For Workshop 4, Caring for Ourselves and Others, Activity 6 Keeping Priorities Straight in Congregations and Faith In Action: Keeping Priorities Straight
Reprinted from Beating Burnout in Congregations by Lynn M. Baab, with permission from the Alban Institute. Copyright (C) 2003 by The Alban Institute, Inc. Herndon, Virginia. All rights reserved.
We expect our congregations to be places of health and healing, an oasis in the midst of the demands and stresses of daily life. Yet some people experience great pain in their congregations, pain that robs them of the comfort their faith could give them. Burnout is one kind of pain that goes against the very promise of congregational life.
All systems that rely on the labor of individuals, if left to themselves, will encourage burnout. The workplace, nonprofit organizations, and congregations all have a tendency to push workers toward burnout. That is because these systems have goals and leaders dedicated to meeting these goals. The people working within the system very easily become the means to an end, and that end is the accomplishment of goals.
In a congregation, the goals are often lofty and energizing: rich and celebratory worship services, stimulating adult education, outreach to people who are poor and in need, care and concern for children and youth. The congregation has to keep a strong focus on its goals in order for the congregation as a whole to be healthy. Meeting those goals requires labor. The congregational system needs to get people working and keep them at it.
Hard work is necessary to make the congregation a place of refuge and rest. This is a tension, an irony that always exists in congregations. The need for hard work pushes congregation members toward diligent service, and that kind of service can take away the sense of rest and refuge that people need. The congregation that has the goal of bringing life and health to its members may also push people toward burnout because workers are needed.
The congregation as a system will tend to call people into service for the sake of duty, which unfortunately moves so easily into workaholism. It takes effort on the part of leaders to keep priorities straight. Congregational leaders need to expend significant energy with deliberate intention in order to affirm the call to serve God with joy, from the heart, so that burnout will be less frequent.