I briefly explained to my twenty-one year old son today the firestorm over the Presiding Bishop’s mitre.
God’s Care for Burnt-Out Disciples
Let me tell you the story of Jack. Jack committed his life to Christ when he was a teenager. He wasn’t brought up in a Christian family and he didn’t get any encouragement from them when he started attending a church and going to midweek youth group meetings. But he loved Jesus passionately and was very enthusiastic about his new faith, so he barely noticed the opposition. He got involved in a small church that had to struggle to survive, and it was only natural that as he got older he became one of the leaders of the youth work.
Jack went to university and then went out into the business world. He found very few Christians in the company he worked for, and the values assumed by the people in his office were very different from his own. Money was the bottom line. Everyone was aiming for a comfortable lifestyle and lots of them were willing to cut quite a few ethical corners to get it. Jack wasn’t backward about his faith, and gradually he got used to being an object of jokes around the office. He continued to attend church and was now the leader of the youth work. He really wanted to make a difference for Christ and lead others to know and love him, but he was getting more and more discouraged. Not much seemed to be happening; so little was changing.
At a certain point in Jack’s mid-twenties, the pressure just got to be too much for him. So many family gatherings began on Sunday mornings, and he got tired of always being the one who had to be late. He got tired of being the one who was always different at the office, the one everyone else made jokes about. He got tired of all the responsibility of the youth work at church; everyone wanted to see it happen, but no one else was willing to lend a hand. He just lost his enthusiasm for it. He didn’t complain about it; he just gradually discovered that it was a lot easier to sleep in on Sunday mornings, and to blend in at the office. It’s ten years now since Jack went to church, and although he misses it and feels guilty about it, in some ways life is a lot easier for him now.
It must have been about twenty-five years ago that I first heard the phrase ‘burnout’ used to describe the experience we go through when the gap between our ideals on the one hand and reality on the other just becomes too great for us, and our inner flame dies out. As soon as I heard the phrase explained, I recognised that I’d already been close to it several times. I’d been working as a minister in small rural churches with few members, always struggling with financial problems and wondering if the church would survive, and because I was the minister it was always my fault when things went badly. In this context it was easy to lose one’s enthusiasm for Christ, for following him and for leading others to him.
Our Old Testament reading today is obviously a burnout story. It’s the story of a burnt-out prophet, the prophet Elijah. Let’s think about his story together.
Read the rest here.