The Beast of Ministry Burnout

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A few weeks ago, another pastor at a widely known church announced that he’s leaving, effective immediately. “Broken & tired” were the words he used in his announcement to his congregation. Words that I have heard and learned well in the last year.

The term “beast” describes something foul, violent, and dangerous. A monster of sorts. Something that hunts, attacks, and has a mission to kill. The strongest weapons and skills are needed to defend oneself against such an attack. Burnout is a beast and it’s coming for all of us if we are not equipped and on guard.

Burnout has the ability to sneak into our ministries and camouflage itself as “work for the kingdom”. It tells us it’s only a few extra nights or hours or weekends. And all while it quietly drains us. And what we don’t even realize is that it’s so hard for us to pour into the souls of others when ours is under attack.

Burnout is a poison that find it’s way into the bloodstream of our spirit. It takes us down in ways we don’t see coming and destroys all of our hard work.

It can develop and disguise itself as hatred and resentment for the things we were once so passionate about. It turns us against ourselves, our families, and eventually our relationship with the Church and Jesus.

Burnout is so real and happening so quickly in the lives of our friends in ministry. So how do we prevent it? What happens if we’re already there, or on the cliff about to dive right into it?

I get it, we’re all busy. But slowing down is a matter of life and death if we are going to make it in ministry.

Spiritual Retreat

I recently started working in a new church where pastors are required to take a Spiritual Retreat Day once a month. One day each month where there are no meetings attended, emails and texts must go on hold. Our number one priority is to do what it takes to feed ourselves spiritually. To recover. To connect with Jesus in the quiet of our souls.

It’s so easy to not make time for this day. To “forget” to take it or claim that there’s just no time. But coming out of a season where I did not make it a priority to ever “spiritually retreat”, I am finding it crucial in the survival of being in ministry longterm.

There is such thing as being called to a season of rest so God can protect us from burnout. Sabbath was not a suggestion, it was a command. We are not exempt by our status of working for the Lord.

Communication

If you were drowning in an ocean, chances are you would fight to stay afloat. You would yell out for help and try to pull your head above water with every ounce of energy you have. You would need to if you wanted to stay alive.

So many of us are drowning in ministry, but we refuse to ask for a hand or a life preserver. We would rather save ourselves and learn to swim in the midst of our drowning than ask for someone to help us out of the water.

We don’t have to drown. We have to speak up and delegate tasks so we don’t die because of our ministry. We are not only hurting ourselves when we refuse to ask for help. We take down our ministry as well as those around us. Communication is key.

Listening

A few years ago, some friends started telling me I was going too hard. I thought they were being dramatic. They didn’t understand. They didn’t know what it takes to stay afloat. I thought that I was swimming fine, but they could see me drowning before I even knew how deep of water I was in. I went too hard, too fast and ignored all of the warning signs.

I see it now and see the wear and tear it did on my soul, but I couldn’t see it in the moment and refused to listen to the wise counsel that I had surrounded myself with. It’s so important for us to listen to the people who see us drowning before we feel the effects.

Boundaries

These are the hardest to set. How do we set clear boundaries while staying dedicated to our ministry? I’ve had to learn that “no” is a complete sentence. Not every “no” deserves an in depth explanation and not everything deserves a “yes”. The more things we “yes” to, the more things we unintentionally say “no” to.

Saying “yes” to leading a second small group could mean saying “no” to our family or our only free night in the week. Saying “yes” to two retreat weekends in a row away may mean we say “no” to our physical health. We say things like “but if I don’t do it, who will?” as our excuse, but what must suffer in the name of our work? When we answer every “who will?” we steal opportunities from others who may be called to serve. If we answer every call, others are not able to rise up. They don’t see the need that’s really there. Saying “yes” could steal someone’s opportunity to do kingdom work. We must discern our purpose and make peace with it.

Saying “no” and setting boundaries helps us guard our hearts, balance our ministries, and provide opportunities for others.

Do Something Fun

Ministry is hard. The conversations we have and the decisions we have to make. It’s heavy and it causes a lot of wear and tear on our souls. But ministry doesn’t only have to be hard decisions and heavy conversations. It can be fun, but we need to be intentional and make that fun happen.

A few years ago I went to a youth ministry conference. I was with guys who I looked up to, who had double and triple the experience I had. I remember they dared me to sneak into the exhibit hall (which had been roped off and we had been scolded for getting too close to) and take a business card off one of the booths in the back corner.

I didn’t want to get in trouble and so badly wanted to follow the rules and be professional. I did it though. The guys distracted the security guard while I ran as fast as I could around the corners of the exhibitor booths. That business card is still posted on a bulletin board in my office because it reminds me to never stop having fun.

Ministry is serious business, but we need to remember that it’s fun too. We need to challenge ourselves to do the work, say no when we need to, listen to wise counsel, and never stop having fun. The more we learn to keep these things in check, the better chance we have in the battle against the beast of burnout.

Burnout is coming, but our God is bigger than any burnout. Our defense is to serve God and not our work.