How to avoid burnout when volunteering in church (especially for creatives)
Many of us who have served or volunteered as part of a church team for some time might be familiar with this sentiment. Whether we use the word ‘burnout’ or not, we’ve all either personally been in that place or seen others display the warning signs of enthusiasm turning to jaded-ness or optimism fading to cynicism. In the worst-case scenarios, we’ve also watched people we know leaving the church or team in a state of disappointment with the people and leaders.
So how do we stay spiritually healthy as we serve the body of Christ in our local churches?
After all, many of us want to serve. We want to be part of what God is doing in our communities. We want to make a difference where we’re at and we know that God has placed us in a position to do so.
Here are 7 tips to stay healthy and have longevity in ministry. This could apply to many teams, but as someone who has mainly led and been a part of creative teams, most of what I write will be based on my experience with creatives.
#1. Take a position of humility before honor.
A man’s heart is the proudest when his downfall is nearest, for he won’t see glory until the Lord sees humility.
— Prov. 18:12 TPT
The worst thing you can say whenever anyone is trying to give you feedback or constructive criticism is the two words, “I know”.
Yes, it is true that many (good) creatives tend to have an inflated sense of self-worth (or a very derailed lack of it). Because we know we are good at what we do. We are the get-things-done people. But being good doesn’t make us right. Nor does it endear us to anyone just because we think we know better. This would apply to serving in any role in church where you might be placed under a leader you deem to be more inexperienced or unqualified than you.
Because if you think you know everything, then no one can teach you anything. This is less about your skill or the mastery of your craft, but about your attitude towards others and how you treat them. You’ll find yourself surprised (as you grow), that you can be super talented and super unlikable because no one wants to work with the smarty-pants know-it-all. (Trust me, I’ve been that person.)
Favor flows to the lowest places. A creative that is able to entreat and take a journey with people who don’t yet understand, who, even if he/she knows he’s probably right, is able to walk people through the decision-making process ‘till the choice can be owned by the team and not just themselves, will earn honor that cannot come by being the smartest person in the room.
#2. Don’t take things personally.
Or: How to take feedback well.
If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.
— Prov. 15:31 NLT
Firstly, please remember this: People who don’t care about you, don’t have to put themselves in the uncomfortable position of telling you that you’re wrong.
Fair-weather friends can agree with everything you say and avoid confrontation forever, even if they judge you behind your back. So, please understand that anyone who cares enough to tell you something you may not want to hear, knowing that you might not respond in the most gracious way, loves you enough to point out the blind spots in your life that may be evident to everyone else except yourself.
I know we creatives tend to tie a lot of our self-worth to the quality of our craft. But before you identified as being a creative or had any skills or strengths to bring to the table, you were already God’s beloved child who didn’t need to prove anything or be anyone to be 100% accepted, cherished, treasured and loved. And that’s still who you are, no matter what anyone says about your work.
If it’s a feedback point that will help you grow as a human being, take it. If it’s a feedback point about how you don’t seem to be meeting the brief, seek to understand the brief. Remember, you’re not designing this to prove what an amazing designer you are or that you’re a calligraphy queen. If the brief doesn’t need calligraphy, figure out what it does need.
Because at the end of the day…
#3 This really isn’t about you.
To serve as a creative or in any role in the house of God isn’t about proving how good you are, or how amazing you are at a very specific type of design, filmmaking or (insert your field of creativity here). If you’re part of other teams, you’re not here to be the #1 usher, or the most efficient logistics guy in the set-up team.
Our lives are about raising One name—Jesus. And when you signed up to do this for the church, you’re saying: God, let only one name be glorified, and it isn’t mine.
#4 Embrace your portion.
… (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.) Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jew.
— Gal. 2:6-7 NLT
God doesn’t have favorites, but He does have portions. He calls our pastors to the platform, and He calls most of the rest of us to the ministry of helps, or support ministries. Yes, we may have different names for these in different churches, and it may not sound very sexy or attractive, but it has never been a competition.
It is not about whose portion is better, but what He has placed in your hand to do. Flowing in the portion God has called you to will bring you greater success than pursuing what might look like a shiner (or more visible) platform that you were never called to own.
For many of us, we’re the behind-the-scenes people. Our names will seldom (if ever) be credited publicly. We might occasionally receive public praise from our leaders, but most of the time, people aren’t going to remember that someone bothered to make slides, or that the tithing envelops were neatly placed on every seat before the doors opened, or that the lights were just right during worship today.
Most people only see the preachers on the stage. Our pastors may get the most visibility, but always remember that they get to do what they do, because we do what we do. We get to fuss over font sizes so that our pastor doesn’t have to. He gets to focus on bringing the word, and we get to support him by making sure people can see the words. Aye?
#5 Don’t be ruled by your emotions.
So above all, guard the affections of your heart, for they affect all that you are. Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for from there flows the wellspring of life.
— Prov. 4:23 TPT
Yes, I get it, especially creatives, we like to start our sentences with “I feel”.
We feel a lot of things. We feel all the time. We channel our “feels” into broken offerings of art that are vessels for all our feelings.
Being able to feel, being empathetic, being more aware of our emotions and everyone else’s is a big part of being creative.
BUT, as I often tell my team, being “feel-sy” is not an excuse to get away with “creative” behavior (or tantrums). While I agree that our ability to feel allows us to create work that can evoke an emotional response in others, but I don’t believe that this gives us permission to be perpetually emo(tional) or to believe that we can only create when we have negative emotions.
A lot of the world’s art channels out from that source. But please, God is the originator of all creativity. Are you telling me that if the world creates their best art when they are sad, we can’t create even better art when we are filled with a revelation of His love for us?
In their sadness they create work that makes people pensive and in despair at the state of the world, but we can create work that brings people hope despite the state of our world.
The same applies to how we feel about many things about our local church. We can be led by our feelings, or we can be led by the Spirit. Creativity can be born from the flesh, or it can be born from the Spirit. It can come out from the “I feel” or it can come out from the “I believe”. It’s your choice.
#6 Don’t stop believin’.
…yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day.
— Josh. 14:11-12 NKJV
With all the practical advice I’ve laid out above, you might be thinking: In that case, are you asking me to not think, not feel, and just accept everything that’s thrown at me whether I agree with it or not? Isn’t that how people burn out in the first place?
Most certainly not. The same way we aren’t perfect, the teams and the leaders we serve with and under won’t be too.
But when we find ourselves getting angry at others, at ourselves or at the “system” for being the reason why we’re not seeing the success we want, are we then placing our expectations on the Lord (because after all, this is His church we’re talking about), or on the system and circumstances that man creates to work in our favor?
Taking a position of humility doesn’t mean you can’t have dreams. It just means we trust less in our ability to strive our dreams into being, but more in His ability to bring our dreams to pass in a restful way.
If you find yourself constantly thinking of things that need to be better in your team in your local church, don’t get jaded or give up. There is no perfect church. Every church is always growing, every church has parts of it that can be improved on. A wise man once said, “If you have more achievements than you have dreams, you’re getting old.”
The church of Christ is always growing, so there will always be room for improvements. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not there yet.
Be bold to dream, to pray, to expect, to hope and to desire more, but keep your heart focused on the Lord and not on the dream.
#7 Run the marathon, not a shuttle run.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
— 2 Tim. 4:7
I know we have a lot of enthusiasm and a whole lot of heart to want to make things better in our communities.
But as you serve the Lord with zeal and passion in your youth, remember that it is not about how well you pull off one event (and almost kill yourself and everyone else getting there), but the consistency with which we run our race that will come to represent what our ministry stands for.
Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not about how bright you blaze (and burn out), but being a sustainable and reliable light in the darkness.
Proverbs 24:10 reads, in The Message version, “If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place.”
Don’t have a ministry that is constantly in “nitro” mode. No one wants to be the one that everyone is secretly relieved not to have to work with.
A sustainable ministry looks like knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to. Knowing that you don’t need to overextend yourself to prove anything to anyone. That there’s no point being the one-hit wonder if you’re too burned out to do anything else for the next 3 years after, or if the people who had to work with you secretly hope they’ll never have to do so again.
Instead, have a ministry that’s like this verse in the Psalms:
“Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain. He gives to them a brook of blessing filled from the rain of an outpouring.” (Ps. 84:6 TPT)
Have a ministry that is so anchored and washed by the Spirit that even in the valley where everyone else can only see darkness, you will enjoy the cool refreshing blessings of being in His shelter. That when everyone else is feeling the heat, your ministry can be a refuge for others even in the day of despair. This doesn’t mean that you’re not faced with pressure, deadlines or interesting limitations. Every creative has enough of a masochistic streak to enjoy a good challenge. Bring it on.
But how do you have such a ministry? We come right back to point 1: Humility.
“Wisdom will exalt you when you exalt her truth. She will lead you to honor and favor when you live your life by her insights. You will be adorned with beauty and grace, and wisdom’s glory will wrap itself around you, making you victorious in the race.”
— Prov. 4:8-9 TPT
Humility to entreat, to ask for wisdom, to run the race knowing that you’re in this for the long haul.
May you not be a light that burns fiercely and brightly but not long enough to make any real impact. But may your ministry and influence be long, reliable, sustainable and enjoyable for many years to come.
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