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.

When Borders Are Not What You Think

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This has been quite the year of transitions.

What started out as a search for community led me to a discerning process, tears, joy, packing up my home and traveling across town to start a new adventure. I have felt more emotions than I thought one could feel within a season.

While I am currently living in a season of learning and adjustment, I have temporarily lost my ability to articulate my thoughts and put them to paper.

I’ve been wrestling with something I felt in worship a few weeks ago. I had a chance to go to Outcry Tour in Jacksonville and it was incredible. But one of the best parts was hearing something I felt was spoken over me.

There’s a song that we have become quite used to, and if I dare say, maybe even numb to in the world of worship. If you haven’t sang it at church, maybe you’ve sang it in your car or prayed the prayer or connected to it in some way.

When they started to play it, my heart hardened a little. The most cynical parts of me had a flash of images of maps with pretty typography with the lyrics so perfectly placed. I thought about all of the times we posted the words as we packed up and traveled on short and long term trips out of the country. Because, you know, without borders.

Do you know it?

It’s Oceans.

You know, Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders? Let me walk upon the waters? Wherever you would call me?

I tense up even as I write the words.

That prayer, you guys. It’s a tough one. How many times have I sang it without the slightest understanding of what I was even saying? Maybe I just knew I wasn’t called to live in a foreign country and so I felt safe singing it. Maybe I didn’t think about it at all. Or maybe I was just thinking about nailing the harmonies.

The truth is, I thought borders only meant within the U.S.

But that’s not it at all. State boarders. City boarders. Neighborhood boarders. Sometimes our borders are so much closer than we know or realize. You don’t have to go far to feel the challenge of trusting without borders.

If a year ago you would have told me that I would not be living in the same house doing the same thing I have done for the last five years, I would have changed the subject because I fear change. Because change involves trust and it means I’m not in control of the future.

The reality is, God calling me across town was just as big of a jump for me as it would have for me to go to a developing country for a week or move to another city. Because change is change and it involves trust, no matter where you go.

When God calls us to something new and different, it involves a level of trust that we don’t always experience in day to day Christianity. I’ve had to learn to listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit and trust that I will be guided well.

There is so much good we will miss if we don’t engage in the process. We are flooded with peace when we learn to trust and we are indeed made stronger.

He is teaching me to trust and stretching my understanding of borders. My prayer is that I will no longer be numb when I sing the words, feel as though it’s overplayed, or only try to make it sound pretty. I will sing it like the prayer that it is meant to be.

A New Chapter

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It’s hard to believe that God blessed and called me into ministry at Isle of Hope five years ago. My time here has been incredible. Our middle school program has flourished in so many ways and I truly believe that all credit goes to God. I believe that my time here has stretched and strengthened me in all of the areas of my life. The community here has become my family, as well as made my family feel so at home.

Over time, I have fallen in love with all of the different ministries our church offers. I love how we care for people. How we worship. How we do life together. I’ve grown to appreciate how much goes into every detail. I love the investment each family puts in to the life of the church. I love the creativity of the staff and the time and dedication we put in to making things great. I’ve said on numerous occasions that I would attend Isle of Hope UMC even if I didn’t work here.


 

When I was 16, I felt called into youth ministry. I had just made a decision for Christ about 6 months prior, but was ready to learn everything I could before, during and after college. I studied youth ministry in every essence of the word. I mentored students in the grades below me. I volunteered my time instead of doing sports or after school activities (ok, so youth ministry is kind of a sport).

From the beginning, my passion has always been discipleship. As I grew in my relationship with Jesus, I grew to love watching and challenging others grow deeper.

In college, I interned and continued to learn all that I could. I still have great relationships with those students today. At the end of my time there, I took a year off and began to pray about where God would lead me next. Deciding to take that year was an incredibly difficult decision. I remember trying to run from God, not unlike how Jonah ran. I didn’t make it into the stomach of a fish, but I made myself miserable trying to ignore His call. A year later I began what I have previously called “the hallway process”, which would lead me to today.


 

My season at Isle of Hope will be ending soon. This summer, I will walk through a new door, one that I didn’t even know existed when I entered into this year. While I am not going far, ministry will look different for me. My challenges and strengths will look different. It is a new journey, one that I hope you will rejoice with me in.

Thank you for welcoming me into your home to do life. Thank you for walking with me and watching me grow. Thank you for allowing me to challenge your students to grow deeper. Thank you for loving me like family. You have rejoiced with me and walked with me through so many seasons. I am overwhelmed when I think about it all.

My time here is so cherished and I am forever grateful for each person who has let me be a part of their life. Isle of Hope is home and always will be. That is what makes this place so great. I am so thankful for my community, but also excited to expand my tribe.

Thank you for celebrating with me.
Bless your ministry.

Hope In The Hallway

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It’s the beginning of the year, which is usually around the time I think about when I started my first full time position in youth ministry. I have been in Savannah for just short of five years and it’s actually crazy for me to think about when my mind goes back to the start.

I had just finished college and was standing in a place that I like to refer to as the hallway. I had interviewed for a job that I really wanted and was waiting to hear back. A lot of people like to use the metaphor of a waiting room, but the more I wait in life, the more I see that there’s more than one door we can walk through.

The hallway, a place where I often live, is actually full of doors. Some are closed, some are open, and some are cracked. Cracked doors can be the worst. But they can also be pretty great.

So back to 2011. I am waiting on a call that most people had told me was just not going to come. I prayed. Every day, actually. And I called. Probably too often for anyone’s liking. As much as that door could close, it could open, and I wanted to wait until I knew for sure.

There’s this hopeful anxiety we encounter in the hallway. There is uncertainty and dreams that are created. A story we make up with much anticipation. Sometimes our focus is so great on one door, that we dare not glance at any other doors, in case we miss the opening of the one we most desire. 

There were a lot of days where I lost hope, but most days I had a “feeling” that I would be moving out of the hallway soon. I refused to look at any other doors, in case mine would open, even just a little bit. Somewhere in the early part of spring I got the call and that “feeling” (the Holy Spirit) was affirmed as the door flew open. In April of 2011, I was given the opportunity to leave the hallway and cross the threshold into a new chapter. A chapter I still love so much today.

There’s something about the hallway though, where it feels like our hope can die. My story started a great chapter, but that’s not always the case in the hallway. It can turn into a dark place. And when we anticipate certain doors to swing open, we can live under a cloud of disappointment.

Doors don’t always open. Sometimes they slam in our face. Sometimes we don’t get the job. Or we’re not chosen for something we know or feel would be a great thing. Sometimes we have to shut the door ourselves and we’re called to grieve the death of that dream.

It can be so hard for us to see a closed door as a good thing. We feel like we know better, which can make leaving that closed door so difficult. Our instinct may be to kick down the door we so desperately want. We cling to the last chapter, but when we do, we prolong the opportunity to write the next one.

I’m not sure what your hallway looks like. I can’t promise you that the door you want to walk through the most will open, but I know that we live in a world with a lot of doors. I don’t really like the phrase “when God closes a door, he opens a window…or another door…” or whatever. I think that we are called to pray our way through the hallways of life. To never give up on the doors we want the most. And to grieve the loss of the doors that shut.

 

What I Learned In A Year Of Counseling

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A year ago I made one of the best decisions.
One of the bravest decisions I could make.
I started going to counseling.

It’s kind of weird to write. Because I didn’t think I would ever really need to say that.

I had a great childhood.
My friends are nice.
I’m a Christian.
I work in a church.
Why would I need counseling?

Ok, so before I write this I need to tell you some reasons I didn’t need counseling:

I didn’t need counseling because I was sad all the time.
I didn’t need counseling because Jesus couldn’t fix my problems.
I didn’t need counseling because my parents did something wrong. No mom, it’s not because I didn’t get a ‘my size barbie’ when I was 7. I’m over it. I promise.
I didn’t need counseling because of something you said or did.
I didn’t need counseling because some event happened and I couldn’t handle it.
I didn’t need counseling because someone told me I needed counseling.

I think I originally started going because I thought it would be good for me.
Spoiler alert: it was. It is. I’m glad I go and I want this to be an encouragement.

After my first session, I realized something. Counseling is not just how to deal with the past. It’s a chance for you to learn to use tools to deal with the present and future.

I guess what originally led me to walk through the doors of my counselor’s office the first time was because the weight of ministry can be a heavy load. I don’t say that because it’s too heavy. Or even because I’m on staff at a church.
I say that in case you need to permission to go to counseling because someone told you that you shouldn’t need it. Especially if you’re a Christian. 

I have quickly learned over the course of a year that counseling is like a massage for your soul.

Counseling helps us see things through a different lens.

Sometimes we make up stories in our head. We make up conversations we’ve had. And not because we’re crazy. Surely you’ve done this. You have a disagreement with someone or someone doesn’t show up for you. You immediately start running through scenarios in your head where you say the right thing and the perfect outcome happens. And that’s just not reality. So you’re a little frustrated. Or disappointed. Counseling redirects those “made up” conversations and helps bring some reality into my life. It helps us see things from a different angle.

Counseling helps us own our story.

Your story is not just your past. It’s happening right now. Your story is being written today. If we can’t accept the terms in which our story is happening, what kind of reality is that? And if we don’t like the story, how are we supposed to change it if we can’t even own up to it? Counseling helps give us that courage to step into what is happening right now and gives us the tools to own it. Brené Brown says “When we own our story, we get to write a brave new ending”. Yes. That, please.

Counseling is a “judgement free” vent session.

Have you ever vented to a friend and they love you, but you can actually feel them judging you for how you handled something? Yeah, no. Me neither. Ok, fine. I lied. ALL THE TIME. Counseling can be a chance for us to tell our side, without judgement. Without feeling like a terrible person. We just need to be open to any guidance on how to handle things in the future.

Counseling helps me a be the best version of myself.

You’ve probably seen the hashtag “new year, new me”. You know the crowd. They just started working out. Ate a salad instead of a burger. Left things in last year. It’s a fresh start. I started going because I wanted to be better. I wanted to work on who I was as a person. Not because I was broken, or needed something in my life to be fixed. But because I knew I could do better. And I wanted that. It doesn’t work every day, but that’s why I keep going.

Seeing a counselor was a gamechanger for me. I was afraid of it at first. I was worried about what people would think. Would they think there was something wrong with me? Are they going to ask why? Will they think I won’t need it if I don’t give them a “good enough” answer?

Counseling is not a bad thing.
It helps us learn more about who we are and how we can do better.

I want to do better.
Not because what I’m doing is “not enough”,
but because I want to be the best version of myself.

If you’re on the fence about counseling, or you’re too afraid to make an appointment, I hope this encourages you. I hung up the first time I called because I got so nervous. Be brave. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

What The Church Can Learn From The AA Community

What The Church Can Learn From The AA Community

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of sitting in on an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was a small group of women who were generous enough to allow me to sit in on their time together. I have learned to love that community and how they operate as a whole. While I have only visited a few times on behalf of someone else, I have learned a lot from my time with them. I have learned the importance of addiction recovery and how to stand in the gaps for those you love. I have learned so much from how this community does life together, as well as how they work their steps in recovery, and that’s just as an observer.

When I walked away from that meeting, my mind was racing. I work within a small group setting. My whole life is centered around building community, and yet there is still something so different about this group. I’ve read through parts of the Big Book (everything you need to know about AA) and see so many parallels to the bible. The steps alone slightly resemble the Beatitudes. One of the chapters opens up with a line saying “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path”. That’s awesome. As I tried to organize my thoughts, I started thinking, how do we do this as The Church?  There is so much to learn. I won’t be able to cover it all because there’s a lot of territory to explore, but here we go:

Be Vulnerable

When someone who struggles with an addiction walks through the doors of a meeting, they don’t have a choice but to be up front about who they are and what their struggle is. Did you give into your addiction this week? You don’t get to ignore it. There’s no covering it up and no getting around it. How are you going to fully recover if you can’t be honest with your group, your sponsor, or even yourself? Addiction Recovery gets that and they’re well equipped for how to handle that kind of honesty. The first step is admitting they are powerless over their addiction, and when you begin to think you can do it on your own, you enter dangerous territory. So how can The Church be better about this?

While I think that we can be better about being vulnerable, I think it’s a two way street. If we want to set the pace for vulnerability, we need to be a safe place. And if we are going to be a safe place, it needs to be unconditional. When we are finally ready for what true transparency looks like, we need to handle it with grace. The Church needs to be known as being a safe place just as much as AA is. We are all facing spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.

Unconditional Support

God loves us unconditionally. We learn that in church and we instill it within our kids at such a young age. We express that there is nothing that could separate us from His love. Yet we love one another conditionally. Addiction Recovery teaches this well. They never speak in absolutes. Never do they refer to themselves as fully recovered. Their addiction is in remission, which means if they are to fall short, their community will be there to pick them up.

We are really good at saying we have this down in The Church, but I feel like we are the first to fall short in this area. In fact, when someone messes up (as we are all in recovery from sin, right?), our reaction can be to gossip or shine a light on how this person has messed up. Our love is conditional as long as they are following our code. We can learn from the AA Community that there is nothing that can separate you from the Body of Christ and The Church should be better about communicating that.

Surrender It All

We love to talk about how we have surrendered our life to Jesus in church. We sing it so beautifully on Sunday morning in worship. We’ve given it all over to Him and we’re never going back. Except when we do. Proverbs says it best that we return to our foolishness like a dog returns to it’s vomit. GROSS. So why do we never allow ourselves to fully surrender?

You don’t have a choice in addiction recovery. When you surrender your addiction in AA (or any recovery community), you can never be half in. The Big Book states “half measures availed us nothing”, which throws us to a turning point. It’s abandon former self and former ways, or nothing at all. It’s not just a step, it’s full transformation. It involves so much of setting aside your ability of doing anything on your own and handing it all over to your higher power.

Our higher power is God. We should know this one well. It very well should be our first step as a believer in Christ, but we are so quick to want to do it ourselves, which continually throws us into a cycle of failure. We need to be better at surrendering. We need to be all in.

Accountability

We are so afraid to call people out on their crap. And we should be, because chances are that whatever we are calling someone out for, we could have them beat with our own sin. And what if THEY call us out while we are calling them out? Such a weird cycle for why we don’t hold one another accountable, right? So now everyone is screwing up and we are all too afraid to say something because ew, confrontation or but, what if they don’t like me anymore? 

AA sets the pace with vulnerability and they offer to hold one another accountable. They welcome someone coming alongside them. In fact, when you walk through the doors, you are immediately encouraged to find a sponsor who serves as your accountability partner?

So what if the church worked like that.

Hi, my name is Katie and I just became a Christian.
Hi, Katie! Welcome, we are so glad you are here. Now find someone to hold you accountable because you are going to screw up. A lot.

The things I’ve listed are obviously things that The Church strives for as a whole. These are in no way new concepts for us. But they are things we should be striving to do well. As a community, we want to appear to be vulnerable and accountable and a safe place where we can surrender and feel supported. I think we just get caught up with being something we shouldn’t be. We so badly strive for perfection and forget we are a hospital for the sick.

I love AA and it is my hope that I can live my life like someone who is in recovery. Because the reality is that we are all in recovery from sin and until we are willing to stand up and admit that we have a problem, we are no better than an alcoholic who has yet to admit they have a drinking problem.

Be Anxious for Everything (Or Nothing)

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I lost my planner. Maybe you’ve already heard, as I have shouted it from every window and social media avenue I could find. I called every coffee shop in town, flipped over couch cushions, and cried loud enough that perhaps it would grow legs and run back into my open arms.

It hasn’t worked. At this point, I am sure someone stole it (ok maybe not stole it) or it has disintegrated into thin air because that happens, right? Or it’s under my bed. Actually, I’m not sure if I even checked there. Maybe it’s under my bed.

Ok, sorry, I’m getting off track. I lost it. It’s gone.

Then yesterday a friend sent me an article on joy and how funny it is that God can use someone to speak so loudly into your life that you almost have to cover your ears in fear of noise induced injury. I laughed as I read what the article was on. Losing joy like losing your car keys. I read the line over and over to myself, I’m looking for it in all the wrong places. 

God knows my heart and He knows my struggle. Somewhere along the lines of life, it’s not so much that I lost my joy, but I lost my peace. I regularly struggle with anxiety and have to constantly keep myself in check in my thoughts so that they do not move into an irrational place. It is something that is not worked through over night, but a daily process in how to handle day to day situations. And my meltdown over losing something that can in fact be replaced was a sign that there is still work to be done.

I think I forget to embrace peace. It’s almost as though my default mode is to panic, when in fact we are taught to be anxious for nothing. Apparently I also struggle with the English language, because I could have sworn that Philippians 4:6 said “be anxious for all the things”. It doesn’t. Instead, being anxious for nothing gives us full access to peace that surpasses all human understanding. Including my irrational and anxious thoughts.

As it turns out, I have ironically searched for peace within the walls of anxiety. I have hoped to be put at ease by my own worry, which is so impossible and actually funny when thinking about it. I have allowed worry to control my thoughts, reactions, and how I do life in general. I have searched for peace in all the wrong places.

So what’s the action? The verse technically gives us action. Our action is to pray, to surrender, and to give it over. Which is so much easier said than done, right? Because how easy it to tell someone to pray about it than actually go to God and say “send help, please take over, can.not.deal.”. It is through our prayer that we release anxiety and sign it over to the One who can handle it far better than we ever could. And then we give thanks. Because we already have so much and we serve a God who is willing to take over our worries and anxieties. A God who doesn’t want us to walk around with the weight of our struggles. It is in that exchange that we find the peace that we have lost.

This is a process. It’s just not that easy, though some may act like it is. Of course it’s so easy to just tell you to stop worrying. But it takes daily reminders, grace, and great people who speak into your life and help guide you away from the thoughts that hold you captive instead of living a life freedom. Free from anxiety and worry.