Discipleship Notes: How to Avoid Burnout

You know that sinking feeling at the pit of your stomach when the people you’ve been praying for are not coming to church anymore. You were all doing great, you started your discipleship group filled with high expectations that God will use you to reach many people with the gospel. For months, you were riding the wind of spiritual high. Then one by one, those happy faces started to disappear. One Sunday, there were only three of you left. Few bothered to send you text messages. Some hid their Facebook walls from you.

For most leaders, this is the time when they begin to look inward and ask difficult questions. Some could come up with fairly good answers, others start blaming themselves, others get broken and eventually quit. My heart goes out to those who are too frustrated to try again. If you are one of those who already hit a brick wall in your discipleship endeavors, I pray that you read on and find encouragement in these words.

Pastor Steve Murrell once mentioned that if you ever want to serve God through one of the ministries of the church, the first thing that you need to resolve in your heart is the fact that God loves you, period. Do not work your way into God’s acceptance. He loves you for who He is, not because of anything you do. He doesn’t love you only when you have the most number of disciples or when you are able to tackle difficult tasks by yourself. He loves you without preconditions, in fact, He loved you even before you did anything right. Romans 5: 8 says it quite plainly, “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

In other words, people who serve in any church ministries should derive their value and significance from the love of God, not from their work output. This is the most difficult part of Christian service because even those with a redeemed world view often forget this. The world assigns value to people based on what they can do and what they can contribute to the community. For example, people think that engineers are more valuable than janitors. In the eyes of God though, whether you disciple only one person or preach to thousands on a weekly basis, He loves you just the same.

Do not get trapped with a performance-based relationship with God. It will frustrate you and kill you if you’re not careful. Ministry is an overflow of a healthy relationship with God, not a tedious job decription you need to belabor everyday.

Yesterday night, I had the privilege of talking to two of our faithful Victory Group leaders in the church. We talked about people we did One2One with who are no longer in church. We talked about the horrible feeling that maybe we were not doing enough, that maybe we were not very responsible with the people God entrusted to us. I could sense some clouds of doubt and self-condemnation looming over us. Have you ever felt the same?

The fact is that there was actually a preacher in the Bible who didn’t have even one convert. He was called by God to be a preacher even before he was born. He preached throughout his adult life, he never married because he was so committed to his task, and he died without seeing any positive effect of his message. His name is Jeremiah and scholars called him the “weeping prophet.”

Can you imagine what it was like for him to carry a message that felt like fire in his bones and yet no one in the whole wide world believed him? His was probably the toughest ministry on earth. He was stoned to death in Egypt. Sad, very sad.

In modern standards, was Jeremiah’s ministry successful? Modern church growth gurus would probably say no. After all, many people today would measure your success based on the number of people who profess Jesus because of your ministry. But is that the real measure of success?

No, it’s not. The real issue here is not the number of people but your faithfulness to the call of God. When I talked to our victory group leaders yesterday, I happened to mention three parameters of defining whether your ministry was a success or not. I have yet to do a more thorough study on this but I’m guessing they pretty much convey the intended message.

1. Did you do your ministry to the best of your ability? I know this doesn’t sound very spiritual but this obviously is a fair question. When you met, did you give it your best shot? Did you study the material, did you come on time, did you finish the meeting on time, did you respect their ideas, did you take the time to listen?

2. Did you pray for them? No, not the kind of prayer that we do when we conclude a meeting but a prayer of faith that’s based on the word of God.

3. Did you allow the Holy Spirit to minister to them? Too much of our meetings are done on the flesh, meaning, we do it by our own power and wisdom. We joke around and try to entertain people with our clever ideas and witticisms that we forget to bring Jesus into the conversation. I think that most ministry failures that happened to our groups are because we do all these meetings by ourselves. We claim that it’s all about God but we rarely allow Him to speak in our midst.

If you did all three and people still don’t show up, you may rest your weary heart and trust that either God is trying your patience or these people simply made a conscious decision not to follow Christ for now (and this is not your fault, by the way).

And while all these are going on, again I implore you to remember that God loves you all the same. Be secure in that truth, child of God.