Ministry Burnout // Part 1: What is ‘burnout’ & what causes it?
Interview with Calvin Hong by Shawn Wong
Singapore has always had the reputation of being a ‘high-pressure society’. Sometimes this high performance drive infiltrates even the church and affects the way we do ministry. I sat down with AG Mentor & Senior Leader Calvin Hong to have a conversation about the dreaded ‘ministry burnout’ and how to avoid it.
S: ‘Burnout’ – It might be a term that not everyone’s familiar with. What exactly is it?
C: To be burnt-out means there’s nothing left inside of you to keep going. For example, the oil in the lamp: If you don’t keep refilling the lamp with oil, it will run out. When people burn out, they usually have a loss of value, identity, or passion.
I don’t think burnout is necessarily spiritual; I think it’s usually relational. “I don’t feel like I fit in” or “I’m so disappointed in this or that person.” It could be a result of bad leadership or poor decision-making. But if you say, “I’m spiritually burnt-out”, it means that there’s a disconnection from the Holy Spirit. It happens when you rely too much on your own strength, have become task- or talent-orientated and results-driven, but you don’t see results.
When people say they’re burnt-out in ministry, it’s because they’ve allowed their work to be the lord and master of their lives, rather than allowing the Lord of the work to be their sustenance.
S: What causes ministry burnout?
C: Ministry itself is like work. If you don’t prepare enough food for the journey ahead then, at some point of time, it will run out.
Luke 14:27-30 says, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?”
People often burn out because they had not counted the cost. There are many Christian leaders who keep saying yes; they don’t count the cost of their commitment.
They’ve put ministry in priority over themselves. Rather, there must be a healthy tension. My life should revolve around what Christ is doing through me. It must be Christ-centred, not results-orientated to get recognition.
It’s about guiding yourself by asking: What is the best lane in which God has called me to run this season?
S: I love what you said about preventing burnout by counting the cost first, before diving into a commitment. What about people who have already committed, and then are starting to feel burnt out?
C: Sometimes mistakes are how we grow and learn. We need to think: How can I do this or that better?
For young believers who esteem to achieve something great, there’s something called Process. You’d have to go through the process of life and the school of hard knocks. And if you stick around long enough, you’ll come through it. The important thing is to always do a reality check of where you’re at.
Sometimes, because we’re so passionate, we overwork ourselves. That’s why all the best athletes have more than one coach for each aspect of their training – conditioning, technique, nutrition, etc. – each warns the athlete when they’re about to overwork themselves or are developing in a wrong direction.
S: So, other than counting the cost, how can burnout be prevented? Especially amidst fast-paced lives, busy schedules, pressures, and the constant emphasis on getting stuff done.
Get Calvin’s answer to this question and more in Part 2 of this interview! Stay tuned for updates!