A recent post on PositivePsychology.com provides substance to my statement.
“Employees who experience burnout will initially primarily complain of exhaustion. This exhaustion may be referred to as fatigue, tiredness, or feeling low on energy. It appears unshakeable. The fatigue is chronic (i.e., long-term) and continuous.
Next, employees suffering from burnout will appear pessimistic about their work. Their pessimism can manifest in various ways. For example, they may adopt an overtly negative view of their work. Their pessimism can be less overt and more subtle; for example, they may appear unmotivated, disinterested, or uncommitted.
As a result, employees will report feeling despondent about their performance and output in the workplace.”
The phrase that stands out to me in this excerpt is “pessimistic about their work.” This is a great way of describing disappointment. Where have you been disappointed in ministry lately?
Because the Christian ministry leader works with people, there is always an opportunity to be disappointed or let down. We should expect those moments. But, sometimes, the one you’re most disappointed in is yourself. Or, maybe God.
For me, I’ve most often struggled with disappointment when those I led did not live up to my expectations. The outcome was not what I wanted, so I spiraled down into disappointment, frustration, and loneliness, eventually doubting my calling and ability to lead.
I wonder how many other Christian ministry leaders can identify with this.
We’ve been taught to focus on outcomes. The outcome defines personal and ministry success. And if we don’t achieve the expected outcome, we begin to devalue ourselves. Too many failures and we end up in the pit of despair.
Ministry becomes all about what you can do and achieve! If you’re successful in what you do, that just feeds the machine. You stack your successes, and you look like a genius until the wrong Jenga block is pulled out. Everything falls, and you don’t know what to do.
Outcome-based ministry is destroying good Christian ministry leaders.
We need a different ministry model. A model that orbits around Jesus and who he is making you as his follower and as a leader of his people.
Joseph Stowell has some great insight into all of this when he writes that we need Character-driven leaders “whose exemplary lives influence and empower those within the sphere of their authority to achieve great outcomes personally, spiritually, communally, and organizationally…The power behind their leadership is leveraged by their moral authority that comes from the credibility of their lives.”
Character-driven leadership can break the cycle of disappointment and burnout among Christian ministry leaders. Why? It’s a leadership model that is focused on your discipleship.
In short, you’re not building the kingdom. Jesus is building his kingdom by building you. Your task as a leader is the same task of every follower of Jesus: allow the Holy Spirit to produce his fruit in you (Galatians 5). There are multiple ways for this to happen, but it begins with submission to the Spirit and not CEO strategies.
Matthew gives us insight into all of this when he writes about a parable Jesus taught (Matthew 25:14-30). Stowell comments on this,
Consistently, Scripture calls us to choose character-driven leadership. In the story of the ten talents, those who successfully stewarded the master’s estate were rewarded with this character-affirming declaration: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” While outcomes are not unimportant in the story, the affirmation is about the character of the steward that produced the outcomes – affirmation about who the steward is (good and faithful) and an affirmation about how the steward leads (servant).
Leadership is, first and foremost, about character. The leader’s character drives the ministry.
So, Christian ministry leader, if you’re spiraling down into the pit of disappointment and despair, use it as a time of retreat and healing. Take care of your relationship with Jesus. Hear him speak these words of life into your spirit – “well done good and faithful servant.”
Break out of the American trap of trying to build your spiritual empire. This trap leads to disappointment. Instead, let the Holy Spirit produce his fruit in you and transform you from the inside out. The character transformation will be evident to those you are called to lead. They’ll most likely respond to your leadership because you have a new authority that comes from the credibility of your life. And, if they don’t respond, you’re still secure with Jesus, and maybe Jesus will start working in their lives differently.
If you’re disappointed in ministry, redefine your leadership!
If this article has been helpful, let me know. If you’re a Christian ministry leader struggling with burnout, frustration, or disappointment and reconsidering your call, reach out to me before making any big decisions. I help burned-out Christian ministry leaders discover their next assignment in life.
 Alicia Nortje, “What Is Burnout? 16 Signs and Symptoms of Excessive Stress,” PositivePsychology.com, February 27, 2021, What Is Burnout? 16 Signs and Symptoms of Excessive Stress (positivepsychology.com).
 Joseph Stowell, Redefining Leadership: Character-Driven Habits of Effective Leaders (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2014), 24.
 Ibid., 27.