Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Burn on, or burn out?

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on April 25, 2011 at 5:32 am

Mark 6:31 And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.

I have recently heard about several pastors who have become burned out by the intensity and demands of the pastorate; and as a result, they have left the ministry.  They were emotionally and physically exhausted to the point of inability to carry on.

This is not just a problem for pastors.  Many people feel themselves reaching the breaking point with the demands and expectations that they are under while serving God in the ministries which they have volunteered for.

However, we often hear well meaning people telling us that we need to be more dedicated, more sacrificing of our time and money, and more intense in our service to God than we are.

So the question that we must answer is this: At what level of intensity should I serve Christ and His people?  At what level of self-sacrifice, at what level of investment of time, at what level of personal effort – in short, at what level of all that the Word calls me to do?

Clearly, we need to serve at a level that is sustainable over the long term.  It is far better to burn on in service to Christ, than to burn out in service to Christ.  His desire is to employ people in His service, not to destroy them in His service.  Total exhaustion and collapse in His service is not His will.  There is a point at which service needs to stop and we need to come aside and rest a while.

What constitutes a sustainable level of service is going to be different for each person based on personality differences, spiritual maturity, emotional makeup, physical health, age, the presence or absence of a marriage partner, giftedness, and a great number of other factors.

Not everyone can be at the same level.  I have to serve at the level that by God’s grace I am capable of, and not pass judgment on the level at which others function.  I should not feel worthless because others do more than I, nor should I feel superior because I do more than others.

Some will have one talent of capacity, some three talents, and some five talents.  It is God’s sovereignty that determines what our capabilities are.  Ratcheting up my level of service to some unsustainable high pitch will not change that.  It will only set me up for collapse.

The hyper-dedication urged by some may be attractive at first, especially to those with sensitive consciences.  After all, what real Christian does not want to do more and be more for Christ?

Those who have survived on the battlefield of Christian service for a long time know better than to fall into that trap.  They know who they are and what they are capable of in the long haul based on the grace that God has given to them; and they function there steadily year after year, knowing that they cannot do more, and knowing that they must not do less.

This is not complacency, nor is it satisfaction with something less than what Christ has enabled us to do or be.  It is just the realization that it is His will for us that we are going to be limited and finite in our capacity to serve Him all the days of our lives.

Let us then do the best Christ has enabled us to do, recognizing that one person’s best will be different from another’s.  Let us not compare ourselves among ourselves, as the unwise do.

There are many hands available to do the work of God.  We are not called to do it all ourselves. God will raise up others to do what we cannot, and we must leave His work in His hands to get done as He sees fit.  He will see to it that all that needs to get done is accomplished, if not by you, then by others He will raise up.

And what does not get done, was not meant to be done, otherwise God would have seen to it that it was done.  In that, we can find peace.

Pastor Max Doner
Sovereign Grace Bible Church
Lebanon, Oregon
  1. Well said Pastor Max!

  2. Pastor Max,

    Thank you. Well said. I am trying to learn the same balance both in my practice and preaching (i.e. not chiding the mother of 5 little ones for not knocking on doors).

    It was such a blessing to me when I realized I was neither Brainerd, Whitefield, or M’Cheyne.

    Joel Beeke once told me at PRTS that I needed to be “the best me.” This was good advice. I may never cross the Atlantic 13 times. Preach to tens of thousands. Preach a two hour sermon then die.

    But by the grace of God, I will be “the best me.”

  3. I am so thankful for my pastors and the service they render. I pray for them daily, not only for them but for their families. If their families are well, they don’t have that burdon of worry. Yes, I do believe each Pastor must judge for himself what he can do and what is too much. Support from the congregation helps, too. I pray we do support our pastors in that way, too.

  4. Pastor Max,
    This is very well said. I especially appreciate what you said about us each having different levels at which we are called to serve. As a young pastor I took way too much time away from my family doing things that were “expected” but not necessary. On the other hand there are many of us who are in that season of life when our children are grown, when we have valuable ministry experience and still enjoy good health, who may be called to serve in more extraordinary ways than we could when we had more family obligations, who perhaps should be more ready to move out of our comfort zone. (Some of the comforts of this time of life can be very comfortable indeed.) We each need to seek the wisdom that the Lord gives to know what it means for us to do neither more nor less than He calls us, in His strength, to do.

  5. Justin,

    “May we not make excuses for our lack of service, by creating a Sunday-only religion of excuse making.”

    I do not know your present station in life, but, let me assume for a minute you are a sole elder in a local church of 50-80 members and father of 5-7 small children. When it comes to dividing your time between these and the world (that is, lost sinners), you need wisdom.

    A man does not cease being a husband and father when he becomes an elder. He must look after himself, his home, church, and world (I suggest in that order).

    No one is advocating a “Sunday-only religion.” But instead a realistic and balanced religion where all responsibilities are addressed in proper proportion and with understanding of individual gifts.

    This seems rather evident to me. But who am I? I’m just a sole elder of a church with 55 members, father of 5 small children, and a man surrounded by a world of lost sinners.

  6. Thank you for this wise and sensible counsel.

  7. Well said Mike.

  8. Thank you, Max. Well said. Woe be to the lazy preacher, we would all agree. But woe to the preacher who operates out of GUILT. And woe to that preacher who then pushes that guilt onto his congregation. We labor, work and preach the gospel. God changes hearts — and we must never forget that.

  9. “I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it.” Martin Luther

  10. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I found the balance you gave to be very helpful as did many of my friends. I posted a link on my Facebook wall and a friend saw it and posted it on her wall. I also sent it to people in my church and several wrote back to tell me how much it helped them and one lady said she was going to share it with her homeschooling group. So I just wanted to let you know that a number of people have found it a timely word and that it is getting passed around. Thank you again.

  11. Heather – Thank You!

  12. Hi Max,

    We had a Deacons/Elders meeting last night. We always start with a devotion. I read this article to encourage our men to keep working hard — but keep persepective as they work. Well said, Max!

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