A Note from Chris Adams: If you have been in ministry long in any capacity, you know that you can overextend and serve to exhaustion. At times that is just part of serving Christ, but if we live in a state of panic or burnout for long periods of time, we do not serve well. Today, as a part of our Ministering in the Messy series, Dr. Deb Douglas, First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA, helps us discern if we are “throwing pearls to pigs.”
Burnout. It can happen to anyone who serves in ministry. Anyone.
It’s not because of a lack of spiritual maturity. It’s more an abundance (or overabundance) of ministry. When helping others slowly creeps in to take over every spare moment, burnout becomes a hazard.
Helping others too much happens in the world of messy ministry. The needs are abundant as is the drama. Weeding through the drama to get down to the trauma or ministry needs can save us from the throes of burnout.
How do we determine what is drama and what is trauma?
- Vague needs. Drama is filled with vague needs and there are no concrete fixes.
- Drama tends to be ongoing calls for help while trauma is an urgent need for intervention.
- Caught up. It’s drama if we find ourselves caught up in the continuing story of someone’s life, as if we are waiting for the next episode of a reality TV show.
- When there are excuses for why all possible solutions will not work, then it’s drama.
- When biblical solutions are not heard or seen as possible solutions, then it is drama.
Women who live in drama need help, but it may not be our help. If we truly want to help, we will point them to professional Christian counselors who will help them work through their issues.
Back to burnout and us: over-helping can cause burnout. To protect ourselves, we need to set aside time for our personal spiritual refreshment and take responsibility to determine when we are over-helping.
How do we know when we are helping others too much? Unfortunately, we do not have a Mary-Poppins-type measuring stick that measures “not enough,” “too much,” and “just right.”
Since we can’t buy those at the local big box store, we have to discover some measuring standards that work for us:
Measure #1: Why are we helping? Is it because it makes us feel valuable? Secure? Popular? If so, take a step back and reevaluate the motive behind the service.
Measure #2: Obligation. Are we helping others because we feel obligated to serve? Take a step back immediately. Serving out of obligation does not reflect the love of Christ to others but indicates unhealthiness in us.
Measure #3: Need. We need to be needed by others. This is the wrong motivation. Take a break and reevaluate.
Measure #4: Expectation. Helping others because it is expected is exhausting. We will never fulfill unrealistic expectations because they are just what the word says: unrealistic.
Measure #5: Some people love drama; their lives are one drama after another. We will not solve someone else’s drama.
As I have worked through the concept of burnout to come to a better understanding, I have found myself pondering Matthew 7:6: Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them with their feet, turn, and tear you to pieces.
Pigs and pearls. This verse has become my ultimate measure: Am I throwing my pearls before pigs?
In other words, am I giving of myself, my resources, my skills, my abilities, and my time—all things that God has given me—to help in such a way that a difference will be made? Or am I carelessly using what God has given me in a way that leaves me exhausted, frustrated, and trampled?
Burnout feels like being trampled—trampled by unrealistic expectations, co-dependency, or drama. Are we wearing our pearls or throwing them to be trampled? Pearls are made to be worn!
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
Dr. Deb Douglas has served in women’s ministry for over 37 years. Now she spends her time working with Purchased Ministry, a ministry to women in the sex trade industry. Deb is also the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Church, Bossier City, LA. She was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters degree focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. She is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.