Robert Lay
Robert Lay, holding up my book, The Pocket Guide
to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership,

translated into Portuguese

Brazilian leaders deal with burnout.

When I was first asked to speak on the topic of leader burnout in Brazil, I was surprised. Because of all the wonderful things I’ve heard about the Brazilian church, cells, and the people, not to mention the more relaxed pace of life there, I assumed they did not deal with burnout like we do in North America. I was wrong.
In my first session I walked through some of the reasons that leaders tend to burn out and later I talked about the dangers signs of burnout, especially for cell leaders. In more than 25 years of small group ministry, I’ve witnessed leaders unfortunately burning out and then stepping out of leadership.
I told the story of Don, a group leader in our church several years ago. Don’s group started smoothly and seemed to go well the first several months. But within the first year, Don called me to tell me he was stepping down from leadership. When I met with Don to ask what happened, he described the time he spent …
  • preparing for the meeting
  • calling members
  • caring for some of the needy people in the group
  • reaching out to lost people
  • inviting people to the group
  • discipling two of the newer Christians
  • dealing with issues and conflicts
  • helping his wife clean the house before the meeting
  • and praying daily for cell members

Don also had a growing family with three young children, a demanding job, and many other responsibilities.

Does that sound familiar to you, leader? Unfortunately, Don is just an example of the legions of leaders who are burned out, burning out, about to quit, or have already quit.

If you are reading this and you have lost your passion and joy for your ministry, I hope God can fill you back up. It’s one of his specialties. I just want to encourage you: Don’t give up! The kingdom of God needs you! But first, God wants you to be healthy. “Do not become weary in doing good. Because at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
I wrote my book, The Pocket Guide to Burnout-Free Small Group Leadership (a small book with a big name!) because I believe the stakes are too high for leaders to burn out and quit. And I believe there are much better solutions. That book describes several ways to lead so that you won’t burn out. The subtitle of the book provides a clue: “How to gather a core team and lead from the second chair.”  But I’ve learned two things over the years about beating burnout:
  1. It’s not just about burnout. The same principles that will keep you from burning out will also make you much more effective as a leader. They will help your group to grow, bear fruit, and multiply.
  2. That first discovery led to the second: Leading your group (or anything else, for that matter) in a healthy way will have two huge effects: (a) you will be much less likely to burnout; and (b) your group will grow, bear fruit, and multiply. You see, writing the book about burnout led me to write my next book, Small Group Vital Signs.
I spoke at the Brazil conference about several of the vital signs of a healthy group and how these vital signs would help these leaders to not only avoid burnout but to be effective and productive in their ministry. So I spoke about the absolute vitality that your group be a Christ-centered community. If your primary focus is on anything else, you will tend toward burnout as a leader and your group will not grow, bear fruit, or multiply.
I spoke on the fact that a healthy group demands a healthy, overflowing leader. This is my favorite topic to talk about, and I found that the people in Brazil responded the most to this topic, both times I spoke about it. Leadership, I believe, is simple: you as a leader must be putting yourself in the position to RECEIVE from Jesus, the true Vine, and then you will naturally OVERFLOW into those you lead.
In my fourth session I talked about the vitality of a leader sharing leadership with 2-3 others in a core team. Over the years, I’ve learned that one of the major causes of burnout is when leaders try to do everything themselves, especially the responsibilities of shepherding and discipling group members.
In my last session, I spoke very personally about my own struggles with allowing my life to become upside-down and the huge toll that took on my relationship with God, marriage, family, and ministry. When we allow our ministry to become our priority, it can drown out our relationships with God, our spouses, our kids, and our friends. Burnout is often ultimately a result of living upside-down, allowing things other than God to be transcendent in our lives.
Leader burnout and ineffectiveness is a universal problem because we as humans tend toward living life and leading our own way rather than God’s way. It’s true in the USA and in Brazil and anywhere else in the world where people are less than perfect. But there are solutions.
Read the rest of the posts in this series on Brazil HERE
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