For many, David Murray’s reputation as a qualified pastor and an experienced conference speaker precedes him. His writings have resulted in a number of published books, including Jesus on Every Page, Christians Get Depressed Too, and How Sermons Work, among several others. His primary ministry outlets remain shepherding First Byron Christian Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan, and teaching Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Murray’s ministerial adeptness is, therefore, well documented and well recognized. He is commended among his peers for his heart for practical pastoral ministry. One of his more recent works, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture, is, therefore, the culmination of a life spent serving Christ by serving pastors.
Murray opens Reset by relaying a personal account of his familiarity with the idea of “pacing,” which serves as the overriding theme throughout. The book itself is primarily addressed to pastors or ministry leaders in the heat of, or on the verge of, burning out. But despite that bent, the average reader will find Reset easily accessible. “Burnout” is, indeed, a concept with which we are all likely familiar. Whereas previous generations might associate the term with high-brow CEOs, frenzied defense attorneys, stock brokers, or investigative reporters, the ubiquity of burnout has come about as a result of a society’s addiction to productivity and insistence on efficiency, at all costs. One is instilled with a penetrating effort-based worldview, in which one’s performance is penultimate. Modernity’s most germane ensign remains a pink rabbit who notoriously “keeps going and going,” ad infinitum. It is little wonder, then, that such pervasive generational fraying manifests quite rampantly in the leaders of churches or other ministerial organizations.
To counter the encroaching affects “burnout culture” is having on the church, Murray submits Reset for clergy and laity alike to “reset,” recharge, and recover a gracious view of one’s life. The author organizes his book through the aegis of an automobile pulling up to ten “repair bays,” which allow for detailed discussions on Murray’s perceived stimuli and solutions to one’s problematic symptoms of burnout. It is the author’s assertion that one’s life can be repaired notwithstanding one’s place, predicament, or circumstances. “Your life can be reset,” Murray writes, “and you can find a more joyful and sustainable pace to help you enjoy and finish your race.”1 In the first chapter, Murray invites the reader to recognize the warning signs which might indicate one’s position on the burnout spectrum. This discussion is followed by an analysis of humanity’s fallenness and its role in exacerbating our exhaustion.
Chapter 3 constitutes, perhaps, Murray’s most affecting offering in the entire book, as he spends a considerable amount of time dissecting the gift of rest. “A grace-paced life,” he writes, “begins with stopping and accepting the grace of sleep.”2 To be sure, one of the habits which hauntingly precedes burnout is restlessness. Murray navigates the comprehensive detriment a lack of sleep has on one’s life and body, articulating well the unsung gift of Scripture which allows for truly restful sleep (Pss. 3:5; 4:8; 127:1–2). “By sleeping,” Murray affirms, “we are relinquishing control and reminding ourselves — at least for a few hours — that God actually doesn’t need us. When we close our eyes each night, we are saying, ‘I don’t run the world, or the church, or even my own little life.’”3
From there, the author transitions to “Repair Bay 4,” in which he communicates a “theology of the body,” and how the manner in which one treats one’s body can result in spiritual as well as physical harm. This is followed by a series of helpful discussions on the role technology plays in “burnout culture,” the pervasive effects of burnout on one’s identity, the necessity for pruning one’s calendar, and how one’s diet is integral to one’s overall health. Murray concludes the book with a set of chapters expressing the importance of relationships and faith as preventatives to burnout. “So much of our drivenness,” the author writes, “stems from a false belief in a driven God, a view of God as a slaveholder, a harsh taskmaster who can never be satisfied by anything less than his people being in a perpetual state of miserable exhaustion.”4 It is the author’s intent to proffer this book to renovate one’s mistaken views of God in order to “reset” one’s trajectory of exhaustion.
While Reset begins very graciously, the latter portions of the book seemingly devolve into more legalistic discussions — with the author’s consideration of food and its role in burnout being, perhaps, the most notorious specimen. The practical suggestions, while beneficial in their own right, are often drowned out by a Puritanical flair that resounded in less than charitable tones. The author’s most disjointed passage, however, were his remarks on scheduling, in which he suggests having an assistant screen emails in order to prioritize and “prune” one’s calendar.5 The viability of such a scenario is functionally a pipe dream for most, especially pastors, the majority of whom are small-ministry-types where gatekeepers who buffer certain pastoral inquiries are non-existent.
Admittedly, the author makes a point to mention on several occasions that he is writing from his own experience and context. But notwithstanding such concessions, his objective does not always materialize in gracious language, with some portions of the book appearing rote and formulaic. Perhaps the most irksome quality readily apparent in Reset is its mechanical blueprint for preventing and/or managing the symptoms of burnout. The author’s operative framework which pits the burned out minister as a vehicle transitioning from one repair station to the next seemingly suggests that all one needs are heaping portions of benevolent qualities and habits inserted into one’s life in order to replenish, recharge, and “reset.” But this analogy fails, primarily because pastors are not automobiles. They are people — and people are not mechanisms which require formulaic adjustments. Indeed, rather, they are supplicants who, along with everyone else, are desperate for the divine grace that meets them in their distinctly severe need.
Murray interacts with some well-known essayists, including Tim Kreider and David Brooks, whose offerings on the subjects of busyness and burnout are, perhaps, more concise versions of what the author himself aims to accomplish, though with less theologically-minded undertones. One is especially recommended to read to Kreider’s trenchant essay, “Lazy: A Manifesto,”6 which conveys a smattering of advantageous considerations which invite one to slow one’s pace of life. The prevailing benefit of Reset remains its insistence that pastors cannot be omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent — and neither were they called to be. A churchman’s identity is not found in fulfilling either personal or ecclesiastical expectations, however well-intentioned. Purposing to do so only results in fatigue, exhaustion, and, oftentimes, failure. For one and all, the gospel announces that one’s identity can only be given to them, as a result of what has already been accomplished in Christ. There is grace to found, then, in accepting one’s limits. “Stepping into finitude is a relief,” says Oliver Burkeman. Indeed, the faith which combats feelings of burnout is one which recognizes and relishes those limits, living within them for the glory of God alone.
David Murray, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 34.
Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing: Essays (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), 77–84.