Revelance At All Costs: A Theological Exploration of Burnout and a Call to Relational Leadership in a Secular Age


Odom, David


Willimon, Will

Hazelrigg, Marti Reed





Duke Divinity School



This thesis explores the issue of burnout in congregational settings. Unmanaged stress in a system is a cause of burnout. Individuals can feel burnout, but a systemic approach is needed to prevent and address burnout. Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter believe burnout is a relationship problem. Requiring a relational solution This thesis will examine a congregation’s relationship to the world, work, and church. A relationship reset is needed to prevent and address burnout.

The thesis unfolds in five moves. The first move explores the relationship between burnout and the world. It seeks to answer the question, what cultural realities contribute to the experience of burnout? In conversation with Charles Taylor, Andy Root believes we live in a secular age when the drive to seek a distorted idea of the good life “the good life” is constant and overwhelming. Root contends that the problem arises from the constant drive to seek the good life and from the speeding up of time itself. Root builds upon Taylor’s theory of the secular age using the work of Hartmut Rosa; he claims congregations are living in an age of acceleration which produces an epidemic of “time-famine” in modernity. Rosa concludes that acceleration causes alienation, experienced as isolation in many forms. Root concludes that the time-sickness of modernity causes depression. I conclude that times-sickness additionally causes burnout identified by exhaustion, disengagement, and ineffectiveness. The second move of the thesis explores burnout as a mismatch of relationships between people and their work. Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter suggest burnout is a systemic problem, not a personal one. Maslach and Leiter’s research defines burnout as a mismatch between people and work. The cost of caring can lead to exhaustion, disengagement, and ineffectiveness. Maslach and Leiter not only diagnose the problem of burnout but suggest how organizations can prevent burnout through engagement and empathy. The third movement of the thesis explores burnout as a systemic issue in which better matches can be made between people and their relationship to work. The fourth move explores the relationship between burnout and the church. Hartmut Rosa suggests resonance is the only antidote to the problem of the accelerated pace of modern life. Rosa defines resonance as a connection involving meaning and transformation. Andrew Root concludes that a theological understanding of resonance involves waiting as action, as the church waits for an encounter with God. I challenge Root's call for waiting and instead call for a current deepening of relationships in a congregational setting. The fifth and final move explores the need to reclaim relationships in the church as canopies of community through resonant leadership to manage burnout in a congregation. Sociologist Peter Burger wrote that religion provided a sacred canopy in the reality of a chaotic and secular world. How can congregations reclaim resonant relationships to prevent burnout as they work in the world? The Bible never uses the word burnout, though scripture offers examples of congregations facing exhaustion, disengagement, and perhaps feeling ineffective. The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Rome, facing divisions and obstacles in a chaotic world. Paul appeals to the church at Rome to create new relationships with each other and the world. He points to the image of a body working in tandem, believing each part is vital for the work of the system. Ultimately, the Apostle Paul, called by God, knows the church's work is too exhausting to do solo. In the 16th chapter of Romans, Paul names parts of the body like Phoebe and Junia who assist him in the work of God. How can the church reclaim the necessity and importance of relational leadership to prevent burnout in congregations? How can congregations move from burnout to engagement?









Revelance At All Costs: A Theological Exploration of Burnout and a Call to Relational Leadership in a Secular Age




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