Burnout Is A Myth!

Four Questions That Confront The Excuse

Pastor Matt Anderson
Let me come right out and say it: I don’t believe in burnout. Yes, people get tired, disillusioned, or apathetic within a season of life, but burnout has become a catch-all diagnosis for the exhaustion that stems from manageable and preventable issues.
I’ve seen colleagues, bosses, and volunteers cite burnout as the reason of their present detachment. I’ve watched incredibly gifted people play the burnout card as a substitute for confronting reality, leaving few alternatives to disengagement. People quit their jobs, lose their faith, leave their families, change careers, or avoid volunteering because of burnout.
But I aint buyin’ it.
I reject burnout as some kind of terminal psychological disorder that leaves one paralyzed from the heart up. I reject the option-less reality created whenever this demon rears his ugly head. And I recommend four simple questions as an alternative route to the burnout exit ramp:

1. Am I trying to pump new wine into old wineskins?

The message of Jesus could not be understood within His listeners’ prior framework of life, politics, or faith. His “new wineskins” imagery challenged them to trade these antiquated system of living and thinking for a new one (Mark 2:22). This is sound advice for embracing the Gospel, which is simply too large to fit into our former frames of reference, but it’s also practical wisdom for thriving in a new chapter of life. Life change always demands an upgrade in our operating system.
But humans struggle to acknowledge our finitude. We spend more than we have. Our digital devices tempt us to believe that we can be in multiple places at once when in reality we’re only partially present in one place. We hate RSVP’ing because commitment limits our ability to do it all. And when new opportunities come, we fail to capitalize because of prior engagements. So instead of enjoying a new chapter of life, we try to cram it into the old one and get overwhelmed. In short, burnout is the feeling we get when new wine explodes from of old skins.

We need to stop trying to do it all, because we can’t. Obviously. We’ve got to prioritize around what’s most important. We need to say no to good things in order to say yes to great things. You may need to put the phone down, plan two camping trips instead of thirteen, redo your budget, let go of the past, or generally give yourself a break from the addiction to busyness. If we don’t, we’ll burst from of our inability to reprioritize around God’s future and blame it on “burn out.”


2. Am I expressing my gifts and serving beyond them?

Our human limitations also relate to our giftedness, as God created us to operate in certain areas of aptitude. This forces us to rely upon and collaborate with those who are differently gifted, knitting us together in an interdependent community. When we take on significant and long-term responsibilities outside of our giftedness or fail to develop our gifts, we become tired quickly and feel burned out.

At the same time, mature people should be able to step outside of their giftedness for about 30% of the time in order to lend a hand or pitch in for the greater good. If you claim burnout because you pass out bulletins twice a month, you’re probably underutilizing your gifts elsewhere, which gives you little bandwidth for operating outside of your gifts in yet another setting. We should be serving and working in an areas of competency for a majority of the time (roughly 70%), but we shouldn’t avoid the other stuff or we’ll miss out on life. Be adaptable within healthy boundaries, and you shouldn’t get overwhelmed.


3. Am I passive aggressive?

We often get “burned out” because of relationship strain. We may like our work, have good time management, and operate out of our giftedness, but if we don’t manage the conflict that naturally arises with our teammates, we begin to long for an escape. Passive aggressive people fail to confront issues, choosing political battles, gossip, or self-pity over direct conversation. Unmanaged conflict is incredibly exhausting, and you won’t last long if you don’t handle issues directly.

Jesus cuts through the fog and makes it simple: If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you (Matt 18:15). Don’t get “burned out” by skipping this simple step, or passive aggressive behavior will create mountains in front of you that could have been mole hills behind you.


4. What did I expect?

In marriage as in life, expectations are key. If you expected a marriage with no disagreements, financial struggles, or health problems, you’re probably quite thrown off when they occur. If you feel entitled to a life without rejection, hardship, or hard work, you’ll eventually get blown away and burned out by reality.


Most of us need to adjust our expectations, because quite frankly, they’re usually quite childish. Jesus’ followers expected places of honor beside him rather than roles of service behind him. They demanded authority, titles, or positions that would stroke their egos rather than bless the lost, and so he constantly tried to reset their expectations in ways like this:


You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:25-28).


It’s time to reset your expectations, Jesus tells us. Expect to serve and lead as a lifestyle. Expect to make a difference in the world rather than expecting the world to revolve around you. You’ll never be happy or satisfied until you embrace this lifestyle, because I made you for it. Anything less will leave you “burned out.”


Matt Anderson is the Lead Pastor of Surprise Church in Bismarck, ND, where he lives with his wife, Lacee and their three children. He’s also the author of Running Mate, a political thriller.