I keep hearing heartbreaking reports of burnout among Christian ministers. Christopher Ash’s book Zeal without Burnout is a very short, but very good, biblical and pastoral reflection on the topic. He talks about his own experience of burnout, and includes lots of stories from others in Christian ministry. He argues that we should be thinking in terms of “sustainable sacrifice,” i.e. “the sort of self-giving living that God enables me to go on giving day after day” (p. 26). His chapter titles are nuggets of gold in and of themselves:
- We are creatures of dust
- We need sleep and God does not
- We need Sabbath rests and God does not
- We need friends and God does not
- We need inward renewal and God does not
- A warning: Beware celebrity!
- An encouragement: It’s worth it!
- A delight: Rejoice in grace, not gifts
Ash’s book has motivated me to start a series of blog posts about how I try to put “sustainable sacrifice” into effect on the ground. In the series, I’m going to describe and reflect on some of the habits and personal organisation structures I’ve developed over the years. These habits and structures help me to serve Christ and his people, given my own limitations and the frantic pace of modern life, without getting too stressed or burnt out. Most of the time.
I’ve developed a lot of these habits and structures the hard way, i.e. through my failures. They’re specific to my own situation, so if you think any of them are worthwhile you’ll have to adapt them for your own situation. And please realise that I don’t have a perfect system, and it doesn’t always work for me. But it does help me a lot. And enough people over the years have asked me about my habits and structures that I thought it would be worth sharing online.
The series is (cheesily) called “Slip, slop, slap for sustainable sacrifice”. The series title is modelled on the old Cancer Council slogan about habits for preventing sunburn (the new slogan has 5 “S”‘s which I’m sure is better at preventing sunburn but is just too long for me to remember…). Using a slogan like this, I’m trying to communicate that these are just habits and structures. They won’t achieve anything by themselves. The most important things are to keep coming back to the gospel of God’s grace in prayer and dependence on Him, to keep being godly in your life and to teach God’s word faithfully. The habits and structures are meant to help you do these, not to be a substitute for them. But they will help.
The posts in the series so far
- Slip, slop, slap for sustainable sacrifice
- Taming the phone 1: Minimising notifications
- Taming the phone 2: Putting apps in their place
- Building blocks of a trusted system
- Capturing wild commitments
- Living life in “the zone”: using zones to regulate life
- Inboxes. Getting all the stuff out of them. Every day.
- Who’s afraid of to-do lists? Making tasks that work
- The weekly review: Planning for sustainable sacrifice
- The trusted system: a week in the life
I’d like to acknowledge my brother-in-law Paul, who loves this kind of stuff and keeps feeding me with ideas and tips. Paul first introduced me to the basic workflow model I use, called “Getting Things Done” (GTD). GTD was created by an amazingly insightful thinker called David Allen. If you’re interested in learning the principles of this system, check it out. I’ve also benefitted from Matt Perman’s book What’s Best Next. This book applies the principles within a biblical and theological framework, and has some very helpful correctives to GTD from a Christian perspective.