If anyone had a right to quit it’s Becky and Jason. For decades they have raised their own support to minister in Uganda. Their hectic schedule includes regularly feeding and preaching to poor prisoners, holding Sunday services and even
training Ugandan pastors. They oversee an orphanage nearby where they ensure the children have proper uniforms to attend school. When they are not otherwise engaged Becky has coffee with women and offers hospitality to other missionaries who need a little R&R.
Jason has Parkinson’s disease and only gets medical care when the two are on furlough in the United States. He shakes- to the point it is difficult for him to hold his Bible. Becky spent an extended period in the U.S. recovering from the effects of a drive-by shooting.
When asked what keeps them going, Jason said, “It’s love for the people. We have people every day who want someone to talk to and we build relationships. We love them, so it doesn’t feel like work.”
Five years ago, Brenda couldn’t have been more excited about the new church plant. This congregation was full of passion, as well as plenty of service prospects. Now after years of serving on committees, hosting a small group, and doing anything else that needs done, she’s simply feeling too needed. Her church opportunities seem more like time commitments and burdens.
When asked what keeps her going, Brenda said, “I know it’s the right thing to do. I want to serve God, but I just wish I felt appreciated. I kind of hope our church gets some new people to spread out the load because I’m whipped.” She is a Christian Zombie… Going through the motions of ministry.
What is the difference that has kept the Ugandan couple energized and Brenda (who appears to have a lighter load) struggling with burn-out? Three things may make all the difference.
Striving for Perfection
A common American phenomenon in the church is “plastic fruit.” Christians can post Bible verses on Facebook, their most flattering photos, and encouraging comments and appear to have their spiritual house in order. Juicy news scandals of pastors who have fallen into sin warn believers that failure and brokenness make Christ look bad, so to be good examples, Christians in ministry can strive for the appearance of perfection at the cost of true intimacy and accountability with believing friends.
Doing the Right Thing
Some people are just driven to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. These good people fill ministry gaps because there is a need. Anyone enjoys the feeling of being needed, and their unique talent is being esteemed. However, when spots in children’s ministry are always open for any warm body to fill, that desire to help turns quickly to weariness. Being chosen to serve is a blessing, but being needed or else a ministry is going to suffer feels like a wife nagging about the always present “honey-do” list. Doing a ministry because an opening needs to be filled makes one feel used.
Serving for Position
Some people serve with hope in the back of their minds that their serving will lead to something else, possibly a more prominent position. For one person it may mean offering to help clean up after the church service so they will get noticed by the pastor. For another it may mean volunteering with the youth group in hopes it will turn into a paid position. In these cases a period of happily serving can turn to disappointment when others do not take notice and respond in the way we hoped or expected. Picking up left behind bulletins and checking the bathrooms after the service turns from a way to mingle with the leadership to a reminder of being outside the circle of the “movers and shakers” at church.
Obviously these three reasons may be compounded by additional personal and physical factors, but the importance of motivation cannot be overstated. Jason expressed how his love for the people in his Uganda community kept him going. He is invested. He is also living in a culture that thrives on time with others more than alone time for refreshment. Brenda has lost her love for the people and as such responsibilities she used to do joyfully have become all about simply fulfilling needs. Like the church of Ephesus in Revelation, when the first love is gone all that’s left is plugging holes.
3 Things to Do When Love is Waning (Preventing Christian Zombie Taking Over)
- We must surrender our wills and allow Christ to love through us.
- Make a concerted effort to remember what God has done in the past through this ministry and recollect what these people have meant to you. Were they there for you at a difficult time in your life? Have they at times brought you encouragement?
- Surrender selfishness and wrong motives. If prideful desire for attention was a motivation for ministry, confess it as sin. And, finally, communicate with a wise Christian friend about your feelings of burn-out and ask for prayer. A person of godly wisdom can help you evaluate your schedule to see what activities could and should be eliminated, and more importantly pray with you that your first love will be restored.
When we love God and love people with our hearts, speech and actions we know we are doing what is required of every believer. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18.
Have you ever had a time when you struggled with becoming a Christian Zombie… just going through the motions of ministry? What happened in your own life? How did God rekindle your first love for Him? I’d love it if you’d share your own experience below.