Elijah was standing on top of the world. He had just defeated the prophets of Baal in a stunning spiritual showdown.
The odds were staggering—450 prophets of Baal versus a single prophet of the one true God. Yet Elijah emerged from the battle victorious.
All was right in the world. God was with him. His faith was strong. Nothing could stop him.
A short time later (moments, days, weeks—we’re not sure), a single sentence sent him from the heights of the heavens into the depths of despair:
“So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.’” 1 Kings 19:2
We’ve all been there.
As youth pastors, we all experience those sweet moments of spiritual victory that make us feel as if we’re walking on the clouds. Unfortunately, we also experience those seasons of despondency.
Whether you currently feel like you’re being led beside still waters or you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, here are some practical tips on how to be a good youth pastor when you feel burned out.
Admit you’re lost.
C.S. Lewis once said: “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
It’s not fun to admit that you’re lost, but getting more and more lost only exacerbates the problem.
Never forget that Jesus wants to save us from the Hell we are going to apart from Christ and the hell we are going through apart from Christ!
The prophet Elijah felt lost (not eternally, of course, but circumstantially). We all feel that way sometimes. In those moments, we need to realize that the God who saved us for all eternity on the cross is the same God who desires to save us moment by moment through His finished work on the cross.
The best thing Elijah did is the same thing we need to do when we feel lost: Cry out to God! He knows exactly how we feel, and He’s the only one who can lead us back to the right road.
Find a true friend.
“‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’”
That loneliness and isolation led to him despair of his very life!
God answers by first telling Elijah he’s not alone:
“‘I’ve reserved for myself seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.’” 1 Kings 19:18
Then he leads him to a companion (and successor) who sticks with him throughout the rest of his ministry (1 Kings 19:19-21).
Jesus also surrounded Himself with friends as He ministered. He invested into their lives and allowed them to invest into His life. Yes, He spent plenty of time in “lonely places,” alone with the Father in prayer, but let’s not forget that He also invited His disciples—His friends—to walk with Him through some of the most difficult moments of His earthly life.
Whether or not you’re feeling burned out, you need to find a true friend. Find someone you can be painfully honest with (and who will be painfully honest with you).
Sadly, you may not be able to find that person within your current ministry context. If that’s the case, simply find someone outside of your ministry context and be intentional about getting connected and staying connected with them. Some of my closest friends live hundreds of miles away, but they’re only a text, a phone call, or a video call away when I need them most. Making the effort to connect with a trusted friend may be just the lifeline you need.