Grace-Paced Living in a Burnout Culture

Grace-Paced Living in a Burnout Culture

“I’m tired and I’m broken and I just need some rest.” These were pastor Pete Wilson’s words when he recently announced his surprise resignation from Cross Point, a megachurch in Nashville. He went on:

Leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well, and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe the best thing I can do is to step aside from Cross Point…. More than ever I need your prayers, I need your support. We’ve said that this is the church where it’s okay not to be okay, and I’m not okay.

Although situations and statements like this make the headlines, similar stories are being replicated and multiplied all over the country. It’s not just megachurch pastors; it’s not just pastors; and it’s not just men. It’s men and women, young and old, leaders and followers, Christians and non-Christians, in all walks and at all levels of life, who are all arriving at the same wrecking yard—overwhelmed, burned out, empty and broken.

Although no two burnouts are the same, as I’ve counseled increasing numbers of Christians through burnout, I’ve noticed that most of them have one thing in common: There’s a deficit of grace. It’s not that they don’t believe in grace. Many of them are well-grounded in “the doctrines of grace.” Many of them are pastors and preach grace powerfully every week. The “five solas” and the “five points” are their theological meat and drink. Yet grace is missing in five vital areas. There are five disconnects between theological grace and their daily lives.

Grace Motivates

The motivating power of grace is missing. Take a look at five people printing Bibles on the same assembly line. Mr. Dollar is asking, “How can I make more money?” Mrs. Ambitious is asking, “How can I get that promotion?” Mr. Pleaser is asking, “How can I make my boss happy?” Mr. Selfish is asking, “How can I get personal satisfaction in my job?” They all look and feel miserable. Then we bump into Mrs. Grace, who’s asking, “In view of God’s amazing grace to me in Christ, how can I serve God and others here?”

From the outside, it looks like all five are doing the same work; but their internal motivations all differ. The first four are striving, stressed, anxious, fearful and exhausted. But Mrs. Grace is so energized by her gratitude for grace that her job satisfies and stimulates her rather than draining and dredging her (1 Corinthians 15:10). Where grace is not fueling from the inside out, a person will be burning from the inside out.

Grace Moderates

Also absent is the moderating power of grace. Alongside Mrs. Grace, Miss Perfectionist takes pride in flawless performance. If she ever makes a mistake in her work, she berates and flagellates herself. She carries this legalistic perfectionism into her relationships with God and others, resulting in constant disappointment in herself, in others and even in God.

Mrs. Grace’s work is just as high quality as Mrs. Perfection, but grace has moderated her expectations. At the foot of the cross, she’s learned that she’s not perfect and never will be in this life. She accepts that both her work and her relationships are flawed.

But instead of tormenting herself with these imperfections, she calmly takes them to a perfect God knowing that His grace forgives them all and lovingly accepts her as perfect in Christ (Hebrews 10:22).

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David Murray
Dr. David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary. He is also Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. David is the author of Christians get depressed too, How Sermons Work, and Jesus on Every Page. You can read his blog at HeadHeartHand.org/blog or follow him on Twitter @davidpmurray. David is married to Shona and they have five children ranging from 4 months to 17 years old, and they love camping, fishing, boating, and skiing in the Lake Michigan area.