Anyone who’s every poured themselves into living out their faith, or championing a cause, has had to face the inevitable conflict between idealism and reality. I struggled with this tension years ago after finding myself disappointed with the way I felt many Christian churches in America were failing to communicate good news and effectively love their neighbors. In a bookstore one day, I stumbled across Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation, which taught me that I was not alone and reminded me that God works through imperfect people and churches. In many ways, it restored my faith.
That was 2006, and the author of the book was a moonfaced and unknown writer named Sarah Cunningham. Since then, she’s continued to write to and for a generation of Christians who live at the nexus of idealism and reality. In her newest book, The Well-Balanced World Changer, Cunningham continues a conversation she’s been leading for some time addressing how to stay sane while serving God. Her book is relevant giving the uptick in socially-conscious do-gooders and recent statistics demonstrating the tendency for those in ministry to burnout. Here, we discuss how idealistic world-changers cant fight discouragement and sustain momentum in their work.
JM: In the beginning, no one thinks burnout will happen to them. So, when people start strong, pouring themselves out for others, what is it that threatens flourishing longevity?
SC: There’s a thousand different things that might threaten longevity, but almost all of them come down to a lack of awareness. When we’re moving too fast, or when we’re taking on too many or too big of projects that exceed our ability to emotionally manage them, we often choose to function in the rest of our lives at 60% or 80% of our energy and skill-level. We often walk around too tired or hyper-focused on just our primary cause, which dulls our own natural sense of intuition and can let us operate oblivious to the emotional warning signs stirring inside of us.
One story in The Well-Balanced World Changer explores how veteran leaders build awareness into their lives through a practice of pausing and assessing and recalibrating to their priorities. I think every leader who wants to be more than a flash in the pan, who wants to make it for the long haul, needs to establish some sort of rhythm of recalibrating along the way.
JM: And what are the red flags that leaders are losing momentum? What should they, or others, keep their eyes open for?