Getting Burned: Worse Than Burnout

Getting Burned: Worse Than Burnout

November 5, 2014 by

Getting burnt out while working in a church is bad enough, but getting burned is a horrible experience. Transition is natural in our work, but when it happens in churches the result is often relational explosions that hurt people in their wake. These situations can get downright ugly. So how do you live through getting burned and not lose your faith?

Four years ago, I was asking myself that very question. Fresh out of college, I had agreed to move a few hours away from home to help my longtime pastor start a new church.

“God doesn’t love you because you work endless hours at a church. He loves you because he created you.”

Two years into the experience, I was burned out and knew my time in that particular ministry had come to an end. It was my choice to leave, but the transition process was out of my control. It left me feeling used, pushed out, unappreciated and hurt.

I moved away hardly on speaking terms with the pastor and his family. I was angry not just towards him, but towards the local church in general. “They’re all going to let me down eventually,” was my mantra.

I landed in Nashville, certain it would be some time before I called a church home again and even longer before I was ready to serve in one. But God had other plans.

“Trust that God is bigger than anything said with the intent to hurt or harm.”

It didn’t take long before I was rooted in another church community and taking on responsibility with the creative department. It also didn’t take long until I was once again burned out and feeling used and unappreciated. All I could see was how I felt I was being wronged. It was someone else’s fault. I was the victim.

With some space, perspective and a bit of growth, I now see how much my own actions had a hand in the situation. On the other side, I know that just because a church isn’t for me doesn’t mean it’s not a faithful, life-changing, godly church.

Relational hurt is painful, but in the context of a church family, it is especially so. If I could go back in time and talk to myself as I walked through the flames, there would be a few things I’d say:

Find Safe Community

You probably feel like your world is crashing down around you and it very well may be. Feelings of failure and burnout tempt us to isolate ourselves. But one of the most healing things you can do during these times is find a safe community to rest in and be vulnerable with. Find people who will speak truth and encouragement to you in order to combat the lies floating in the back of your mind.

Practice Grace and Mercy

We talk a lot about grace—giving someone what they don’t deserve. But we often ignore mercy. Mercy is extremely important in many of these church blow-up situations. Not only is it important to show mercy to those who have hurt you, but it’s equally, if not more important, to show yourself grace and mercy. Love yourself as God loves you. Believe that he is bigger than any mistakes you may have made. Believe that being fired or let go from church ministry has no bearing on your status as his beloved child.

Choose to Trust

This one is difficult—trusting someone who you feel has hurt you or let you down is always hard. But choosing trust will allow us to handle these situations with integrity. Trust that leadership has the best intentions. Trust that God is bigger than anything said with the intent to hurt or harm. Putting the best construction on the situation isn’t being naïve—it’s being biblical. I believe God honors that.

Refocus your Identity

When you work in ministry, it’s especially easy to wrap your identity into your calling and job. They are so intimately connected and woven together, it’s hard to identify that they are not the same. God doesn’t love you because you work endless hours at a church. He loves you because he created you. Your failure does not change your identity as his child. Use this crisis to refocus your identity and be sure it’s rooted in his never-changing grace.

Take a Step Back

It’s OK to be on the way to somewhere. Discovering that full-time church staff ministry isn’t for you doesn’t make you a failure. It doesn’t mean your role in the kingdom is any less important or valuable. Resist the urge to make your experience a universal experience. You may need some time before you’re ready to engage a local church again, but don’t discourage others from doing so in the process. Your hurt is yours, not theirs.

When You’re Ready, Learn

In the initial aftermath, the last thing you want to hear is “what can you learn from this experience?” Eventually that day will come. When it does, welcome it and ask the hard questions. Have the hard conversations and be ready for hard, honest answers. Learn why things went so poorly and how you could have handled things differently. Remember that our God is a God of redemption. He will use our mistakes and failures and downfalls for a beautiful purpose far greater than we could ever image. We have to be willing to step into that sometimes uncomfortable place of learning in order for that to happen.

“God works through the local church, but he is not limited to it.”

What Have I Learned From This?

I wish I could tell you I’ve found another church to call home and am actively involved in serving that ministry again. But I can’t. However, that doesn’t mean God hasn’t done amazing redemptive work with these church experiences in my life and reconciled and mended relationships I wasn’t sure were salvageable.

I’ve had to learn that faith is not equivalent to weekly church attendance. Yes, being part of a local church community can be an outflow of my faith and is a biblical practice that encourages it. But not being a part of one for a season doesn’t mean I’ve lost my faith. God works through the local church, but he is not limited to it.

More:

We do important work—sharing the gospel—but that doesn’t mean we can work ourselves to death. Learn more about how to fight church communicator burnout.

Photo by Kenny Louie.
Post By:

Katie Strandlund


Katie Strandlund is a champion of dreamers, friend to artists and encourager of creatives. By day you can find her running her company, Dirty Work, helping artists, writers, entrepreneurs and experience designers bridge the gap between ideation and implementation. She blogs occasionally at CautiousCreative.com where curiosity finds courage.
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2 Responses to “Getting Burned: Worse Than Burnout”

  • Becky
    November 11, 2014

    Hit the nail on the head. Almost my experience, to the tee.


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  • spencer
    November 11, 2014

    I am there right now… I am in a parachurch ministry where a religious group with non traditional orthodox theology gained control. I did not survive budget cuts and find the new leadership to be unethical. I struggle with bitterness over their group, my own denomination not stopping them, and knowing my own defects sealed my fate. I was on the way out anyway. I hate people telling me to play nice just because its convenient for them and they want a chance to minister under a bully. so, when do we stand up and judge bullies and when do we walk away?


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