When I hear about people dropping out of ministry due to burnout, it freaks me out. I get worried I will burn out and no longer serve God as effectively. I get worried the leaders I lead will eventually be swallowed by this trend. This spurred me on to write an article concerning young leaders and burnout.
That said, I don’t expect many young leaders to burn out in their younger years. Young leaders are typically upper high school or university/TAFE students. Generally, they have long semester breaks and some courses have very few face-to-face hours. There is ample time in a week to rest and refresh. At this life stage, young leaders are often free from demanding responsibilities. Few are working full-time, married with children or nursing their unwell parents. The relative lack of responsibilities does not guarantee safety from burnout, but it does help. Protecting young leaders from burnout is more a long-term project as we build a framework to help avoid it happening in the future.
Rather than burnout, I expect a more common and immediate danger for young leaders is laziness. At least that is what I’d say looking back at my younger self. I did a business degree with 12 contact hours in a week. I had a lot of time. I did serve at church but I spent a lot more time serving myself as I hung out with friends, slept, played video games and hit the beach. I wasn’t necessarily lazy, but I didn’t use my time as effectively as I could have.
The game-changer for laziness is knowing Jesus Christ and knowing how that changes our view of our time. Here are three things I wish my younger-leader-self had known more deeply.
1. Know whose time it is
Knowing Jesus is not just knowing what he’s achieved for me in his life, death and resurrection. It is knowing why he died for me. He died for my sins and he died to redeem my time for his service. Jesus’ death means my time is now his time. I live for him (2 Cor 5:14-15).
This link is often missed. For example, think about the Exodus story. God redeemed his people from slavery in Egypt. Look at the reason he gives to Pharaoh for why they should be set free: ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.’ (Exodus 7:16)
The Israelites were saved from slavery for a reason: so that they could worship God in the way he required. We too have been bought at a price. God redeemed us in Christ Jesus so that we might live for him who saved us (1 Cor 6:20; 2 Cor 5:15).
2. Know what time it is
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought in a new age. In the same way that the first orange on an orange tree shows more are coming (or so fruit farmers tell me!), Jesus stepping out of the grave showed that the final judgement and resurrection day is coming too (Acts 17:31; 1 Cor 15: 20-23).
We live in a very special age. The apostle Peter tells us how the prophets of old ‘searched intently and with the greatest of care, trying to work out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the suffering of the Messiah and the glories that would follow’ (1 Peter 1:10b-11). Well, the search is now over—Jesus Christ has come. All of Old Testament history has been looking forward to this time we live in. Our current age is the ‘culmination of the ages’ (1 Cor 10:11).
But this age is coming to an end. History is no longer counting up; it is counting down to Christ’s return. God teaches us ‘the end of all things is near’ (1 Peter 4:7). This age is short; Jesus will return soon. This makes it even more important to…
3. Know what this time is for
Typically, our world teaches: if life is short, play and party hard. The young leader’s life can be swallowed up by this culture. But God has a different and better way of thinking. If life is short (or more importantly if this age is short), work hard.
Firstly, work hard on getting to know Jesus. We live in an age where you can know the one who the prophets searched intently for. Spend your time now in this present age getting to know him. Read his word slowly and carefully. Attend conferences. Sign up to as many training groups as you can. In this age, you have the privilege of getting to know the one who has now come and will return.
Secondly, work hard on your godliness. Knowledge of Jesus cannot stay in your head. It must move to your heart and into your hands. The grace of God ‘teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives’ (Titus 2:11-12).
Thirdly, work hard on God’s work. This is an age for making the riches of Jesus Christ known (Col 1:26). Paul puts it like this in 1 Corinthians 15: ‘Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’ (1 Cor 15:58). Surfing, video games and coffee with friends are all good and we certainly want to enjoy all the good gifts God gives us. But these activities are not ‘the work of the Lord’. The ‘work of the Lord’ is gospel ministry. It is passing on the news of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3). It is the only thing in this ‘present age’ that will last in the ‘coming age’. In this short age, this is the best and most worthwhile thing fully to give ourselves to.
To lessen the tug of laziness, as young leaders and old leaders alike, we need a good understanding of why Jesus died and a good understanding of the age we live in. Time is short. Let’s not waste it by living for ourselves but harness it by giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.