a neighbor: a conversation, a meal, a prayer, or an act of service should be celebrated. What pastors tell stories about will cast vision to their congregations.
If pastors are ready to get serious about neighboring, then some tough questions must be answered – How can you be the best church for your community rather than just the best church in your community? What if you got better at the two things Jesus said mattered the most – loving God and loving your neighbor? How can the church put equal energy into scattering into the community as they do gathering for weekend worship services?
If your members move out of their neighborhoods, would they be missed?
How do you make a disciple? If you don’t know how, you may be living in disobedience.
Jesus in the Great Commission told us, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV).
This is one of those passages we’ve read so often that we don’t really think about it anymore. It’s become, “Yada, yada, yada” to us. Let’s pause for a minute to answer our question about how to make disciples.
If we share the Gospel with someone, and they pray to receive Christ (or whatever vernacular your theological tradition dictates), have you made a disciple or a convert? Are they the same thing? It seems that a disciple must be a convert, but could a convert not be a disciple? Let’s look at the “recipe” for making disciples.
Baptism is in there. Whether you dunk, sprinkle, or pour is determined, again, by your theological tradition. Get them wet. Step one.
Now, here’s the kicker, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice the wording here. Jesus did not say, “teaching them…everything I have commanded you.” He said, “teaching them to obey.” That just upped the ante. Just teaching them doesn’t guarantee obedience.
When I studied Christian Education in seminary, we learned a lot about outcomes. Do we want the student to have a change in knowledge, attitude, or behavior? The default tends to aim us toward a change in knowledge. It’s easy to portion. It’s easy to measure.
How many verses have you memorized? How many chapters have you read? Do you read through the Bible every year? How many classes did you attend? We can measure these things. But, if this is the sum of our disciplemaking, then we are either assuming what we are teaching is sinking in, or we are offering a placebo for making disciples.
As D.L. Moody once said, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” Why? The Bible tells us, “Knowledge puffs up, while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). If the end result of our Bible studies and classes is a group of people who are proud of their biblical knowledge, then we have missed the mark. Unless we have to win “Bible Jeopardy” to enter the pearly gates, what good is more information doing for anyone? After all, some students of the Bible are not longing for transformation, they are Bible connoisseurs searching for something new to learn.
Howard Hendricks took things a little further when he stated, “In the spiritual realm, the opposite of ignorance is not knowledge, it’s obedience.” Now, we go back to the words of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Discipleship is more than “book learnin’.”
A disciple is more than just a brain. Sometimes we learn to obey when we serve. Other times we learn to obey by processing strong emotions. When was the last time you poured high voltage chemicals into a low voltage situation? Why did you react that way? Did it trigger something? Did you slow down long enough to process it?
I’m not against education. I do have a few problems with how we make disciples. As a whole being, we worship and love God with our whole selves. Why can’t we learn to obey that way as well?
In looking at effective discipleship methods, I have found something new that’s actually very old. Mizizi was brought over from Kenya by Kenton Beeshore and Mariners Church in California. Known in English as “Rooted,” it focuses on experiential learning. There are large group experiences, small group experiences, daily reflection, and dedicated times of prayer, serving, and celebration. The ideas practiced in Rooted go back to the First Century church, the Moravians, the Celtics, and the early Wesleyans. Rooted is a non-Western approach at making disciples, and it’s working.
Mariners Church has seen 90 percent of their Rooted participants continue in on-going Life Groups. They are also serving more (70%) and have increased their generosity (82%). But, beyond statistics, the personal stories of life change are remarkable. There is something to the rhythms of a variety of experiences in making disciples and teaching them to obey.
Making disciples could never be summed up in one blog post, not even close. There will be more. I hope you would leave a few thoughts of your own in the comments. Please understand often the way I state things is to provoke people to think, including myself. If I’ve provoked you, please let me know.
Pastor Kenton Beshore and Mariners Church started something six years ago that intrigues me.
I’m more than a little leery when a ministry presents a new strategy which they claim is the best thing since sliced bread. (I also wonder what the best thing was before sliced bread). I’ve been in ministry for a long time. I preached my first sermon 34 years ago. I’ve been part of the small group movement for the last 20 years. It’s not that I’m old — I’m only 51 and I have a two year old — I was called to ministry early in life.
There have been so many faddish things over the years. Some of them produced temporary results. Some produced no results. Just a few produced lasting results. I’m talking everything from the launch of bus ministry to the introduction of praise music to the comfort of seeker services to the impact of church-wide campaigns. Each one of those basically claimed their own decade from the 1970’s on.
People were saved. Churches grew. Impact was made. But, then they disappeared. Some strategies and ministry ideas had a much shorter shelf-life.
So, now that you understand my jaded, skeptical point of view, you can certainly understand why I very rarely endorse anything. I want to see how it plays out. Is this just the next new shiny thing that we pastors tend to chase after? Is this an attempt to copycat what’s working somewhere else in hopes it will work here? Then, I get real honest — is somebody just out to make a buck?
My Introduction to the Rooted Experience.
About nine months ago, Caleb Anderson, Lead Pastor of Mariners Church, Huntington Beach, CA, introduced me to Rooted. I was blown away. It’s not a program. It’s not merely a curriculum. It’s a catalyst that produces dramatic transformation. He had my attention, but I did go to school in Missouri, so he needed to show me.
Then, I began to hear story after story of transformed lives. People coming to Christ. Marriages saved. Addictions forsaken. Bodies and minds completely healed. Lives and finances surrendered to God. But, here’s the most intriguing thing — all of this was happening over a 10 week experience. Now, I really had to see this to believe it.
I was part of the Rooted Training in November of last year and met churches of many denominations, sizes, and locations who were telling similar stories. I’ve spent the last month on the phone with pastors from across the country talking about how lives are transformed, congregations are emboldened, and communities are impacted because of a simple 10 week experience in Rooted. My doubts were quickly erased.
What a Kenyan Church Taught Kenton Beshore about Discipleship
In partnership with a Kenyan church, Kenton Beshore was introduced to a non-Western, experiential learning process which was seeing dramatic transformations in Africa. Having exhausted many means of discipleship, assimilation, and church growth in the U.S., Kenton thought, “Why not bring Rooted (or Mizizi in Swahili) to Mariners?” The results have been remarkable.
After six years of leading the congregation of Mariners Church through Rooted, 90 percent of Rooted groups have gone on to become on-going Life Groups at Mariners Church with 90 percent of the group members continuing in the Life Groups. Rooted graduates have increased their giving by 82 percent and 70 percent have increased their serving. Now, imagine those kinds of results in your church.
Here’s the thing about Rooted, if you just perused the curriculum, you would probably find it fairly unremarkable in and of itself. In fact, at first glance it appears fairly uncomplicated, and yet those who have completed the 10 week Rooted journey have discovered the experience is bold, focused, and powerful. They have seen health in their members, their churches, and their ministries unlike what they’ve seen before.
Like I said, I am leery of new shiny things. But in Rooted, I have found something so remarkable and so special that I actually joined the Rooted Team for a season. And, I’m still a huge advocate.