September is back-to-school time. But kids aren’t the only ones whose schedules gear up. Summer vacations are a memory. Businesses focus on projects that languished over the summer. Churches mobilize their ministry programs. Families turn their attention from vacations to home repairs and major purchases. Stay-at-home moms think about returning to the workplace to help pay the bills.
If that isn’t enough, toss in the holidays. Halloween is just around the bend. Thanksgiving a mere four weeks later. Then there’s the final lap into Christmas and New Year’s day. Four months of non-stop activity with barely a moment to catch our breath.
September isn’t just another month on the calendar. It’s the starting line for a marathon through the busiest four months of the year.
September is also when I return to my annual Bible study teaching commitment. Nine months of teaching a weekly class of 180+ women. Nine months of training a group of leaders to lead in their respective roles. Nine months of study and preparation, followed by a three month break, only to start again the following September.
It’s easy to feel like a ministry machine or a plane on autopilot. It’s also easy for the leaders who work with me to think about passing on their commitment. A smaller commitment with a smaller bite out of their schedules looks very attractive whenever we face a new year.
Maybe you’re also thinking about stepping away from a commitment you’ve made as you face a new ministry year. Before you do, keep reading.
I’ve learned from experience that combating ministry burnout is a combination of stepping out and leaning in. But the stepping out isn’t what you might think. Consider these ten steps to turn ministry burnout into ministry joy:
1. Step out of ministry motivated by guilt.
Lean in to ministry motivated by gratitude.
- “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28 ESV).
2. Step out of serving on autopilot.
Lean in to being intentional about ministry activity.
- “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1).
3. Step out of seeing ministry as a task.
Lean in to focusing on the people for whom Christ died.
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
4. Step out of cutting corners to make ministry convenient.
Lean in to remembering who you really serve.
- “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Ephesians 6:7).
5. Step out of coasting on past Bible study or studying only in preparation to lead.
Lean in to a daily time of refreshing as you meet God in His Word.
- “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
6. Step out of criticism for those who lead you in ministry.
Lean in to praying daily for your leaders, for God to equip and direct them.
- “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).
7. Step out of thinking that what you are sharing applies only to other people.
Lean in to applying what you are sharing so that you are learning what you teach.
- “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
8. Step out of allowing ministry to consume you.
Lean in to being a good steward of your health and your family.
- “The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights…” (I Kings 19:7-8).
9. Step out of drawing on your own reserves.
Lean in to depending on God to strengthen you for your task.
- “God, the Lord, is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:19 ESV).
10. Step out of pride.
Lean in to humility.
- “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 ESV).
Of course, God knows we’re often motivated by reward, so He has that covered, too. He tells us so through the writer of Hebrews:
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work
and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people
and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10 NIV).
Following these ten steps (and remembering the reward, too!) helps me maintain contagious joy in ministry and strengthens me for the privilege of serving the Savior who first served us. May they be as helpful to you as they are to me.