Burn Out: Does Sabbath Exist For Those Working in The Church?

Burn Out: Does Sabbath Exist For Those Working in The Church?

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As I reflect back on being heavily involved in multiple ministries at church, one day stands out in particular.  It was a blistering hot summer day.  The school we were having church out of barely had any air conditioning.  My job every Sunday for almost two years was to help set up the church’s audio visual equipment.  This meant offloading a truck, laying over 200 ft. of cable, setting up chairs and video cameras and doing the process backwards to pack up.  As I was packing up a gentleman came to me and asked, as the sweat trickling down my forehead, if I did this every week?  After taking a deep breath I said yes.  He said that I should keep in there (not offering any help mind you) and that my blessings are being stored up in heaven.  His wife said in a joking manner, “The Bible doesn’t say that, it says harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few”.  At this point I reached a point of burnout.  Church turned into work and looking back I hadn’t had a worship experience in what seemed like years.  Even when I was able to take a break it felt like I was still at work.  I could only image how some women feel as most ministries where I attended church, seemed to be run by the same female participants. For young adults between the ages of 21 and 45 who are attending church regularly, only 33% of them are men.  Also, 60% of regular attendees are married (Wuthnow 68).  This would leave single women to carry a tremendous load.  In the following paragraphs I will examine how 2 young women got to a place of being burned out.  I will also shed light on how they (or anyone) can get back to a place of worship during Sunday service.

I conducted two interviews.  Interviewee A is a 20 year old female who has been at her church for 18 years.  The number of years she’s been a member surpasses many of those who are members at the church currently.  She is a member of numerous choirs, a children’s ministry, the dance ministry and works at the church twice a week.  On average she is at the church five days out of the week.  She admits that while at church she feels that she is working all the time no matter what she is doing.  Even on the Sundays when she is taking a break, she stated that her mind was still on some sort of work that needed to be done in the church.  When asked if she saw this as a problem she first said no because she enjoyed helping.  After pondering the question for a brief second, she also stated that it is a problem because she was becoming unable to experience worship for herself.  I went on to ask Interviewee A what was stopping her from taking a break.  She stated that it was hard to say no to the older members of the church and if she did say no they would tell her not to sit on her talents.  Even when she did say no to someone she would end up completing their request anyway.  Although she is young she has a lot of tenure and knows the ends and outs of the church so she gets a ton of request from the church body.

Interviewee B is a 32 year old female who has been a member of her church for 10 years.  Interviewee B has limited her role in church to only being involved in 3 ministries.  Early on as she became more involved in the church she noticed that it increased her worship experience and started to put her in a place where she developed a closer relationship with God.  In the early years she helped out where she saw help was needed and often times she was doing the work of the church during non-church hours.  After a few years of being heavily involved she decided to take a step back so she wouldn’t lose herself in the work associated with her church.  Initially she would feel guilty when she said no when asked to complete a task.  She would soon have a break through.  She would realize that she wasn’t telling God no, she was telling man no.  She even jokingly stated, “What good am I to God if I’m too tired to do anything?”  Although early on Interviewee B was asked to do a lot she grew to a place where she was comfortable taking a step back and saying no.  She would no longer allow the work of the church to interfere with her Sunday worship experience.

Have some of us forgotten how to observe the Sabbath?  Or do the duties of the church surpass the idea of a Sabbath?  Maybe some of us do not know what Sabbath really is.  The Sabbath is defined by Calhoun as “God’s gift of repetitive and regular rest.  It is given for our delight and communion with God (Calhoun 40)”.  We are also commanded by the scriptures keep the Sabbath holy and not perform any work (Exodus 20:8-10).  If we are constantly working, where is there time for rest and communion with God?  Of course because of the modern church some work will have to be done on a Sunday so ultimately it will be up to individuals to take a Sabbath for themselves especially since the church will not usually tell them to take a break. Even if a whole day cannot be taken every Sunday, I believe outside of some extreme circumstance, no one should have to work in church every Sunday within any given month, including Pastors.  During this seventh day of holiness all individuals should be allowed to partake in the worship experience without being bogged down with thoughts about anything else than the Lord.  The idea of being “off” on a Sunday may seem radical for some of us, but we first must realize that we are commanded to have some sort of regular rest (Calhoun 40).  If our young adults are in a place where they are so excited to be working for the Lord, we as leaders have to be responsible enough to tell them not to first take a break and remember the Sabbath.  Calhoun states that the Sabbath is God’s way of saying “Stop. Notice your limits.  Don’t burn out (Calhoun 41).”  God gives us this day to stop working and reflect upon who gave us this day and what matters most (Calhoun 41).

If we are not swayed by The Forth Commandment maybe we can reflect upon the story of Mary, Martha and Jesus in Luke 10:38-42.  In these few verses we see Martha scrambling around to complete her work.  She is so focused on her work that she has no time to just sit and be with Jesus as her sister Mary did.  Jesus even states to Martha in verses 41 – 42 that she has become distracted by too many things, and that her sister Mary has chosen to do the right thing which was to sit at the feet of the Christ.  As leaders to the young adults in our congregations, what type of people are we creating with those who are willing to aid the church in its efforts?  Are we creating Mary types or Martha types? We need to make an effort to ensure our church community that we are striving to create Mary types, those who are aware when it is time to take a break and sit and listen to what the Lord has to say.


Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciples Handbook. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2005.

Wuthnow, Robert. After The Baby Boomers: How Twnety- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.


  1. Robert Mitchell
    Apr, 11, 2011 1:07 PM

    Great Work Terrell. I feel you on that Hot Summer day Unloading, Setting Up & then Reloading. Yes Lord!!

    It is wonderful to both your and Brooke’s lives continue to blossom. Its nothing like reaching that Bun Out Point.

    Many Blessings.

  2. Tarneice A. H. Mines
    Apr, 12, 2011 10:56 AM

    For those that know me, know this is my life these days. It’s good to know that others feel that this truly is a problem. Praying that God makes a way for there to be a change at least in my life.

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