5 Ways to Avoid Serving Burnout

This post is an excerpt from Paul’s new book, The Serving Church.

Why do you serve or volunteer at your church? Some people serve because it’s the right thing to do. Others serve because there’s an opening. Someone needs to help out, right? I’ve known people who serve because someone asked and they couldn’t think of a good excuse why not to do it.

Churches have a problem, though: burnout. Whether it’s after a week or several years, a lot of volunteers and church staff experience it.

What if there was a way to help prevent this problem before it starts? I don’t know if it’s 100 percent, but in my years at my church, I have learned a lot of ways to stave off burnout.

1. Know the why. If you serve for approval, out of guilt, just to help out or because you couldn’t think of a good reason not to, you might be headed for trouble. Your relationship with Jesus is what should guide your serving, but you also need what I call a “big why”:

What motivates you to get up when you’d rather sleep in? Why do you stay a little longer when you’d rather go home? For me, it’s people. At my church, lives and eternities are saved every week, and I get to help.

2. View what you do as a privilege.  A few years ago I noticed a change in how a lot of leaders referred to what they did. It’s a simple thing, but it’s profound. Change the word “have” to “get.” I get to arrive early on Sundays at my church’s satellite campus. It sounds odd, but it really helps me. When I see what I do as a gift, I find it easier to do difficult things.

3. Learn to expect hard things. Sometimes it will be difficult. We live in a fallen, imperfect world. Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble …” (John 16:33 NIV), don’t act surprised when it happens. Is it relationship trouble, money trouble, equipment trouble? Whatever it is, decide in advance to make the right decision. Don’t leave it up to the heat of the moment.

4. Forgive early and often. Everyone you’re around will eventually disappoint you, make you mad, treat you poorly, etc. They’re human and imperfect just like you are. Give them the grace you’d hope others would give you. Forgive more, not less. See if you can be the most forgiving person. I’d rather err on the side of forgiving more, not less.

5. Trust your leaders. I’ll admit that this is hard. I spent years harboring resentments and thinking I knew better. When I finally gave that up and started trusting people, I was amazed at how light I felt. When everyone around you is always wrong, you head toward disaster.

The path to significance and meaning isn’t paved with dollars or fame. It’s paved with sacrifice and humility. While some people make a difference through their own selfishness, at the expense of others, most of us can put aside our plans and ambitions and really make a difference—a difference that outlasts our lives, a difference that changes lives and affects generations.  

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Paul Clifford is the author of "Podcasting Church, Tweeting Church," and most recently, "The Serving Church," a blogger, podcaster, videographer and church tech consultant, specializing in helping smaller churches take the next step.

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