Ministry is hard. As those who serve in ministry are often reminded, ministry was intended to be that way:
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:24–26
After all, Jesus did literally take up a cross as an act of loving service. However, it seems like sacrifice is primarily the focus of ministry in the West. Pastors, ministers, and chaplains are expected to serve without rest until they are forced to stop.
We treat ministering much like I treated a gift car in my early twenties. My grandfather gave me a car with low mileage that was made in the mid-90’s. He had meticulous records for the vehicle, but it had not been driven for almost a year. Despite a “recent” oil change (in terms of miles), he sternly warned me that it would need a new oil change as soon as possible. Like most men in their early twenties, I displayed a great amount of wisdom and humbly adhered to my elderly grandfather’s advice.
Not even close.
Without even checking the dipstick, I drove the car all the way from Southern California to Central Texas, and the car made it. Feeling confident with the knowledge that my new car still had less than 5,000 miles since its last oil change, I drove that car for several weeks, still without checking the dipstick. Then, in the most predictable ending to this story, my car started grinding and getting overheated. Once parked, the hood was opened, the dipstick was completely dry, and that vehicle never started again. At least I received a few hundred dollars to sell it as scrap.
While sacrifice is certainly a part of ministering, it is not all there is to ministering. Burnout should not be the norm. Yet how often do we neglect to check our spiritual dipstick?
Scripture as a whole rejects the idea of total burnout being the standard of effective ministering. Looking at the life of Jesus, he periodically took time away from the crowds and his disciples to connect with the Father. He even did this moments before he gave his life.
Rather, we are to take time meditating on God’s Word, enjoying the loving presence of the Trinity.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither —
whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1–3
This is the tension of ministry: living a life of sacrifice while still delighting in the Trinity and God’s Word both day and night. It’s hard to clearly define how this tension is supposed to look, but one thing that is certain: it is not supposed to look like burnout.
Ministers must frequently check their spiritual dipstick (and their car’s dipstick as well!)