In this small and brilliant book, Christopher Ash discusses an easily seen yet rarely admitted issue-- ministry burnout. He stated that his purpose for writing Zeal Without Burnout is to "help us discern the difference between sacrifice and foolish heroism, and so to guard against needless burnout". He achieved this purpose nearly effortlessly with his powerful exhortations, humble transparency, and engaging real-life stories of burnout in the context of Christian ministry. This is not simply a book for ministers--it is for the whole congregation as we are each called to serve and use our spiritual gifts for the glory of God and the building of His kingdom.
Ash leads off with this powerful fact: "In the USA it is estimated that some 1500 people leave pastoral ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure." That is a significant number considering the declining view of Christianity in America. Though church leaders are falling off due to sins and church conflict, many are also burning out. The reality about burnout is that many don't know they are burning out until the wick is almost completely gone. To make matters even more difficult, many people "burn out for Jesus" because the bible tells us to sacrifice our lives for Christ. What exactly is burnout? It is the culmination of multiple stressors, seemingly crushing pressures, and the relentless desire to complete the tasks at hand which eventually leaves people literally flat on their backs with nearly no energy to do anything at all.
In Zeal Without Burnout, Ash shows us what he calls "sustainable sacrifice", which means sacrificing ourselves in a way that does justice to both Romans 12:1 and John 15:5. "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30) comes to mind as the discussion of man's frailty is considered in light of ministry efforts. What are the things that frail humans need to remember as they pursue sustainable sacrifice? We need sleep, Sabbath rest, friends, and inward renewal. God needs none of these things. As we reflect on these realities, we can begin to view ourselves and God properly which will require us to adjust our lives accordingly. This should humble us and draw us to reliance upon God rather ourselves. This is sustainable sacrifice. This is God-honoring zeal.
Perfectly placed true stories of burnout are littered throughout this short book which enhance our knowledge of just how deceitful our sinful hearts can be at hiding our sinful views of ministry performance. Along with these stories are much needed warnings against pride, encouragements for fellow workers, and reminders to delight in the grace of God in our lives. Burnout is not the end of the world and may actually be a divine wake-up call, but is also not the path we ought to pursue. It is not necessarily a sign of spiritual failure because life and ministry sometimes hit us with curve balls that knock us off our feet. In most cases, burnout is preventable as we--in the context of the local church--observe our lives and remain watchful for the slippery slope that leads to burnout. This book has a place in the library of every believer (especially those serving in formal ministry) as we navigate this complex 21st century world. Zeal Without Burnout is the type of book that should be read at least every few years as a spiritual burnout "check-up", especially for those of us in positions which lend themselves to burnout.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank The Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.