Ask yourself, “Why am I in ministry?” Most of us are here, not because of a single mind-blowing worship experience, but because our hearts were quietly, over time, nurtured by the Holy Spirit. There is a Way of the spirit which we simply desire more of. There is a Way that is more compelling than riches, or the fleeting entertainments of this world. How many of in our church or place of service might be compelled by the same motivation? If the number is as low as a dozen, from out of the hundreds that we break bread with, are these people too few to be considered? What if we shaped our ministry towards increasing this number? What if, for the sake of authenticity, we commit ourselves to not exceed any religious authority that isn’t justified by our own personal experience of God?
Think of a lab rat running a maze for some scientific experiment. Early on, it discovered the most wonderful cheese. Now it is committed to learn and run complicated patterns for the sake of this cheese. Then the institution begins to randomly withdraw this cheese from the maze. What do you, or the poor mouse, do? Run faster! I define burnout as the spiritual state of a church leader who continues to run the maze of institutional expectations and job requirements, but has given up all hope of ever finding cheese.
Burnout is too narrow a term for this difficulty. The biblical expression is that we have grown weary while doing good, and that we have lost heart. Paul, in the sixth chapter of Galatians, displays his concern for the internal attitude of those that work in the church. He compares us to farmers who have a choice as to what seed we plant. Paul says that we should be deeply respectful of the organic process that sustains our spirituality. Today we speak of farmers being stuck in a system where they must plant genetically modified corn and then use Round-up to control their weeds. To do that which looks prudent on the outside, but we know in our hearts to be wrong, wearies the soul.