Expectations & Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission

by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 239 pages, 2010, $13.99.

Reviewed by Cheri Pierson, assistant professor, Intercultural Studies /TESOL, Wheaton College.

Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss’ new book, Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, is a unique resource that applies to women preparing for cross-cultural ministry or for those who have long-term experience. The combination of sound research and personal reflection assists women engaged in cross-cultural ministry in understanding the relationship between unrealistic expectations and burnout. The sources of these expectations are discussed in-depth, but the book also provides a balanced perspective of God’s grace in the midst of severe difficulty.

The authors’ description of expectations starts in the first chapter by examining women’s responses to the Great Commission. Other chapters focus on expectations women have of themselves, their sending churches, agencies, co-workers, host cultures, and even God.  Combined with the challenges of cross-cultural life and work, unmet expectations often lead to emotional, spiritual, and physical fatigue. If women do not seriously examine their expectations before serving cross-culturally, they may become candidates for burnout. Several chapters focus on Bliss’ journey as a demonstration of how her unrealistic expectations led to burnout and how God transformed her in the midst of difficulty.

Why is such a book necessary? According to the authors’ survey of over three hundred female respondents from a range of mission agencies, eighty percent stated they had come close to burnout. This alarming statistic impacted both single and married women engaged in traditional or tentmaking types of ministry. All of the respondents conceded to feeling emotional and physical fatigue due to unrealistic expectations on the field (p. 171). One area of expectation mentioned by over fifty percent of the respondents was building relationships with nationals (p. 129). For example, one woman wondered about her friends’ motives in building their relationship: “I thought nationals would desire my friendship for who I was, not what I could give to them monetarily” (p 129). The authors make the point that workers need to go “as learners, not only of the culture and language, but also in areas such as how to build relationships” (p. 128).

In the final chapters, Eenigenburg and Bliss explore symptoms, possible causes, and solutions of burnout in order to help avoid it altogether. They provide insight in developing realistic expectations and maintaining a strong faith in God’s purposes. Two things they suggest are becoming aware of symptoms and causes of burnout and developing a personal plan to continue in ministry while proactively working to avoid burnout (p. 187).

Mission agencies, church workers, lay persons, and mentors will find the guidelines in this book helpful as they seek to support others in cross-cultural ministry. In reading this work, one realizes the lack of simple solutions. In spite of the complexities, the authors offer a fresh and authentic approach to the issues discussed in this book. This work will be a helpful resource for women seeking to live by faith and becoming whole persons as they participate in the Great Commission worldwide.


EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 120-121. Copyright  © 2011 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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