Are You A One-Man Band? How To Prevent Burnout
I heard about a guy who performed on the street as a one-man band. He had a drum on his back, cymbals on his knees, harmonica on his neck, banjo in his arms, and a hat with bells. He wore a t-shirt that said, “Doesn’t play well with others.” Are you a one-man band, trying to do it all? Maybe you’re under pressure from yourself or from others to be Superman or Wonder Woman in your job, your family, your ministry, and it’s wearing you out. If so, you’re not the first. In Exodus 18, Moses was the one and only judge of Israel, and it was wearing him out. But God doesn’t want one person to do it all. So, God used his father-in-law to advise him (and you) to let go of some things and share the load. In his advice is some great instruction on how to prevent burnout in our busy lives today.
Burnout Prevention Tip #1: Realize That You Can't Do It All
Moses had a father-in-law named Jethro, a Midianite who, amazingly, was a priest of the true God. He really loved his son-in-law Moses, enough to tell him a hard truth. In Exodus 18:13-16, Jethro asked a probing question: “The next day, Moses sat down to judge the people and they stood around Moses from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw everything that he was doing for them, he asked, ‘What is this thing you are doing for the people? Why are you alone sitting as judge, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?’ Moses replied to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God to inquire of God. Whenever they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I make a decision between one man and another. I teach them God’s statutes and laws.’” There are three problems with trying to do it all:
Trying to do it all makes you become a bottleneck.
There was nothing wrong with what Moses was doing. He was doing good and necessary things. The problem was that Moses had become a bottleneck instead of a funnel. That always happens when one person tries to be a one-man band. Instead of being a bottleneck by doing everything yourself, you should think about being a funnel drawing in other people to do what they are good at doing. If you are doing something that someone else can do, not only you’re wasting your time, but keeping someone else from the blessing of serving. You need to focus on what only you can do, what you’re really good at, and empower other people to do what they are really good at. That de-stresses you and empowers others...a win-win.
Trying to do it all makes you a slave of other people's expectations
Jethro asked, “Why are you doing this?” And Moses said, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God.” In other words, “I’m trying to do it all because the people want and expect me to.” Pleasing other people is a huge pressure. Maybe you’re taking on things that are too much for you, not because you necessarily want to but because someone else wants or expects you to. You need to decide whether to please people and do what they want or to please God and do what He wants. Often, people’s expectations and God’s expectations are not the same, and you have to choose whom to obey. Hint: choosing to obey other people's expectations is not how to prevent burnout, but how to burnout.
Trying to do it all is not good; it's also impossible.
In verse 17, Jethro spoke the truth in love to his son-in-law Moses: “What you’re doing is not good.” Why was it not good? Verse 18 says why: “You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone.” Trying to take everything on your own shoulders is “not good.” It may not be sinful, but it’s not good. Those are the same words God used in Genesis 2 of man being alone: “It is not good that man should be alone.” It wasn’t sin (God can’t sin), but it was not ideal, not best. Being a one-man band isn’t best because the result is that you will be worn out/burned out and its not even the best thing for those you think you're helping. Moses had to be worn out from hearing people's problems all day. That's what our counselors at Christian Counseling Associates do all day. And I can tell you that even when you love helping people with their problems, listening to problems all day weighs on the soul. Our counselors do some serious self-care to avoid burn out. Moses did not, and he was surely headed for burnout. And you may be as well. I’ve heard people say, “Well, I’d rather burn out than rust out.” That’s a clever saying, but it’s the opposite of what God says. God says, “The task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone.”
Burnout Prevention Tip #2: Only Do What God Wants
If you are trying to do it all, here's how to prevent burnout: stop trying to do what people want you to do and do only what God wants you to do. In verse 19, Jethro said to Moses, “Now listen to me; I will give you some advice, and God be with you. You be the one to represent the people before God and bring their cases to Him. Instruct them about the statues and laws, and teach them the way to live and what they must do.’” There were two things only Moses could do: talk to God about the people and talk to the people about God. That was his calling and his God-given role. And, through Jethro, God was telling Moses to focus on those two things that God had called him and gifted him to do.
There is great power in focus. The apostle Paul said, “This one thing I do,” not “These ten things I do.” Trying to do everything is like putting a piece of paper in the sunlight. Yes, there will be some impact. The paper will get warm, but that’s it. However, if you focus that light in a laser, it’ll cut through steel. A focused life is powerful! If you really want to make a difference, don't try to do everything, but instead figure out what the one or two things are that God shaped you and called you and equipped you for that no one can do but you, or at least not the way you do it, and then let everything else go and focus all your energy on that.
Burnout Prevention Tip #3: Find Your S.H.A.P.E.
How do you know what God shaped you to do that you should be focusing on? Here is a great tool that I picked up from Pastor Rick Warren. It is an acrostic of the word “SHAPE.”
S – stands for “Spiritual gift.” Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4 list the spiritual gifts. If you're a Christian, you have at least one (see 1 Peter 4:10). And whatever God gifted you with an ability to do is clearly what He wants you to do, right?
H – stands for “Heart.” You not only have a spiritual gift, but you also have a heart for certain things. For example, you may have the gift of teaching, but you have a heart for children. Who gave you that heart? God did. So, that narrows it down a little more. You should probably be teaching children.
A – stands for “Abilities.” You not only have a spiritual gift, but you also have natural abilities, things you’re good at and love to do. Some people are good with numbers, some are good with their hands, some are good with people, and so forth. God made you good with something. So, you look at that.
P – stands for “Personality.” One aspect of personality is introversion and extroversion. Introverts are energized by being alone and drained by being with people. Introverts thrive on solitude when they can do things like study/prepare sermons or Bible Studies, while extroverts thrive on socializing when they can be with people, visit people, meet with people, or care for people. If you’re an introvert, a ministry that requires lots of social interaction will be hard on you; if you’re an extrovert, a ministry requiring lots of alone time will be hard on you. It's best to work with your personality, not against it.
E – stands for “Experiences.” 2 Cor.1:4 basically says that when God takes you through an experience, you are then ready to help others going through the same thing. If you had a rough time in your marriage and you worked on it and now it’s strong, maybe your ministry is helping other couples. Or if you’ve been on a lot of mission trips and love it, maybe you should be leading mission trips.
How Will Everything Get Done?
I know that you’re thinking, “But If I let go of things that I’m not shaped to do, how will they get done?” The answer is that you need to start empowering other qualified people. In verse 21, Jethro continued his advice: “But you should select from all the people able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating dishonest profit. Place them over the people as commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. They should judge the people at all times. Then they can bring you every major case but judge every minor case themselves. In this way, you will lighten your load, and they will bear it with you. If you do this, and God so directs you, you will be able to endure, and also all these people will be satisfied.”
The great old preacher, D.L. Moody, once said, “I’d rather put ten men to work than do the work of ten men.” Yes, that’s true, but not just any ten men. Character comes first. You can teach skills, but a person either has character or they don’t. God’s standard is that those who lead and minister should have sound character. In the New Testament, when the first prototypes of deacons were chosen, they were to be men “of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” In 1 Timothy 3, Paul lays out firm guidelines for the kind of character pastors and deacons are to have. Find people of character and entrust to them the things that you are not called to or shaped by God to do.
Can You Let Go?
One last thought on preventing burnout: it’s a lot easier to say you’ll let go than it is to let go. But Moses did. Amazingly, he let go and shared the load. Verse 24 says, “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. So, Moses chose able men from all Israel and made them leaders over the people as commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. They judged the people at all times; they would bring the hard cases to Moses, but they would judge every minor case themselves.” That speaks a lot about Moses’ humility and strength of character: to be willing to listen to sound advice, admit that his way was not good, and actually let go and share the load. And the result was, it did lighten the load and made things better for everyone. If you want to prevent burnout in your own life, try doing what Moses did in his.
If you’re doing too much, I hope you’ll be like Moses and listen to this good advice from Jethro thousands of years ago because the principle behind it is still true: God doesn’t want one person to do it all. So, let it go. Don’t just say you’ll let it go, let go of the things that God never asked you to do but that people expect you to do or that you’ve taken on yourself, and focus instead on what God shaped you to do. Your anxiety will go down and your eventual but inevitable burnout will be avoided.
If you are struggling with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, I urge you to read about anxiety treatment, and then reach out to us at Christian Counseling Associates to schedule you for an appointment. There is help and there is hope. We are here to help you.
Dr. Mark Riley is a retired pastor & the Executive Director/Owner of Christian Counseling Associates.