Zeal Without Burnout: Seven keys to a lifelong ministry of sustainable sacrifice. Christopher Ash, Epsom, UK: the Good Book Company, 2016. Hardcover, 125 pages, $17.99 AUD.
This book includes several stories of pastors and other Christian workers who’ve experienced burnout. One of them, Dennis, tells of how he was preaching one evening and had his life suddenly turned upside down. He just packed up his notes and walked away in the middle of his sermon:
I had just had it, and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.
I drove home thinking, “I’m not going back. I’m finished with ministry. In fact, I may even be finished with church.”
By the time I got home I couldn’t stop crying. I shut myself in our bedroom and didn’t leave the room for three days. My wife came in and prayed, but I knew I was done with ministry. (90)
Many others have had similar experiences. According to the author, “it is estimated that some 1500 people leave pastoral ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.” That figure is in the United States alone! Sadly, we know that our Reformed churches are not immune to this phenomenon.
Zeal Without Burnout is about addressing this phenomenon with a basic, biblical, constructive approach. The author aims to help prevent burnout amongst those involved in Christian ministry. The intended audience includes not only pastors, but also other Christian workers. For a Reformed readership, this book could also be very helpful for our elders. After all, they often have to juggle responsibilities in the church with regular full-time work and family priorities. We should not think that burnout only threatens to sideline pastors.
The heart of Ash’s approach is found with his “seven keys.” These are seven basic biblical teachings which, when taken seriously, will help readers to avoid burnout. I’m not going to share all of them — I want you to read this book for yourself! – but let me just mention the first: We need sleep. While it is good to work hard for the Lord, a lack of attention to adequate sleep will soon catch up to us. Moreover, because our service is from and for the Lord, we can sleep. Says Ash, “You and I sleep because we do not believe that the project of building the people of God rests upon us; we sleep because we know that God never slumbers or sleeps” (49).
This is a small, but well-written book. The author writes out of his own personal experiences getting near burnout, but also out of the experiences of others. The author has also included an appendix, “What Exactly is Burnout?” written by a trained psychiatrist, Dr. Steve Midgley. This appendix helpfully explains the precise nature of what is commonly termed “burnout,” as well as the warning signs and practical steps that can be taken to avoid it.
Who should read Zeal Without Burnout? For starters, definitely my colleagues in pastoral ministry. Brothers, for the sake of the gospel you love and preach, you need to read this little book. Elders should also read it, not only for themselves, but also for the sake of the pastors they work with and oversee. In some instances, perhaps also deacons would benefit from this volume. In fact, I could see consistories profitably reading and discussing this book together. Though a small book, it punches well above its weight. Highly recommended!