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.