What training do you think is most important for young Christian leaders?
My guess is training relating to godliness and teaching would be at the top of your list. After all, Paul does write to Timothy, ‘watch your life and doctrine closely’ (1 Timothy 4:16).
Recently I have become aware of a key aspect of life and doctrine which I have paid very little attention to when it comes to training young leaders: how to avoid burnout.
This topic is worth teaching young leaders about because burnout seems to be becoming more commonplace. I wonder if this is happening because burnout is being trained into the next generation.
Let me explain.
Over the years I have seen the effect of my good and my not-so-good training. Young leaders are like sponges for training – they really soak it in. However, often it is not the formal training that bears the most influence. It is the ‘informal’ training such as following the trainer’s example, that has huge effects.
This became clear to me when I attended a recent conference on resilience. As I listened to a talk on the symptoms of burnout I felt more and more like I was burning out. As I headed out to morning tea to grab my plastic-wrapped cookie and styrofoam-flavoured tea I mentioned to an older friend how I was feeling. His response was ‘who doesn’t feel that way’.
It dawned on me: symptoms of burnout are really common. In the world of church workers, it is often expected.
If this is the common experience of ministry amongst church workers then maybe this is the experience of ministry we are informally ‘training’ into our younger leaders.
So I am working on changing my ways.
I am working on asking ‘resilience’ questions when I meet up with young leaders. I refer to these questions as the ‘double trinity of good health’. They are questions I have come up with as result of observing common themes in books and conferences concerning burnout.
The first three questions concern their spiritual welfare:
- Prayer: How are you going at depending on God in prayer?
- Word: What is God currently teaching you through his word?
- Fellowship: How are your Christian friendships growing?
The second three questions concern their physical welfare:
- Sleep: Are you sleeping more than 7-8 hours a night?
- Diet: Are you being healthy in your meals and snacks?
- Exercise: Are you exercising outside 30 mins a day?
These questions might not be exactly the right questions. I expect they are not going to be answered with A+ answers. Most young leaders I know have a pretty average diet of hamburgers and coffee and also have pretty strange sleep habits. However, my hope is these questions form a framework for young leader to fall back on if they ever drift towards burnout.
Now, let’s be clear – these questions are worth nothing if they’re not underpinned by the gospel of grace. No young or old leader can avoid burnout without the gospel being their ultimate security and rest. Without the good news that God never rests from loving his people in Jesus Christ, there can be no rest for his workers. Without the good news that Jesus ‘burnt out’ for us, there can only be a desperate busyness to win hearts for Christ. Without the hope of eternal rest, there is nothing to carry us on as we walk. Therefore, the question that sits above the ‘double trinity of good health’ is ‘how are you resting in the gospel of Jesus Christ?’
Young leaders are the next generation of ministry leaders. If burnout is as significant a problem as it appears to be, let’s end the unhealthy culture and begin a new one for the sake of the next generation and God’s kingdom.