3 Steps to Avoiding Burnout

by Ana Werner
Posted on 1st March 2014

"So, given your experience with missions in India, what advice would you give me that's different than what most people would say?"

There I was with what seemed like the million dollar question. My best friend was sitting across from me at our favorite restaurant, asking me for hope. This would be the last time I saw her before she went back to India to do missions work.

"Um...rest, and treat yourself to a coffee every now and then," was my stuttered response. (Quick thinking was never my strong point)!

Now I think back to that conversation, and wish I would have answered differently! I've had some time to ponder about this; how to keep from burnout. While my answer is not the typical answer, I think it's wisdom worth reading.

1) Carpet time!
Now this may sound like a nontraditional answer, but just hear me out. When I was in Africa, serving under Heidi and Rolland Baker's leadership with Iris Ministries, I learned about "carpet time". Heidi and Rolland have an incredible ministry! Truly, it's amazing to see how much that woman does in just one day! I would feel like a chicken running around with my head cut off, but she does everything with such ease and joy!

All of the fruit of their ministry stems from intimacy with Him first

How does she do it, you might ask? "Carpet time." She doesn't go anywhere, or open her door in the morning to the line of needs waiting outside, until she soaks in God's presence on her floor until she feels filled up. Sometime this can last for 4-5 hours! The Baker's must be doing something right, cause just look at the outpouring of Iris ministries! The blind are seeing, deaf are hearing, lame are walking, starved children are eating! All of the fruit of their ministry stems from intimacy with Him first.

2) Put yourself first.
Now, I know that sounds pretty contradictory to the lifestyle of a missionary- laying your life down for others, but just hear me out! If ministry is all you do, burnout will be the end result! So, to avoid burnout, find something you like to do, that's just for you, and completely unrelated to the ministry, and schedule it in. If it's also something you did before being a missionary, that will refresh you even more! When I lived in India, finding peace was super difficult. We lived in Calcutta, so even when just opening our front door, we were confronted with stress! The crowded streets and people bustling about everywhere, quickly led me to the conclusion that I am not called to the city life! Lord, bless the people who are (like my best friend). So, to help with my stress and burnout, I would paint regularly, and also go see a movie once a week. Doing those two things (which already were my hobbies before India), totally refreshed me, and helped me to remember who I was amidst all the chaos. I also recommend scheduling it in. Avoiding burnout is important, so take yourself seriously and schedule in treating yourself to something you like to do!

Knowing your own personal capabilities and being able to set healthy boundaries

3) Say NO!
Yep that's right! Learn to say no. Knowing your own personal capabilities and being able to set healthy boundaries is one of the best keys to staying in the mission field. When I was a missionary in Brazil, at one point I was trying to do it all! I was living with my ministry (working with ex-street girls), doing the communications and English translation for supporters of the ministry house, leading worship every week, running the meetings for interns and showing them around all the different ministry houses. Yep you guessed it! That was a recipe for burnout. Although I lasted two years, when I came back to the States I realized just how exhausted I was. I suffered with intense fatigue for 3 months, and had to get on a serious nutrition plan just to bring my energy back up. I learned the hard way. Yes the mission field will stretch you. Yes there will always be needs. Asking the Lord though, is this really what you want me to do, or am I doing for other reasons- is a good heart check. If something you are asked to do, is outside what the Lord wants you to be doing, you are trying to take on too much. Just say no.

Ana and her husband, Sam, have been missionaries with IRIS ministries, YWAM, and IHOP. They've served in many areas including children's ministry, mercy ministries, prayer ministry and information technology.