Burnout: when passion is a problem

Jul 15, 2015 | Missionary Care, Personal Issues, Suffering, Thriving

“’Caring’ is a fire that burns, and burning fires require fuel.” So says Brad Hambrick in his helpful booklet Burnout: Resting in God’s Fairness.

Burnout is more than fatigue, more than an overload of stress, Hambrick says. It is similar to depression, but it adds a layer of cynicism. Some have described it as the common cold of missionaries.

In the mistaken zeal of my earlier youth I was fond of saying I’d rather burn out than rust out. Now I’d prefer not to “go out” at all! At least, not before my time. And the whole issue of time is at the core of why burnout happens.

“Caring” is a fire that burns, and burning fires require fuel

Burnout is the result of living beyond our means with the time God has provided. (Hambrick) The reason missionaries often try to cram so much into their schedules is passion: passion for the lost, for the kingdom of God, for their ministry.

But passion can be a problem.

Those who are not passionate about life do not experience burnout, Hambrick asserts. It is generally a problem for type-A driven individuals—which many missionaries are. Their drive is a good thing, but only if they are not the driver.

Missionaries are surrounded by needs, and because they care, they want to help meet those needs. But it is possible to care too much. When the passionate desire to relieve others’ pain is left unregulated, it will become a fire than consumes the one who cares.

Willingness to live within the limitations that God has placed upon us is essential to avoiding burnout.

Some things to chew on

  • Do you live within your means time-wise?
  • How can you hold your missionary friends accountable for accepting their limitations?
  • Do you place expectations on them that would drive them beyond what is healthy?
  • How might you know if they are burned out, or approaching burnout?
  • How would you help them if they were burned out or nearly so?


Burnout: Resting in God’s Fairness; Brad Hambrick; P&R Publishing; 2013


  1. Lori

    The title of the book is very intriguing. Burnout combined with resting. It’s like resting in God’s sovereignty and fairness is the solution for burnout.

  2. Dave

    Precisely, Lori. Resting in Him is the prerequisite for resting in our work for Him.