John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Why We Burnout

I get to travel to a different church almost every weekend. This year, I've visited with churches in Virginia, Maryland, Colorado and Washington. Next week, I'll go to North Carolina -- the week after that Ohio -- the week after that Louisiana. I've been doing this for a while now, and there is one thing I find more than I like to think about: burnout. Ministers burnout. Pastors burnout. Volunteers burnout. People burnout.

Symptoms of burnout include:

Frustration Interpersonal problems Aggression Irritability Hostile or suspicious behavior Fear Anxiety

That's a partial list, but it's probably enough to have some of you thinking, "Yikes! That list feels familiar!"

In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar has a bad dream and can't sleep. He calls in his advisors and commands them, "Tell me what my dream meant!"

His advisors say, "Okay, tell us what your dream was, and we'll tell you what it means."

The King says, "No, I'm not giving any hints. Tell me what the dream was AND what it means! And if you don't tell me, I'll have you all cut into tiny pieces and your houses turned into public latrines!"

"But, sir," his advisors say, "we'll be glad to help you figure out what it means if you'll just tell us what it was."

"I see what you're all up to! You're just trying to confuse me! You're all against me!"

"But, sir, no one on earth can do what you're asking us to do. No one's ever asked anyone to do anything like this before. Only the gods could figure this out, and they, unfortunately, don't live here on earth."

Here, I'll stop paraphrasing and let the text speak for itself: "This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men in Babylon" (Daniel 2:12).

Frustration. Interpersonal problems. Aggression. Irritability. Hostile or suspicious behavior. Fear. Anxiety.

Looks like burnout to me.

Here's my take on burnout: I don't think burnout has as much to do with workload as we have thought. I think it has more to do with trying to do something you're not gifted to do. You can fake it for a while, but sooner or later it catches up with you. The longer you try to occupy a role you're not meant to occupy, the more likely you are to experience some of the symptoms of burnout.

Nebuchadnezzar thinks he's God. He tries to make everything revolve around him. But Nebuchadnezzar isn't designed to live like that. That's not a role he's equipped to play.

What would happen if you decided to resign from being the center of the universe?