WORTH THE READ
God calls and equips every believer in Christ to serve him in ministry, particularly in our churches. While God calls some to serve in vocational ministry as a way to make a living, he calls most to serve him in addition to fulfilling other vocational responsibilities. Our entire lives are meant to be lives of ministry; our specific responsibilities or locations might change but our calling to serve God as “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1) never does. God expects us to serve him in ways that only we can from the moment we are saved until the moment he calls us home.
We all know that it is possible for us to neglect this calling. Some Christians refuse to serve at all. Others only serve if and when it suits them, never making ministry a priority. While there are several reasons for this, one of the most pressing reasons is burnout. Many Christians start off strong in their spiritual lives, zealous for God and the things of God, but have unfortunately gotten to a point where they no longer want to serve or feel capable of serving. Some wear themselves out so completely they are unable to serve. Ministry is never-ending and serving others can be hard. Balancing different responsibilities at church, work, and home can be stressful so serving God is often the first thing to go when this happens.
Christopher Ash, who has served as a pastor and ministry administrator, believes there is a sustainable path for believers that “combines passionate zeal for Jesus with plodding faithfully on year after year” (14). To encourage us along that path is the goal of his book, Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice, published by The Good Book Company in 2016. Ash is not unsympathetic or unfamiliar with burnout, and throughout the book, he shares his own personal experience as well as the stories of several other faithful believers who “hit the wall” in their ministries. More than that, however, he goes to the Bible to share not only an overlooked truth but several keys to avoiding burnout while continuing to live a life of service and ministry.
The foundational truth for avoiding burnout that we too often neglect as followers of Christ is that we are embodied creatures. God made us out of dust (Gen 2:7), and one day he will turn us back into dust (Ps 90:3). Even in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, our bodies are still in the process of dying (Rom 8:10). We must be diligent not to separate our spiritual lives from what is happening to our bodies. Even when healthy, we are no more than a few particles of dust into which God has breathed the breath of life.
NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS
This truth has several implications. Ash explores four of these: we need sleep, we need days of rest, we need friends, and we need inward renewal. God needs none of these things but as created beings, they are necessities for us. We must intentionally make time for sufficient sleep, regular days off, relationships, and the hobbies and habits that renew us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. These things do not keep us from ministry (and should never replace ministry) but are necessary for sustainable ministry.
Ash closes his book with a warning, an encouragement, and a delight.
- We must beware ministering for celebrity or notoriety
- We must remember that serving God is always worth it
- We must delight above all in God’s grace in Christ and not our gifts
A chapter on burnout from a medical perspective, written by a doctor, serves as the conclusion. No matter where we are in our walk with God, serving faithfully or struggling to serve at all, we need to “take heed, lest we fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Burnout is a possibility, but God’s grace can and does sustain us, even for a lifetime, when we depend on him and not our own strength. This book will help us do that.