Seven years ago I did a detailed chapter by chapter review on Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry, by Peter Brain. It is an excellent book, but requires a fair time commitment to read it.
Christopher Ash has developed this primer which is also excellent in its simplicity, clarity and brevity. Ash writes to those who can prevent burnout in ministry:
Burnout is a terrible price to pay for Christian zeal. Sometimes it cannot be avoided. For some, their circumstances mean there is no other way to live sacrificially for Jesus.But sometimes it can. For many of us there is a different path. One that that combines passionate zeal for Jesus with plodding faithfully along year after year. I want to write about this path. (p14)
He writes to those in full-time ministry and to those committed lay people who also serve the Lord Jesus faithfully.
As someone who has spent the last decade training young men and women for Christian service, I have been keen to help them see that the best kinds of ministry are, more often than not, long term and low key. I have tried to prepare them for a marathon, not a short, energetic sprint. In other words, to help them have a lifetime of sustainable sacrifice, rather than an energetic but brief ministry that quickly fades in exhaustion. (p20)
This resonated with me as Husband and I often talk about wanting to be in ministry for the long marathon and to manage it in a way so that we can. He also addresses the truth that “there is a difference between godly sacrifice and needless burnout”, adding that even if it may sound heroic to burn out for Jesus, we do not do it alone. We take others down in our crashes – spouses, children, colleagues and friends.
Ash starts with the reminder that we are creatures of dust. We are mortal and we need sustenance, but God does not.
He then moves through seven keys:
- We need sleep and God does not – sleep is both a necessity and a gift.
- We need Sabbath rests and God does not. Husband and I know this from personal experience – the rest of a day off in seven has been remarkably restorative for us individually and as a couple.
- We need friends and God does not. He adds an extra part here about maintaining intimacy for married couples.
- We need inward renewal and God does not. We need to find ways to refresh and recharge.
- A warning to beware celebrity – for how much of overwork is driven by a desire to please others and be feted?
- An encouragement – it’s worth it. God does not need us, yet this service of the Lord matters. It may not be able to be measured or counted, but it is worth it. And any fruit borne, is a gift of God.
- A delight – rejoice in grace, not gifts
He concludes with some parting ideas: don’t be soft (ie. don’t go the other way into over protection), don’t despair (you can change patterns, and God still works out his grace), do a self-check and make a resolution (to glory in salvation not anything we can or cannot do).
I read this book with two other ministry wives and we were encouraged and challenged. I suspect you will be too!