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Avoiding missionary burnout–the gift of a sabbath rest

  • Jeff Jackson
  • August 20, 2020
  • Articles
Avoiding Missionary Burnout–the Gift Of A Sabbath Rest

Avoiding missionary burnout–the gift of a sabbath rest

Although there are a variety of definitions for burnout, one of the simplest and most descriptive is this:

Burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, de-personalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do “people work”.

Because of the way they’re wired, the stresses involved with living and serving cross-culturally, and the “people” ministry most of them do, missionaries are extremely susceptible to burn-out.

In most cases, when missionaries who were in the midst of burn-out or who had come through it victoriously were asked, they all said there were a number of factors that seemed to move them in a direction they never envisioned going.

As surprising as it may sound, when they were asked the one factor that was identified most often and by the largest number of missionaries, was their admitted unwillingness to take one whole day off each week.


That’s right, they were unwilling or unable to recognize a Sabbath rest for what it is–a fresh gift that God offers to His people every week.

A weekly Sabbath is a beautiful gift that when accepted and opened once every seven days, produces refreshment, an enhanced ability to prioritize things properly, and a renewed capacity to assess whether they need to redistribute the load of life and ministry they carry.


Because they didn’t view taking a whole day off each week as a gift from God, their natural inclinations–some of which were shaped and sharpened by American cultural values and traits moved them to justify their non-stop ministry schedule with these kinds of thoughts:

–One or more of the ministries they’re involved with might lose momentum

–They wouldn’t be acknowledging or valuing the sacrifice of those that financially support them

–They would be violating the intention that their financial supporters had for the funds they gave

–They know their own strengths and weaknesses and they just don’t have a need right now to take time off that regularly


Clearly, there is much more to staying spiritually and emotionally healthy on the mission field than just taking one whole day off each and every week.

But not practicing good stewardship with this essential resource bestowed by God is a pretty good indicator that at least some of the other resources He’s given for this purpose are being neglected too.

Those missionaries that already do receive this gift on a weekly basis, should be encouraged to keep embracing it and to ask Him on a regular basis to show them how to use this amazing gift more wisely.


For those missionaries that either aren’t receiving and opening the gift at all, or only doing so every now and then, here are a few practical tips for helping them get started:

1–With a goal of taking the same day off every week, have them write down what their normal seven day week looks like, and pick the day that would require the least number of things necessary to be moved to another day.

2–Challenge them to think through what helps them to rest. What things do they like to do that bring them such pleasure that when they’re doing it, their mind disengages from the things that normally occupy their thinking?

3–Disconnecting and disengaging from normal routine is crucial. If they’re normally out and about, staying at home might be restful. If they do most of their ministry at home, and going out to do something is restful, encourage them do that.

4–Map out just one thing they would like to do in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. Encourage them to limit it to just one thing and then trust that He’ll guide them to whatever else He wants them to do or NOT to do to relax.

5–Invite a few people that know them and that they trust to ask them each week whether they have received the gift and how it blessed them.  In most cases, if they choose a few people that live locally and a few back in the states, and even give each of them the contact info of the other people in the accountability group, their interconnectedness and communication can make a huge difference in accepting the gift on a regular basis.

Photo by Arny Morgensen on



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