There are many creative things that happen at Vox Veniae Church in Austin, Texas. Yet, during my time with Pastor Gideon Tsang what stuck out the most was his desire to not lean into the corporate understanding of what a pastor should be.
Gideon sought, for so long, to fill the cultural understanding of a leader that he wore himself out. He worked himself so hard he didn’t even realize how exhausted and in need of rest he was. And there it was… Burnout. It finally hit him and his community sent him on sabbatical.
The Times We Live
We live in a time when to be the martyr is seen as noble. Yet, being seen as someone who takes care of themself is to be seen as weak. Often people are burnt to the crisp and are not only encourage to give more, but are praised for doing so. As a result, we have crispy pastors, that don’t know how to take care of themselves. We therefore, have communities that are shown a way of leadership that is not super healthy and cycle perpetuates itself.
In American culture today pain is what we desire most to stay away from. We seek to run away from it as fast as we can. We are told to “push through the pain” or “its 90% mental and 10% physical.” Meaning we are to ignore what our bodies are actually telling us at all costs. We have been trained to believe that our bodies are the biggest limitation we have.
We have tons of self-help books that encourage pastors and leaders to use their time better. Books that are primarily just telling people how they are doing life wrong and should try harder to not suck at it. Which sounds a lot like having to “push through.”
Is burnout inevitable?
...or is trying to prevent it just another way of avoiding pain?
When asked should we prevent burnout Gideon said:
How can we prevent burn out - maybe we’re not supposed to prevent it? Cause when you come to the end of yourself… no one would choose it, but once you get there it’s an invitation. And I actually think that’s how grace works… where you have to exhaust your own ego in yourself cause I’m not going to let it go of my own volition… it’s too scary.
Can the pain of burnout, that so many of us seek to avoid, actually be a tool that God can use to reveal God’s love and grace for us? Burnout helped Gideon see what grace really feels like.
This made me think of Romans 8:28 (NIV) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It seems fitting this passage is sandwiched with a passage about suffering, the Holy Spirit, and God’s unlimited power.
Is Burnout What God Desires For Us?
No. I don’t believe that God wants us to suffer from exhaustion and fatigue. But I do believe that God will use whatever presents itself as an, as Gideon put it, and invitation to draw ourselves closer to God. Which is what I think Gideon is getting at.
After his sabbatical Gideon said that his physical appearance actually changed. He was brighter, not as gaunt or sullen looking. He physically experienced transformation from rest and grace. Now, his life choices are different.
We Have A Choice
If you follow Gideon on Instagram you can tell he takes his self-care seriously. Gideon was given an invitation by God to accept the gift of grace handed to him. Did he do it well? Who knows? That isn’t for us to judge. But it is does give us all something to think about:
How do we view and respond to the circumstances that enter our lives? Do we see them, good/bad/ugly/joyful, as invitations to turn towards God? Do we see them, good/bad/ugly/joyful, as challenges that only we can overcome?
Burnout is not the only way that God invites us. God is constantly inviting us, wooing us, pursuing us into relationship. What do we do with those invitations? We have a choice.
To hear the rest of Gideon and my conversation about pastoral work, what it means to start and sustain a community, and God’s work being beyond our imagination check out the full podcast here.