Burnout. It’s a popular topic in pastoral ministry these days, most likely because it is a very real and prevalent topic among our churches today. As someone who works in pastoral ministry, I am already seeing just how easy it is to get burnt out in ministry, how living in a lifestyle of overworking can do massive damage to your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. There is a lot of talk about “balance” these days, about riding the see-saw of work and rest. But what if we throw ourselves 100% into our work and 100% into being refueled?
In Zeal Without Burnout, the wise pastor Christopher Ash provides seven keys for pastors and church leaders to know how to practice the ministry of “sustainable sacrifice” over the years. Ash tells us from the get-go that he has “a personal interest in the subject. At least twice I have come to the edge of burnout. By the grace of God, I have been enabled to step back from the brink” (15). Chronicling his story and stories of others, Ash helps us navigate this tough topic on a very personal level. In fact, most chapters end with various people sharing their stories of burnout. These stories help connect concepts and practices to real-life happening, making this topic not only more realistic to the reader but helping him not feel so alone in these struggles. They are helpful anecdotes.
Ash opens the book with two very important introductory chapters. In the first, Ash makes a distinction between sacrifice and burnout. He then makes the observation, in Chapter 2, that we are indeed “creatures of dust.” After this intro, Ash begins to lay out his 7 keys for sustainable sacrifice.
The first four keys are things that we need that God doesn’t: sleep, Sabbath rests, friends, and inward renewal. I found these four chapters to be the most helpful section of the book. Ash is not only giving biblically-sound practices for squashing burnout but further showing that God’s not needing these things is good for us and our ministry. As he says, “rest is an exercise in trust” (51). There are all kinds of theories on how we should observe Sabbath rests out there, but I think Ash’s treatment of the subject has been incredibly encouraging and challenging. I hope to grow from it in my own ministry. His final three keys are a warning, an encouragement, and a delight in response to these things we need. Ash concludes the book with four short and final thoughts to close the book out.
Overall, Zeal Without Burnout is an excellent tool for pastors and church leaders of all shapes and sizes. This is not a book only for those who feel stressed. If you are a pastor or church leader in any capacity, you will profit from this book, even if you’re only taking preventative measures. Burnout is a gradual, subtle, and dangerous result of not taking care of ourselves, and Ash hopes we will seize the day in getting the right outlook on how ministry incorporates rest and renewal. It’s a short, but very clear presentation of God’s plan for this important topic.
Note: I was provided a copy of Zeal Without Burnout in exchange for my honest review from Cross Focused Reviews.