Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

5 Reasons Why So Many Christians Are Feeling Burned Out Right Now

Burned cross

I’ll be honest- I’ve really been struggling internally for a few months. It’s not something I’ve discussed publicly, but has been a frequent topic of conversation in my home and with some close friends/peers. I think a big part of it was simply winter– it felt brutally long and dark for us up in these parts, but I’ve also been struggling with just feeling generally and creatively burned out. Scripture says there’s a season for everything, and I’m certainly coming out of a dark season of my own. At least I hope I’m coming out of it, because it’s not a place I’d like to build a house or set up shop.

As I’ve been processing this and wrestling with some of things I’ve been feeling, I’ve come to the hunch that I’m not alone– I think a lot of Christians are feeling burned out right now. In the coming days/weeks I hope to write more about some of the proposed solutions to spiritual burnout, but in this first post I wanted to first try to flush out the problem (as I’m starting to see/understand it). So, here’s 5 reasons why I think so many Christians are feeling burned out right now:

 

5. The post-Christendom vacuum is (understandably) leading to endless debates and in-fighting as we wrestle for the future.

I think a lot of people fail to see the significance of the era we are living in: the emergence of post-Christendom. During the Christendom era the church was often paired to the state, where both jointly dominated over society– but that era of church power is now ending (and has ended in many other cultures). Many of us celebrate the end of this era because we feel that this unholy marriage marginalized Jesus and distorted the Gospel. Yet it does leave a cultural vacuum– and this vacuum is where many of us spend our time discussing ideas, theology, and the relationship between theology and a changing culture.  Anytime you have a cultural vacuum being flooded with a mixture of new and old ideas, you’re going to have conflict– and that’s what we’re seeing today. It’s not a bad type of conflict, but it can lead to burnout if we don’t manage our level of participation in it.

4. Destructive tribalism seems to be increasing, and we’re even seeing the formation of sub-tribes or splinter-tribes within groups– and this grieves a lot of us.

Christians have been breaking off into tribes since the early days- from the confusion early disciples had between following Jesus vs John the Baptist (John 1:35-37, John 3:25-26) to Paul and Apollos (1 Cor 1:2). 1500 years later we saw the magisterial and radical reformations, and since that time, we’ve splintered off into somewhere around 40,000 denominations. Even broad categories such as “progressive” or “evangelical” are now seeing an emergence of splinter tribes who often shoot their own people. This leaves many people feeling like there’s no place where one can just exist and wrestle in emotional safety- because you can get shot by your own folks just as easily as anyone else.

3. Another presidential campaign season is kicking off, and many of us are simply tired of the marriage between Jesus and American politics.

I’m not gonna lie: when the first presidential candidate officially kicked off the 2016 presidential cycle, I practically felt like I could cry because it feels like the last election just ended a few days ago. Now we have to endure another season where we try to decide which Christians are “real Christians” and which folks are “false converts” by which candidate the support or dislike. Regardless of what one thinks of secular politics or what one thinks of the appropriateness of a Christian engaging in secular politics, the problem that’s making a lot of us in the middle feel squeezed on all sides is the tendency for Christians to judge, ostracize, and write-off other believers on the basis of which candidate they like or dislike. We need to find ways to erase lines and pursue inclusion, but secular politics married off to Jesus divides his own people– you know, the people called to live in unity and love.

2. Following the counter-cultural teachings of Christ means that one is usually swimming against the current– everywhere.

Life within much of the church is anything but counter to culture. As we see in my example of politics above, oftentimes life in the church actually runs completely in line with secular culture because we buy the false belief that somehow Kingdom priorities can be aligned with the priorities of empire. Unfortunately, they cannot. Those passionate Jesus followers of today who are actually trying to live and be the words of Jesus are finding themselves at odds not just with much of the dominant culture, but at odds with the church who has spent almost 1800 years colluding with culture. Counter cultural faith is beautiful- but it can be tiresome, and that’s a big reason why so many of us are feeling burned out right now.

1. We’re craving authentic, real-world relationships and community… even if we don’t know it.

Being counter cultural and at odds with both secular culture and institutionalized church, leads to a form of isolation at all turns. Some Jesus followers are finding churches who are doing wonderful Kingdom things and who are refusing to collude with empire. Others are not finding churches like that and have to settle for “online” community because they’re often ostracized from a local body of believers. Unfortunately, for whatever benefits one gets from online community (and there are many), this is a lacking replacement for real world, show up at your door with a bottle of wine relationships.  Live this way long enough, and it’s a straight shot to Christian burnout.

I think there are a lot of reasons why many Christians- myself included- are feeling burned out these days, but these are just a few of my ideas.

If you’re feeling this way, what are the things that are leading you to this place? What suggestions do you have for mitigating some of the challenges a radical Jesus follower might face?

In future posts, I’ll be discussing my ideas as to how we can avoid (and recover from) Christian burnout, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear yours.

 

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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34 Responses

  1. Ben… Funny that I was feeling completely zapped by the Christian community here and looked up Christian burnout and here you are again. Found out more things about the Family / the fellowship / the gathering. I can’t do this anymore. Even beloved organizations are bankrolled by them. They have directed much of this current / passing away Christian Right political framework. And even current social justice organizations are funded by them, so the ends always justify the means? Well. I feel that my family and I are one of the used up and tossed to the side means… Is that in Gods plan? Well yes, that is why I feel burned out because not only us but I’ve seen many people used up by Christian organizations as a small means to an end planned by a wealthy and select few whom God has “blessed”. F&”& it all because that’s f$&@ed up. That’s my burn out talking.

  2. Well, the “burnout” I feel – – and lately every morning at the same time (c. 4AM) keeping me awake a few hours – – is this doomsday sensation.

    You’re correct in your total analysis. But I’ve concluded that it’s try, try try, and never seeing any good triumph: POLITICALLY, all the progressives are getting squeezed out of the system; ECONOMICALLY credit-card interest rates have never been higher; CULTURALLY our celebrity role models are decaying rapidly; not to mention our country’s reputation ( which always stood for the best principles of separation of “Church & State” throughout the globe ) is deteriorating daily; and PERSONALLY, friends, acquaintances, and family become harder & harder to reach and communicate with – (and this impersonalized internet doesn’t help; it has stolen our true affections).

    . . . . did I mention the GEOPHYSICAL – climate change issues that have somehow ALSO touched us all? Isn’t there something in the Bible that says….”At that time many will fall away…” Matt 24:10 ….. “End Times” ?

    Are we there yet?

  3. I’ve been in a similar place. For me, ending this kind burnout starts with a fairly simple premise (which happens to be the opposite of what I am seeing in nearly all of the other comments). Take all those ‘other’ christians out there, the ones you find yourself lining up against most often, and try focusing on what’s good and right about them rather than what’s wrong. Because you may find there is more there than you realized. What unites is good and holy, what divides is petty, banal and worldly. Remember this when the impulse to blame everything on the stupid fundies (or whoever) starts churning inside. “Has Christ been divided?” (1Cor 1:13)

    1. I love this so much, yet it’s hard to find the common ground with those who constantly tell me there is simply no way that I can be a Christian. When they explicitly speak to bar me from the door of Big-C church, it can be daunting to attempt to see any light in them.

      1. Jeff, thanks for the reply. One thing I’ve found when I’ve tried to view those I disagree with more graciously is that they’re not as motivated by what I had imagined motivates them. Sure, when it comes time for tribal conflict with the out-group, they are geared up and loaded with venom….just like ‘my group’. So each group looks to the other like it is all about hate, conflict, and destruction of the good. Both groups are right, in a sense, but also very wrong. I honestly think you get a truer picture of any person and their base motivations if you get inside what they love, rather than what they hate.
        more to your point, it was Edwin Markham who said: “He drew a circle that shut me out – rebel, heretic, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle and took him in!”

  4. Great thoughts, thanks. This has definitely been the lowest year of my life emotionally, and there’s some good overlap to your points above. I think most profound is the feeling of being alone. We all want to feel a part of a spiritual body that we:

    a) Resonate with.
    b) Are inspired by.

    For passionate Christians who find themselves in a context where A) and B) aren’t happening, I think it can create an unsustainable context that can lead to a big crash. Whether that manifests itself as depression, burnout, etc, may vary.

  5. #6 I am sick to death of explaining that “liberal Christian” is NOT a contradiction in terms. Its a message that people on both the right and the left refuse to hear. The former only hear the word “liberal” and the latter only hear he word “Christian,” and both act like I have said something obscene.

  6. When I have burned out on Christianity it’s when I’ve been surrounded too much by Christians for too long. Both my stints at Wheaton College and working in evangelical publishing were very hard on my faith. (They told us as first year students at Wheaton if we could be a Christian there, we could be one anywhere.)

    One thing that has kept me alive is taking the Lord’s body and blood every week. There’s something quiet and real and intimate between me and the Lord that takes place. He meets me on a cellular level.

    Another thing that I think might alleviate burn out is paying attention to self care, getting sleep, exercise, eating right and allowing for quiet, wasted time. Our culture pushes us to cram our schedules full and maybe that’s part of why our wells run dry. Being so busy, giving everything away, can set us up to lose our values, set us up to become addicted or lose our marriages. Maybe wasting time, doing little is a l counter cultural thing we can do.

    My husband and I shelter in an ELCA Lutheran church. Our pastors have fed us with their homilies and communion and just plain seeing us with the eyes of love. After a tough time with angry, full of themselves pastors, this has been very healing and restoring as though the littleness of our involvement has really been great.

  7. I think #5 is the root of much if not all of the rest of the list. You have the People Who Think Christendom is Still Here, the People Who Think It’s Gone but Want It Back, the People Who Are Glad to See the Back of It but Aren’t Entirely Sure What to Do Without It, and everything in between and outside.

    Post-Christendom is theoretically a great opportunity for us to define ourselves and our story in our historical context, but you have to be free to wrestle and get it wrong, and this is not an opportunity kindly granted by much of the church right now, probably as a means of either defending Christendom-ish paradigms or securing their own vision of a post-Christendom paradigm.

  8. I believe that there are 3 common reasons why many sincerely committed Jesus followers are leaving their institutionalized Churches:
    1.Dogmatic Absolutism
    2.Self-righteous judgmentalism
    3.Triumphalistic sectarianism

    There is also the problem of the commodification of religion (and everything else!) in America. Most ecclesiastical denominations have their own publishing houses which mass market educational materials that support sectarian theological biases. As all business majors realize, the secret to successful mass marketing is to seek and satisfy the lowest common denominator:

    In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe , where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise. –Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate

    In a rare interview in 1967 with Thomas McDonnell, [Thomas] Merton pronounced that the great crisis in the church is a crisis of authority precipitated because the church, as institution and organization, has overshadowed the reality of the church as a community of persons united in love and in Christ. He
    now charged that obedience and conformity with the impersonal corporation-church are a fact in the life of Christians. “The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity. ~ George Kilcourse, ACE OF FREEDOMS: Thomas Merton’s Christ

    There is also the problem of our “national temperament.” Our collective American society tends to be more proactive than reflective:

    “(American Christianity) is more Petrine than Johannean; more like busy Martha than like the pensive Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. It expands more in
    breadth than in depth. It is often carried on like a secular business, and in a mechanical or utilitarian spirit. It lacks the beautiful enamel of deep fervor
    and heartiness, the true mysticism, an appreciation of history and the Church;
    it wants (i.e. “lacks”) the substratum of a profound and spiritual theology; and under the mask of orthodoxy it not infrequently conceals, without intending or knowing it, the tendency to abstract intellectualism and superficial rationalism. This is especially evident in the doctrine of the church and of the sacraments, and in the meagerness of the worship… (wherein) nothing is left but preaching, free prayer, and singing.” –Philip Schaff, a Swiss theologian, analyzing American Christianity for a German audience in 1854.

  9. I have to say … I very much agree with #1.

    One who struggles with the status quo, one who struggles with institution and hierarchy, and one who wants to ask tough questions will always feel a sense of loneliness within the realm of the church. There´s simply no place to maneuver.

    For some time I was part of pretty conservative evangelical circles in America. When I moved away from the country and when I also became more progressive (for lack of a better word) in my patterns and thoughts, I lost all contact with those brothers and sisters. Sad really.

    Here in Europe … where I live at least … it´s still very much the same. Large, institutional churches that are very impersonal. It seems nearly impossible to find real relationship among brothers and sisters within the Body of Christ. Why I ask?

    Lord have mercy.

  10. I’m so thoroughly burned out I may have lost my religion (so to speak) altogether. I am starting to see the Atheists’ points. I turned 49 on 4/29, and after 30 years of being a Christian (20 years of mainline then fundamentalist then evangelical protestant, and the last 10 of roman catholicism) I have freaking had it. I have had it with theological arguments, judgmental attitudes, arbitrary rules, apologists, liberals, conservatives…you name it. I used to love Jesus…now I wonder if it’s all just a myth. Hanging out with Doctor Who fans is way more enriching than hanging out with Christians.

  11. Concerning the statement: “Following the counter-cultural teachings of Christ”

    The only counter-cultural Christians I have ever seen are Franciscan Monks who own nothing and fulfill Jesus’ advice at Mark 10:21-22
    “Looking at him [the rich young man], Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.”

    I guess one could argue people living in Christian communes would also qualify if you read the above and link it to Acts 4:32 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

    I anticipate your going to tell me reasons why this stuff isn’t to be taken literally, I am interested in such response. But to be honest it always strikes me as hypocrisy.

    In today’s consumer capitalist culture absolute refusal to worry about money would make you counter-cultural.

    So Christians would be counter-cultural if they followed their Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-27 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”

    But rather most Christians will yell at you if you even brings these verses up and then argue that somehow these passages aren’t meant to be taken literal but the words about the dead guy coming back to life after being thrown into a hole for three days – those are to be taken literal.

    So it just seems over 99% of Christians are identical to the “worldly” but unlike everyone else they like to brag about how “counter-cultural” they are.

    Placing your very health and physical existence in the hands of your Jesus by embracing poverty would be radical, in contrast the common practice of giving a certain percentage of your income to charity is a middle class norm.

    Christians come off as hypocrites when they behave like everyone else but call others “worldly” and declare themselves “counter-cultural”. Which is weird because Jesus especially condemns hypocrites in the Bible accounts.

    When the Pew Research Polls find that over 78% of American respondents claim to be Christians – a person is not counter-cultural by merely saying Jesus is god or he rose from the dead, over 78% of Americans would parrot those same words.

    With over 78% of Americans claiming the same world-view Christians are not some Isaiah out of their Bible stories – held to be preaching truth to power; if that’s the analogy Christians are like the people Isaiah was preaching to. There is no difference between 99.9% of them and the “worldly”.

    So please with your vast majority dominating the culture, give the rest of us a break with your constant talk of how “counter-cultural” you are – it just comes off as patting yourselves on the back for lying to yourselves. The culture is dominated by money and you can’t be successful at selling anything if you are going to alienate the 78% of Americans with a Christian world-view.

    Again if your in some commune or some hermitage, monastery, nunnery – please go ahead and talk about being counter-cultural because what you are doing makes that true; and thank you for doing your thing because bringing the fact that your able to do it is often the only way to get those other Christians to stop screaming that it can’t be done.

    To be sure I don’t give away all my stuff either, but then again I don’t
    call myself a Christian nor do I claim to be “counter-cultural”.

    Sorry if this seems a bit harsh, but its like listening to some kid in high-school who thinks he’s really “pushing the boundaries” by wearing denim jeans. Dude we all have denim jeans. You’re just like everyone else. If you want to be something extraordinary so bad you’re going to have to stop being ordinary.

    1. James,
      Your post was great. I agree. It seems that the ‘counter cultural’ Christians today (the one’s who refer to themselves as such) tend to be the Liberal or Progressive Christians. They like to say how they are not in league with corporate America and the Christian Republican Right. Like there isn’t a crap ton wrong with the Leftist Democrats. (I’m sick of them both! Yuck!) So, really, they aren’t Counter Cultural, they are Counter traditional American Christian culture. As someone who is not sure where her Christian beliefs lie at the moment (though I was one for 30 years) I can call B.S. on that kind of counter cultural idea. You are correct. The progressive Christians are living in the same USA as the traditionalist Christians (who think themselves as counter cultural). They have very similar lives, they just give to different charities or political campaigns. Not voting Republican or being pro marriage equality doesn’t make one ‘counter cultural’. You are right, there isn’t anything extraordinary going on. It’s just a different kind of ordinary. More than anything is a glaring lack of love for anyone not in one’s tribe. And it’s soul crushing.

      1. Queen Mab and James, yes what you say sounds about right to me. I agree that we’re not really being counter cultural if we don’t sell all we have and follow Jesus. I take hope in what Jesus said when the disciples asked him who can be saved? He said Nothing is impossible with God. Richard Rohr is writing about this right now in his daily meditations.

  12. I had not even identified it as burn out. But I think you clarified it more for me. #1, Community. And yes I know it! I want to be with people that are seekers, who don’t need to have all the answers and may not have any. I want to hear redemption stories and be with people who care only about touching and healing the broken. We are all broken and need each others healing. Maybe much of it is a larger need for rest. From work, from technology, from striving. A Sabbath day, a Sabbath week, a sabbatical month or year. Blessed Rest.

  13. I’ll just read this for the next few days and cry… I’ve felt at least 3 of these for years now… thank you.

  14. I think the five you have been feeling are spot on. Number two really hit me yesterday as I had just made a new blog post about the self-sacrificial love of Jesus/martyrdom/and ISIS (http://brandonandress.com/2015/04/27/a-message-to-isis/) and was getting blasted… not just from non-Christians… but from those who identify as Christians. I thought- Man, you guys are suppose to be the ones agreeing with the way of Jesus. I got so discouraged and wondered why I even put myself out there. It can be an incredibly lonely place. It’s enough of a commission to take Jesus to the world… but to have to take Jesus to the Church too… overwhelming.

    1. I think the church isn’t the church. You & I are church. I think as we move into a time where we are all surviving where the american empire is going more ppl will discover the reality of love jesus is showing us.

      1. That’s exactly right, because there will not be structures and facades to hold on to or hide behind. Reminds me of Hebrews 12:26-28 when he talks about how all of earthly things will be shaken and will crumble… with only one thing remaining- the unshakeable Kingdom. I am ready for the “shaking” to begin, so that all may see Jesus and his present in-breaking Kingdom. Thanks brother.

  15. During my deacon ordination testimony last fall, I cited that I was a burned out Christian (glad I am not alone). Since then, I thought a new role would revitalize me, however I have not felt a relief from this, but more of a burden. I think part of it is, the noise from social media/internet/other media. On it, sects of Christianity have become the equivalents to a certain “think tanks,” rather than a collective of individuals with personal relationships with God. We vs. They. Good vs. Bad. Saved vs. Heathens. It’s exhaustive. The Bible is wielded like a weapon to bludgeon whoever disagrees, and after a while discourse becomes futile.This constant dissection of word or deed in order to be right, to be “liked” to be “shared.”

  16. I’m reading your book Undiluted; there’s a lot of ‘deja vu’ there for me; I was spiritually reared in the very buckle of the bible belt.
    As to being involved in the Body, I’ve spent the last few years looking for that; haven’t found much. I refuse to settle. Sorry. Been in there far too long.
    I did find a place in Cal for a year, but am now back in the southeast. Looked and visited, hung my spiritual head and walked out of some (respectfully). I have thankfully found another place, although it’s far to travel.
    Point is that christianity is a far far cry from what the man i follow calls me to. I refuse to settle. I’m probably older than most of your readers, but I’m actually maturing in my relationship with master Jesus, even apart from the fellowship with other disciples, and I’m thankful to him for it. I long for the family relatedness.. long for it.
    Keep on, bro.
    Never give up or give in.
    peace to you

  17. For me, another huge issue has been the Pope: supporting us one day, and attacking us the next and seeming to support those who oppose us. (I’m not claiming that he does: I don’t know what he thinks, only how he communicates.)

  18. We are not alone. I too feel like you. Try and remember that we fight the same enemy, for the same King, no matter what banner you stand under. Find peace within knowing its more about ortho-praxis (what we put into practice and work to build up the kingdom here on earth) and less ortho-doxy. You are doing it my friend. Peace be with you.

  19. These…and add to that a series of fractures and hurts at my home church. I’m feeling adrift, like I’m not sure where I belong. I hope that makes sense?

  20. I wed politics to my Christian enthusiasm for spreading the gospel with Jesus at its center rather than dichotomize the two. There is no such thing as secular anything really. “Love the Lord your God with all your mind, soul, body, and strength” my Bible says, not stay out of the fray of politics because Jesus doesn’t speak to those issues, and we can’t speak to them because we have to only talk about things of the “spiritual” realm. We need to get dirty for Jesus–yes, and that means debate and tangle with the naysayers who think Jesus isn’t a part of how our country establishes its laws and brings blessing to our land. The reason Christians are burnt out is because they are double minded about truth and are pulled by other Christians into feeling they are wrong for being involved in refuting the cultural ploys to take away what we have freely been given by “nature’s God.” We have a responsibility to weld our faith to our practice not only in loving our neighbor but in voting and arguing for the policies that Jesus would vote and argue for. I’m not burned out.

  21. Have you been reading my mind or living my life? ? Seriously, though, I have been accused of being a heretic for being progressive and voting other than Republican. As a pastor, I won’t allow Right to Life voting guides in my Church because being against abortion in my opinion does not give one the necessary capabilities to effectively govern. I don’t want to be burned out. I want to love God and others.

  22. Thank you. Amen on the elections. When I saw all the fb posts about Hillary et all, I got all grumpy and started searching to flights for Asia. I do not want to be on the continent when elections are going on. I can’t handle it. I also completely agree with the feeling of living in a fractured religion. Really, the fractured part has been intense since the reformation, but since evangelicalism is falling, it is even worse. I frequently tell my friends I don’t want to have to convert to Catholicism or orthodoxy to find some sense of stability, I wanted to find peace within my own tradition, but I haven’t found it. I appreciate your thoughts.

  23. This is a great summary and I’ve experienced the weight and weariness of these things myself – thank you for articulating this. I’ve found that as I focus on focussing on the kingdom work I am to be doing, that these have less pull on me. I’m trying to stay in awareness of the body of Christ at large, but not allowing all that is wrong mess up my days or what I’m to be about

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