Ministry Burnout in Religious Life
A catholic sister suffered ministry burnout because she managed her
She was putting in time at all hours of the day because of the way she
defined ministry...with no time boundaries.
She was a certified grade school teacher by profession but she gave up
working in schools out of a sense that the world was a bigger place and
the world had more need of her.
(It's likely that she suffered ministry burnout in her grammar school
career and simply needed a sabbatical.)
With these vague ideas she actually narrowed her world and worked
harder than she had ever done -- without financial remuneration.
She was between jobs when
she met a young single mother who did not
complete high school -- and who had two preschoolers children.
The young woman was under stress from her own mother -- with whom she
and her two children lived.
Her mother wanted her to get a job and/or a
GED diploma to finish high school.
Since her own mother worked -- the young woman was in a bind. she could
not take care of her children look for a job and study for her GED.
In stepped sister -- already partially suffering from ministry burnout.
She offered to care for the children for a "few hours" each day during
the week while the young woman looked for work. Or went to the library
to study for her GED.
A "few hours" was never defined. And teenagers have a very different
of time than adults do. Sister had some idea of what a reasonable
amount of time was but never specified the number of hours she would be
with the children.
The days grew longer and longer for Sister as the young woman stayed
away longer and longer each day.
Now Sister was not only minding the children for a few hours a
day...she was feeding them...changing them...putting them down for
In an unintended way she was managing her time effectively because she
had the two children on a predictable schedule. She also read to them
and played with them instead of planting them in front of the
The young woman never did get a job or apply to take the GED exam
during the time Sister watched her children. But, she and her mother
were effusive in their gratitude and praise for Sister.
Sister was ripe for ministry burnout. And predictably it found her.
It was Sister's superior who finally put a stop to this 'ministry.'
Sister was a very kind person...easy to take advantage of.
But there are several things to question about such 'kindness.'
The first is to ask whether it is actually a kindness to help someone
stay exactly the way they are -- in their problem state.
The young woman accomplished nothing while Sister was available.
But she did get to rehearse her irresponsible life-style -- she did not
have to care for her children and no one supervised her time in the
library -- to see if she ever went there.
The young woman's mother would call Sister in the evening to discuss
her daughter and what to do about her -- taking up more of her time.
- Sister had an obligation as a professional to
bring revenue in for the
support of her religious community
- She was not reimbursed in this
- She was too tired to take part in the life of
her religious community
with the other sisters
By now you may have an understanding that something is quite wrong with
taking on such a "ministry" -- or you may think that a life of
self-sacrifice is important to the spirituality of a catholic sister.
However, her uncompensated employment was not ministry...not
religious activity. It mere helped a teenager act more and more
irresponsibly, it deprived the religious community of the sister's
support and companionship and did not, as ministry must do, bring
them closer to God.
It is important to note that in being kind
to the young mother, Sister was inflicting financial hardship on her
community, and diminishing community life by her absence. Ministy
does not injure one party in order to favor another.
It would be useful for your own sense of time management -- either to
rehearse your good time management practices or to start thinking of
them -- to specify what boundaries are included in this example and how
they were violated to Sister's detriment.
Make sure that your boundaries are in place so your actions are
related to ministry and not to non-ministry. Download the FREE
book and audit your own boundaries before a superior does it for you.
Protect God's work.
Protect yourself...your ministry...
and those to whom
God sent you to minister.
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