The Burn-Out Myth

The Burn-Out Myth

There’s an issue that I believe a lot of leaders, but especially children’s ministry leaders, face. It’s a very subtle lie that we buy into without realizing. It looks something like this.

The Lie

If serving is too hard, people will get upset and quit. So in order to keep volunteers, I have to make serving as simple as possible.

Sounds right. And a lot of people would tout this outright. Many more believe this way and may not even realize it, but their actions show it. Here’s how it comes out and some of the problems it causes.

You run yourself ragged. Because you don’t want to put too much weight on anybody, you take everything on yourself and try to do it all.

You delegate poorly. The only tasks you give away are simple or meaningless tasks—tasks that nobody can really get excited about. You’re trying not to ask too much, but you end up appearing bossy to people because you keep asking them to do seemingly insignificant work.

You appear frantic and hurried. You give off the impression that you’re not interested in people or that you’re too busy for them. This is probably the furthest thing from the truth. You love people. You want to serve them. You want them to enjoy serving. But you’re so focused on getting things done that you can’t slow down long enough to acknowledge people and invest in them.

You feel like if you do slow down people will think poorly of you. You’re afraid they’re thinking that you’re leaving them to do all the work while you just stand around and watch.

You get all the credit. When everything gets done by you, all the credit goes to you (so does the blame).

People feel insignificant. This is the root problem caused when we buy into this lie. Because the only things you hand off are easy or simple, people don’t get the feeling that what they do matters.

Balls get dropped…a lot of them. You can’t possibly keep up with everything that needs to be done in children’s ministry. Children’s ministry is a detail intensive job with lots of moving parts. Even the smallest children’s ministry can’t be run by a lone ranger.

People are not cared for. Caring for people is tough. It takes time and energy. Because you’re trying to protect people from things that are difficult, you seldom release this responsibility. But because you are so busy trying to accomplish all the details, you can’t care for people well. So in the end volunteers receive very little care and support.

Volunteers leave your ministry. A volunteer who does not feel cared for and who does not feel like what they are doing is significant will leave and find somewhere else (or worse yet, nowhere else) to plug in.

End result…you don’t have enough volunteers for your children’s ministry to run effectively. You end up trying to do more and more with less and less to show for your effort.

This is a miserable cycle to get into. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Truth

A fire that’s fed doesn’t burn out. In fact, it burns stronger.

If you want great volunteers who stick around, grow and love serving, you need to change your thinking. Don’t make serving easier…make it harder. I’m not encouraging you to frustrate volunteers by giving them un-winnable tasks. But they can and want to do more than we give them credit for.

A core need that people feel is the need to be significant. If they can’t be significant in serving God, they’ll try to find significance somewhere else. Kids’ sports teams, PTA, community organizations—none of these are bad, but we were all created and gifted to serve God, so let’s give our volunteers the opportunity to work and excel in what they were created for. Here’s what that could look like.

Give your small group leaders and teachers responsibility to prepare.

This requires you to give up a little control and trust others to come through. Give them the freedom to own an activity to reinforce the lesson. Give them an activity or reinforcement idea, but let them have the freedom to do something else.

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Joey Waters
Joey Waters is the Children’s Ministry Production Director at Austin Ridge Bible Church in Austin, TX. He has worked in family ministry for over ten years specializing in large group production. Joey lives in Austin, Texas where he enjoys eating queso and listening to as much live music as humanly possible.