Ministry burnout is more than just ending a career in the ministry. Burnout can damage churches, families, and yourself. Here are some warning signs and some tips for saving yourself from ministry burnout
1. I do not have time for important things!
Many ministry leaders will say that their marriages and their families are most important to them, but the demands of the church make those things take a back seat from time to time.
When you have a moment to think clearly, make a list of the things that are most important to you. If you find that you do not have time for those things, you are in danger of burn out.
2. These people are awful!
Does it feel like life would be so much better if your church was different? Are the individual idiosyncrasies of your lay leaders occupying more and more of your conversations and your thoughts?
Every church has its problems. However, ministry ought to bring more joy than pain. If you find yourself thinking and talking more about the problems of your church, you are probably beginning to burn out.
3. I cannot talk to anyone!
Ministry is a unique situation, but not so unique that no one can possibly understand it. If you find yourself thinking that you cannot talk to anyone about your struggles then you are not only on the path to burnout, but you are on some shaky personal ground as well.
4. I want out!
Escape fantasies may range from longing for a different church, to longing for a different job, to even wanting a completely different life! It is common to think that the grass is greener on the other side from time to time, but when escape fantasies become more common and more grandiose, burnout is taking place.
Steps to take to prevent burnout
1. Evaluate your health
Are you exercising? Are you eating right? Are you following your doctor’s orders? There are 4 aspects to being healthy. Read more about them here.
2. Evaluate your time
Remember that list of things that are most important? When you schedule your week and your day, do those things get a place on the calendar? If you cannot find room to spare, consider ending a few projects or delegating some responsibility in order to make room.
3. Evaluate your calling
Spend time with a coach or mentor and get to the center of your calling and vision. Sometimes the day to day work of the church gets further and further away from this. Make a plan to get things back on track.
4. Consider taking a sabbatical.
Not every pastor is in a position to take a year off to study. However, it may be possible to take a week or two off from preaching in order to get refreshed and reorganized.
When to take emergency action:
If escape fantasies involve the end of your marriage or your life, or your family is experiencing major stress at the expense of the church, you need to take emergency action. You need to speak to someone and make a plan immediately!
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel Street Preacher and is currently working on a memoir, Baggage Claim. He is developing a speaking and coaching ministry to address mental health in the church and ministry. If you are interested in having him speak to your church or organization, click here for more information.
In my personal Bible Study, I am focusing on one particular passage this week:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)
There are three simple instructions here:
And there is one promise: He will make straight your paths, or as Eugene Peterson put it, “He will keep you on track”
One of the things I have been working hard to do since my hospital stay is reworking my negative thoughts. This is not easy work. It is scriptural, for sure (take every thought captive), but when you have enslaved yourself with your own negative self-talk for so long, getting all untwisted is exhausting at times.
As I reflected on this verse, it occurred to me that this provides an additional check against my thoughts. [My psychologist in the hospital suggested that I take ever negative thought and ask: Is it true? Does it make me feel how I want to feel? Does it help me reach my goals?].
Now here is a little peek into my therapy sessions. One of the overriding negative thoughts that I tie myself down with is:
I am a failure. I failed at church planting. I failed at insurance. I failed at time shares. I fail, I fail, I fail. I am a failure.
So I worked in my notebook at the hospital to take a serious look at this thought. After I answered the questions, I came up with this thought to rehearse instead of thinking “I am a failure.”
Hawaii did not work out the way I wanted it to, and I am not a salesman, but there are plenty of things that I can do that I have yet to try.
That’s not bad, and it is a lot more hopeful, but after spending some time in Proverbs 3:5-6, I decided to do some additional work on this thought:
I added the question: Am I leaning on my own understanding or am I trusting the Lord? The notion that I am a failure is based solely on my own understanding of things that have happened and the silly idea that I can predict the future. Next question? What would it mean to acknowledge Him in this situation?
For the answer there, my mind went to Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
So I edited my reworked thought at bit and now this is what I will tell myself whenever I start to think I’m a failure:
Hawaii did not end the way I wanted it to but good things happened there. I have learned that I am not a salesman but there is still plenty of things I have not tried, and as I seek the Lord, it will be His power and not my own on which I may rely!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower