Burn, Don't Burnout
Years ago the mission organization I worked for sent me to the Urbana conference near Chicago to represent them at, what is, the largest mission conference in the world. It's a gathering of young people from college and university campuses across the States and Canada. Mission agencies make contact with thousands of possible recruits for overseas service. The competition (though I am sure most agencies wouldn't like to think they are "competing" with each other) is fierce. I stood at our display and talked to whoever came by to ask questions. One young lady stopped to talk for a bit and then went on her way. Sometime later she came back and made an odd request. She asked if it was okay if she just stayed with me for a while because I had been the only mission representative who hadn't tried to sign her up to go somewhere and to do something! In the shelter of my display she could rest from the cacophony of voices.
I was reminded this morning of that episode from so many years ago. A friend called to talk. In the course of our conversation she said that she wanted to thank me. When I asked why she explained that, at some point, I had asked her if she would consider looking after some responsibility in the church (I can't even remember what it was) and when she said "no" I accepted her answer without making her feel guilty and she wanted to thank me for that. Like my young friend from the Urbana experience she felt safe enough to say "no."
How odd that my leadership skills should go in that particular direction!
In the world of the church it is not easy to say "no." There is always so much to do and we are always short of volunteers. We've been programmed to believe that to refuse an invitation to serve is tantamount to the unforgivable sin. The whining from those doing the asking piles on the feelings of guilt. That kind of pressure has resulted in generation after generation of overworked volunteers, many of whom are filled with resentment, unhappy in their positions, and some of whom burnout or bust out, never to be seen or heard from again.
Obviously never serving is not acceptable. Jesus modeled the commitment and sacrificial service that He expects from all of us who claim His name as Christians. He said that we should be, "...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The church needs its people to be all that GOD designed them to be so that the Gospel could be proclaimed in all corners of the earth (Matthew 28:19, 20). The job of the leadership of our churches is to equip believers so that they can serve effectively. Ephesians 4 tells us: "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (vss. 11-13). Serving is good—the right service in the right place by the right people at the right time for the right reason.
Despite its popularity that old saying that it is "better to burn out than to rust out" is not in the Bible, nor is it true. Neither rusting or burning out is glorifying to God, and certainly not if we burn out doing what God never called, or gifted, us to do.
The young girl at Urbana needed information that she could pray about as she sought the Lord's will for her life. She needed to be encouraged to listen to the urging of the Holy Spirit, not the urging of a mission rep. I trusted my friend to know what God did, and did not, want her to take on as a ministry. She didn't need to be convinced by me. God is a much better "headhunter" than I am!
Several years ago I was asked by my then pastor to take on a particular task in the church. I told him that I would pray about it. I was sincere in that commitment. But rather than encouraging me to pray and then get back to him, he told me that God didn't speak to me; God spoke to him alone, and he spoke for God. He was telling me what God's will was for my life and that I should not question his request but obey him "as from the Lord." His tone of voice when he made his remarks was meant to be intimidating.
If I had been as young and inexperienced as that student at Urbana, I might have been intimidated or manipulated into doing what I was asked. I confess that there have been more than a few times I have accepted responsibilities just because there was a need, or because of someone else's desperation to find a "warm body" to help out, or even out of a mistaken sense that I needed to do more for the Kingdom, that I needed to burn out rather than rust out. But the truth is that unless God has Himself called us to a particular task, or confirmed an invitation extended by someone else, we are wise to say "no" or "wait." He confirms what others have asked of us through His Word and as His Spirit works in our hearts and minds. God DOES speak to us and we need to listen to that voice. We are called to be lights that burn brightly and steadily, not burnout bulbs (Matthew 5:14-16) and the only way to ensure that, is to follow His lead in our lives and not necessarily everyone else's agendas for us.
You are welcome to hide in my booth any time.