One of the biggest struggles in leadership is burnout. Burnout is a great word because it’s so descriptive of what happens to us—the flame burns out in our life. Over the years, I have watched great people, anointed people, burn out in their marriage, job, and ministry. It’s sad to watch, not only because of the tremendous loss of that leader’s gifting, but also because of the family fallout that often results.
Probably because of the many times I have experienced burnout, I have tried to study and do the research on how to avoid it in my life. Fortunately, it has been over eight years since the last time I have experienced anything close to burnout.
Five Symptoms of Burnout
Based on many sources on health, mental fitness, and medical studies, the following are the key symptoms of burnout:
- Anxiety. Even the smallest tasks seem overwhelming.
- Loss of focus. Can’t seem to concentrate, no creativity. Procrastination.
- Lack of sleep and rest. Feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.
- Numbness. An apathetic attitude and lack of excitement.
- Cynical. No sense of purpose to one’s job.
It has been my experience that if just two of the five symptoms above are manifested in your life, you are on the verge of burnout.
How to Turn Burnout into Burn On
We don’t have to burn out! We can turn burnout into burn on. One of the Biblical passages that has inspired me the most in turning burnout into burn on is Exodus 18:13-23. Moses’ father-in-law observes the leadership of Moses and has the common sense to recognize that Moses is doing too much and cannot keep up his pace.
“So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’
And Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.’
So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself’” (Exodus 18:14-18).
It is thus in the context of potential burnout, that Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, gives him sage wisdom on how to turn burnout into a new lifestyle of leadership.
- Get wise godly counsel. Jethro says to Moses, “Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel” (Exodus 18:19a). When we are overworked, tired, and nearing burnout, we need sage wisdom from older, more successful men or women in our life. They need to be godly, loving, and practical people we can trust. Share your heart and listen to what they say.
- Learn to bring your difficulties to God. Jethro continues, “Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God” (Exodus18:19b). Don’t carry the burden of leadership alone. Learn the art of taking everything to the Lord in prayer.
- Take time to train up new leaders. Jethro explains, “Teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk” (Exodus 18:20). A successful leader is always looking for new-up-and-coming leaders to share the load.
- Delegate leadership to men [and women] of integrity. “You shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Exodus 18:21). Leadership is not for everyone. It is reserved for men and women of sterling character.
- Develop and discover the level of gifting on each leader. Jethro finally says this, “Select…rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens” (Exodus18:21b). Each leader has a level of gifting given by God. Part of leadership is not just the selection process but the installing of the right people at the right place in the right time.
The result of such leadership made Moses one of the greatest leaders in the Bible. It just might be that Jethro’s advice saved Moses’ life. We will never know. But suffice to say that the result was Moses burning on for many more years. He lived to 120, and it was said of him, “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished” (Deuteronomy 34:7).