Why You Shouldn't Be a Ministry Martyr

I started out in ministry hearing "it's better to burn out than to rust out."  I made the mistake of taking that to heart for awhile and ended up burning out.  You can read more about what happened to me here.

Long story short.  I found out the hard way, that it's not better to burn out than to rust out.  They both end up badly.

We shouldn't be a ministry martyr.  At least not in the traditional sense.  The type of martyrdom I'm referring to is not brought on by someone else, it's self-induced.  It's caused by an unhealthy work/life balance that eventually causes you to crash and burn. 

You shouldn't be a ministry martyr because it is rooted in narcissism.  Do you find yourself either thinking of saying one or more of these statements?

  • No one else can do the work while I’m away.
  • I have to show everyone how dedicated I am to the ministry by how hard I work.
  • I'm not replaceable.
  • I feel guilty when I am away or take time off.
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking the ministry is all about you.  Often because of own personal insecurities and self-esteem struggles, we try to find out self-worth through our ministry work.  We like being the center of the ministry, we like having everyone depend on us, we thrive on the recognition we receive when the ministry is doing well.  It leads us down the road to a deluded sense of grandiosity.  Studies show narcissism is on the rise.  In the 1950's, only 12% of high-school students perceived themselves as an "important person."  But the 1990's, that had grown to 80%.  

But we have to remember that it's not about us.  We can't save the world, that job has already been taken.  No one is irreplaceable.  Even the president of the United States has a vice president who can step in if needed.

Balanced, healthy leadership comes when you realize your self-worth is not rooted in what you do for Christ, but from who you are in Christ.  And it comes from realizing that the ministry is bigger than one person.  It's about the mission God has for your church.  What you are part of us is bigger than the part you play. 

You shouldn't be a ministry martyr because God has provided a better way.  Ephesians 4 shows us what our job is as a ministry leader.  We are to be an equipper rather than a doer.  As we equip and empower others to do the work of the ministry, it not only releases others to carry the ministry, it also releases us from the burden of trying to do it all by ourselves.  When we follow God's plan, we are able to be gone and everything runs fine without us.  When we follow God's plan, we are can step back into the shadows and shine the spotlight on others.  When we follow God's plan, the ministry will grow and thrive.  

You shouldn't be a ministry martyr because you will accomplish more if you go the distance.  Our goal should not be to be successful.  Our goal should be to be faithful.  Find a pace that you can maintain for a lifetime and run at that pace.  The best way to be successful in ministry is to stay in ministry.

We live in a work culture that is now fully connected.  Work is always with us through our smartphones which makes it difficult to "leave the office" and say "I'm done for the day."  But we must learn to put work aside and rest if we are going to go the distance.  Take your day off.  Use your vacation time.  Pace yourself.  Finish strong.  Don't be a ministry martyr.