This week, I’ll be writing about the missionary’s best friend. I think I’ve been burned out so much over the past two and a half years that now, when Satan tries to do it again, there’s nothing left to do; I’ve been charred rubble at least since Obama was reelected. That being said, this is one of the few topics on which I feel I have some experience and wisdom to share…even though I’m probably still wrong. For comments, despicable insinuations, or movie reviews, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Burnout: What Is It?
Burnout, in layman’s terms, is a lack of motivation, satisfaction, contentment, and peace. It is the absolute dearth of happiness. When Christ describes the outer darkness as the place of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth,’ I imagine thousands of burnt-out missionaries on furlough.
If you’ve ever been walking strong with the Lord, reaching out faithfully to your friends, and loving God fully and deeply, and woke up one morning with a strong desire to destroy your alarm clock and tell all your non-believing friends to go die in a plane crash, you’ve experienced burnout. (You may think this is hyperbole—I promise, it isn’t. I have journal entries featuring that very phrase. It reads as follows: ‘They could all go die in a plane crash and I’ll just sleep in.’) Burnout is also closely associated with doubt; when your desire to make disciples departs, you start to wonder if the mission was ever really important in the first place.
The emotion set in words by the heading of this paragraph is another symptom of burnout: confusion and, possibly, anger. But the ‘why’ of burnout is always related to the missionary. It is not a normal cycle of mission work, nor is it an ‘unfixable reality’ of the field. It is a heart problem, an error of the believer’s theology, or what they believe about God. (Incidentally, for those of my friends who are wondering, this is another reason why I place such a premium on my disciples learning proper theology—theology has massive implications for their spiritual growth and their usefulness to God later on. Remember, one of the things that Christ died to change was our theology. Therefore we have a responsibility to know our stuff and teach it well. Don’t brush theology aside as a science ‘for those who are called’; YOU are called. All believers, if they are capable, must know enough good theology to make sound disciples.)
So what errors in theology lead to burnout? I’ll list two of the most common ones below:
Error #1: Arminianism
Arminian theology is the counterpoint to what is known as Calvinism, the doctrines of grace, or reformed theology (ie predestination). Most commonly, it is the belief that God ‘looks ahead’ in time to see which believers have chosen Him, and then He chooses them as His ‘elect’. It is a way to salvage man’s desire for his own free will and explain the many clear passages in scripture which teach God’s sovereign predestination of believers. The root sin at the heart of Arminianism is control—man desires the ability to control his eternal fate, and doesn’t much like the idea of a God who is sovereign even over everything that man does.
Arminian theology leads to burnout because, if we operate logically under this philosophy, I must convince the unbelievers around me to believe or they will be eternally condemned. If God does not sovereignly choose His children, but rather His children sovereignly choose Him, then it is the role of those already within God’s family to help the lost choose correctly. Of course, not many in the world will choose God. Yes, the fields are ripe for harvest, and yes, we are fishers of men and verily Peter’s netting doth breaketh asunder; but nonetheless, the world hates God, and few will choose the narrow path that leads to life.
Therefore, if we are Arminian, we suck at our job. We can go out and try to convince every person we walk past wherever we are, but few will walk the narrow path to life—and the stakes are so high! Who likes to sacrifice themselves on a pedestal with suffering possibly as intense as Christ’s to do a job that they suck at, and THEN be responsible for hundreds of souls burning for eternity? That’s a scary thought even to type. Burnout sets in quickly and the believer soon returns to his two-and-a-half-children-six-figure-money life. I’ve seen it time and time again in the college scene here in Austin.
So what should we believe? God sovereignly elects His children, and it is not our responsibility to save them or to convince them that Christ is the truth. God will convict them with His Spirit when He’s good and ready. Don’t knock the system—it’s worked for millennia.
The most powerful ministry will be the ministry clothed in meekness and humility, but with a strong emphasis on truth and the Spirit. Trust God to save the lost around you, and don’t worry about it. Be faithful in prayer and faithful in spreading the Gospel, and after that, do what you want to do. You don’t have to beat yourself up with a hundred weekly meetings with nonbelievers in order to check off the ‘faithfulness’ box on your Requirements to Earn God’s Favor checklist.
To put it in real-life terms, often I sit down with tired believers who tell me that the joy of evangelism is gone, and that they don’t want to go to another meeting with someone who doesn’t know the Lord. And I tell them not to go. Don’t text them if you don’t want to. Don’t call them. Don’t worry about it. One day you will again, after you get right with the Lord. Do it then—don’t waste your time now. If you wait and get yourself put back together, you’ll be much more useful over a longer term later, because you will have learned more.
But that healing process can be challenging after burnout sets in, and that’s why this is a ‘Part I’ article. Part II, coming in two weeks, will discuss the remedy to burnout, which is interaction with the Spirit.
Error #2: Evangelism Is My Duty
This is the belief that evangelism is just a command. Later in the semester, I’m going to write a Two-A-Day about the nature of evangelism. It is not just a requirement. It is a lifestyle. You do not ‘do’ evangelism. You are evangelism, or you are not evangelism. We are called to be evangelism and to be making disciples. We are not called to random meetings with people who don’t know Christ or to strategizing the easiest way to force Gospel conversations. We are called to be salt and light, not master chess players.
This demands a radical shift from some theology that campus ministries tend to push. I repeat my earlier sentiments: Don’t worry about it. And again: Don’t worry about it. A third time: Evangelism? Don’t worry about it.
But Scott, how do you evangelize, then? I love Jesus. I spend all day praying to Him, and I make sure I’m faithful to Him with the responsibilities that He’s given me. And after that, I don’t worry about it. And if I spend all that day with nonbelievers spreading the Gospel, I trust His sovereignty. Or if I spend all that day with Christians just spending time together, I trust that He’s making His disciples. Or if I spend all that day alone with Jesus in my heart, I praise God because those days are my favorites. And past that, I’m done. I go to bed every night confident that God worked His will.
Don’t get me wrong—I love spreading the Gospel. I’m planning on devoting my life to that. But the secret to healthy evangelism is this: You don’t spread the Gospel. God spreads His Gospel, and you just happen to be there blabbing about something or other. (Often, after the Lord finishes with someone, they walk away with main ideas that were completely different from what I thought they’d hear—that’s how I’m so confident I was just a bystander that God used.)
But more on this will come later. Stay tuned for Two-A-Days 9, in which I will rant about this topic in Gospel Rant fashion until I go blue in the face. Or until Justin tells me to stop. Or until I make it another ‘Part I/Part II’ thing. Chances of the latter: roughly 40%.
(1,432 words…I have relapsed.)
Lord, thank You so much for Your love, and how You wrap us safely in You! I pray for the knowledge and trust of Your sovereignty to permeate our lives, and I pray for You to fill us with love for You. Please give us a more humble, more accurate image of our place in Your plan, and show us how to glorify You every day that we’re with You—we want to be used by You, and we want to know why You made us. We seek to be enraptured by You, God. Please fill us with Your Spirit. In Jesus’ Name,