September may be back-to-school time, but kids aren’t the only ones whose schedules gear up in the fall. Summer vacations are a memory. Businesses focus on projects that languished over the summer. Churches mobilize their ministry programs. Families turn their attention from vacations to home repairs and major purchases.

If that isn’t enough, toss in the holidays. Halloween is just around the bend, Thanksgiving a mere four weeks later. Then there’s the final lap into Christmas and New Year’s Day. Four months of non-stop activity with barely a moment to catch our breath. September isn’t just another month on the calendar. It’s the starting line of a marathon.

September is also when I return to teaching an annual Bible study. Nine months of volunteering to teach a weekly class of 180+ women. Nine months of training a group of leaders to lead in their respective roles. Nine months of study and preparation, only to begin again the following year.

It’s easy for me to feel like a ministry machine or a plane on autopilot. It’s also easy for the leaders who work with me to think about passing on their commitments. A reduced ministry with a smaller bite out of their schedules can look very attractive at the start of a new year.

Maybe you’re also thinking about stepping away from a commitment you’ve made as you face a new ministry season. Before you do, keep reading.

I’ve learned from experience that combating ministry burnout is a combination of stepping out and leaning in. But the stepping out isn’t what you might think. Consider these ten steps to turn ministry burnout into ministry joy:

1. Step out of ministry motivated by guilt.

Lean in to ministry motivated by gratitude.

Guilt can be powerful. However, when it comes to ministry, it’s the wrong motivator. Guilt is effective in the short term because it causes us to seek the approval of others, including God. But guilt leads to resentment. Ministry that flows from the wellspring of gratitude encourages both us and the people we serve.

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28 ESV).

2. Step out of serving on autopilot.

Lean in to being intentional about ministry activity.

When I first began driving a car with manual transmission, I learned the advantages of coasting in neutral gear. But coasting in ministry means we’re not fully engaged. God uses ministry as much for our own spiritual growth as for the growth of others. Are we willing to intentionally press on?

“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

3. Step out of seeing ministry as a task.

Lean in to focusing on the people for whom Christ died.

Someone once said this Christian life would be a piece of cake if it weren’t for all the people. People can be difficult, needy, and messy. It’s simpler to view ministry as a series of tasks—items on a to-do list—rather than a process of growing relationships. But then I remember that it was for messy people, including me, that Christ died.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

4. Step out of cutting corners to make ministry convenient.