Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone……….So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.”
I was reflecting on this passage this morning from Exodus 18:17-22, and a few things are running through my mind:
1) I think there is a tendency in ministry to do the Lone Ranger thing, and to go about tasks alone.
2) There is a tendency to equate burnout and exhaustion with the qualification that it is okay since we are serving God.
3) We not only burn ourselves out when we push and push, but we burn out those around us.
4) God has given us people and community to bear the tasks, joys, burdens, etc. of ministry with one another.
5) Delegating the work of ministry is an important gift/skill to learn and possess.
6) It is no surprise that talk of Sabbath rest abounds in the Exodus text.
This is a beautiful passage about Jethro taking interest in the self-care of Moses, his son-in-law. Jethro knows that if Moses is going to continue to follow God and lead His people out of the wilderness, then he is going to have to take more care of himself, and not go about this task alone. Jethro also knows that if Moses burns himself out, he is also going to burn out those around him.
I see this in ministry all the time. And I have experience it myself. Leaders often take on the brunt of the task, and either a) don’t want anyone else involved in making decisions b) don’t know how to delegate and allow others into the process. If a pastor or church leader does not learn how to do this, then I think a burnout is sure to happen at some point, and then we become angry at those around us for not helping out, though we have not allowed them to help. Or we become angry at God, and disillusioned with our calling, or with the church and its people.
Self-care is an important aspect of ministry and it is a discipline that I believe must be practiced time and time again so that one can get into a good rhythm. The 6 days work, and 1 day rest is a rhythm. A Sabbath rhythm, and we must learn to join in on it.
Self-care is also not only important for pastors, ministers and those who are leading, but for everyone that is volunteering. I see too often where a great volunteer comes along, and the next thing you know, we have pulled them into so many things in the service of God and the church, that they too get burned out.
Self-care is ultimately about letting go of the control in your life, and maybe the ego or pride that says only I can do this task. It’s about allowing the other members of the body (I Cor. 12) being in on the work of God.