How to Burnout for Jesus

by | Jun 7, 2019 | Church Leadership | 0 comments

Why do so many Christians think being burned out is a good thing?

Why do we honor and affirm leaders that end up overwhelmed with exhaustion and 60-hour weeks?

Is starting fast but leaving the Ministry quickly superior to long-term labor?

For most of my elementary school years, I smelled like Ben Gay ointment.

Not because I used Ben Gay instead of Old Spice to jazz up my preteen attractiveness, but due to my role as a Medical Chaplain. It may seem strange to say I was a Medical Chaplain as a young student, but that was the case.

Some background about my family is needed for you to understand my situation.

I was offered an opportunity to alter the “brand” I was stuck with at birth. I was well known in my village as Jesse James, and you can guess the behavior my neighbors saw that led to that moniker. As a wild and untamed kid, my activities caused a lot of waves among a family that desperately needed peace. The horns I had were unfavorably compared with my older brothers’ halo!

I was the second living son of a couple whose first boy died shortly after birth and the younger brother of a son that needed to do one thing to be a hero: LIVE. When I arrived, my hyperactive behavior was unconsciously designed to make sure I was not left out, but the attention I received lacked appreciation and compassion and sold the Jesse James brand to everyone. How could I change that? The chronic illness of our maternal grandad next door was a doorway to positive affirmation.

When he fell ill and was unable to work, Grandmother Taylor took over their small store, leaving her husband needing a supportive caregiver. At age seven, that was too good to pass up, and for the next seven years, I nursed him, read to him and rubbed him with Ben Gay. My move from troublemaker to nurse/caregiver made me into a hero not only to the Sweeten and Taylor families but also with the church community in our tiny town.

Finally, Gary Ray was a “good, Christian boy.”

You may be wondering how the early childhood family dynamics lead to burn out in ministry, but I suspect some of you can see what can happen to a kid that discovered the power of good works to change my reputation and brand.  After God’s touch at age 20, I jumped headlong into doing good Christian deeds that attempted to rescue every kid I saw in need of physical and spiritual salvation.  This led to degrees in Education and Counseling, which primed me for more insightful roles of heroic rescues.

I assumed my behavior was Christian, and most people loved me as a rescuer.

I was very proud of my humble services that I thought perfectly fit into the paradigm of The Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you want to do for me” was the way Jesus taught us to act. But I compared the Golden Rule and my behavior I saw how badly I was missing the mark and why it is impossible to lead long term as a hero rescuer. I was not treating others as I wanted them to treat me. Instead, my behavior was treating people like helpless victims, not responsible adults. It was disrespectful.

There are two “Rules” that we use to follow Jesus that are fakes.

The Lead Rule says, “Do for others what they are supposed to do for themselves,” and it develops dependency and terrible self-esteem among our victims. The Stone Rule is “Trying to do for others what only God can do.” Folks that believe in healing are especially tempted to try to force healing by praying harder and offering exact details about how emotional, relational, and physical healing occurs.

My attempt to be a hero by following the Lead and Stone Rules led me to a mental, emotional, and physical collapse.

Violations of the Golden Rule destroy leaders, churches, and missionary endeavors. When we make our heroic preaching, and knowledge the centerpiece of ministry, it fails to build Disciples of Jesus. Instead, it develops followers of human works that are sure to collapse. Too often, the collapse entails moral and spiritual damage to hundreds of people.

My favorite book for Christian leaders is the online PDF eBook Hope and Change for Humpty Dumpty available at

Gary Sweeten






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