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ministry burnout
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What a Bike Robbery Taught Me About Ministry Burnout

Early one afternoon, I walked to throw something out in a back room, when I spotted him outside next to my bike.

A large gentleman in his 50’s was doing something, and it hit me immediately, “He is taking my bike!”

Very aptly he pulled off what I thought was a secure lock and hopped on. The back door was locked, so in the time it took me to get outside he was on the bike riding away. I trailed behind him, running barefoot and screaming, “HEY! HEY! HEY! That’s NOT OK!” He did not even turn around as he peddled away.

I know… it was not the most intimidating exchange. In the recesses of my mind, I truly believed that yelling would make him rethink his choice and hand the bike back. By this time all of my neighbors had emerged from their homes. However, it wasn’t about the bike at all.

You see, I live in an inner city neighborhood. In the six or so years we have lived in this particular community, more than six of my bikes have been stolen. I could call the police and fill out a report, but why? They will stop the guy, and he will claim the bike has always been his. My tears were about injustice, evil in the world, and living in an area where people are so focused on surviving the day they can forget what hope looks like. I felt violated. How did he even know the bike was back there? How many times had he been skulking in my backyard when I wasn’t home? Now my tears turned to anger.

There are moments in ministry when we struggle with something called “burnout.” As I sat on my couch wondering why the bike had to be stolen TODAY, I was reminded that there are times in ministry when it feels just like this experience.

Sometimes Ministry Burnout Blindsides Us

My house hadn’t had a “deep clean” in months. I was feeling good about how the smell of cleaning products lingered in the air, and the trash can was full of dust rags when I saw the gentleman taking the bike. Just like shockingly staring in the face of a robbery, we can suddenly be staring down the barrel of burnout when we thought things were going well. We look at an activity or program that went well when, “BAM!” our heart crashes. It might be something small that sets us off like a minor complaint about something insignificant, but it puts us in a tailspin of depression. Just because we have things that are “going well,” it doesn’t mean burnout isn’t lurking around the corner.

Distress Can Make Us React Irrationally

When recounting this story to my son later in the evening, he asked me if the guy was large. I told him that he was a pretty big guy. My son went on to say, “Mom, you are not a large woman. That was not well thought out.” Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about that as I chased him, I just wanted him to stop. I hoped my neighbors might be home, would hear me yelling and come out to help. It wasn’t until after he was down the street that I realized I had other options that would have stopped him. I could have pushed him when I first saw him. I could have sprayed him with the hose. I could have gotten in my car and sought justice. When stress comes, we react. It can be problematic when we are more reactive than proactive. It’s important to think through scenarios or create space in our ministry and life schedules so that we don’t crash and burn. We may have to respond to distress, but we don’t have to unravel there.

Helpful People Help

My neighbors did in fact emerge from their homes. One started apologizing. She had seen this guy and asked him if he should be heading to the back of my house. “Yeah, I know someone back there,” he had answered. She didn’t know, so she let him go. Another started scolding me for not locking my bike better, “This is why we lock our bikes well.” One more just kept saying,“He was just so fast.”After chatting for a moment more, I returned indoors, dejected, and started sobbing.

Sometimes when we are in a difficult place in ministry the people closest to us don’t know how to respond, so they are not helpful at all. One neighbor carried shame and another placed blame. As I told the story to friends, they all had opinions as well. Yet, the most helpful friends were the ones who said, “That stinks. I am sorry.” It sounds overly simplified, but helpful people are helpful. Sometimes well-meaning people are not who we need. In difficulty, identify the people who will be able to best support you and point you to the Lord.

Remember What Matters Most

No, I did not get my bike back. Even if the police find him, it is an old bike that was given to us, and there is no serial number on it. It will be a “he said/she said” scenario. (This has happened before.) What’s important now is my heart. I was totally convicted to pray for the guy yesterday. It was not a warm fuzzy prayer, but I know there had to be something desperate in his soul to bring him to a place of stealing a bike in the middle of the day. This also helped me from getting bitter and overly protective of the rest of my stuff. It will be easy now to become very guarded and look at anyone who approaches my home through a lens of distrust.

It’s the same when we have been burned in ministry. I know too many good people in ministry who have been chewed up and spit out. Some are divorced, some have left ministry. I know a few who have totally walked away from Jesus all together. When things go wrong, and they will, we need to give all of our cares to Jesus and let him remind us just how much he cares for us, and that’s what matters most.

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What a Bike Robbery Taught Me About M...

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