Burnout seems to be the buzzword of the month. You’ve probably felt burned out before. It can be overwhelming—like drowning. It can feel like nothing matters anymore. And ministry leaders are especially susceptible to burnout: church burnout. If you’ve ever felt this, Pastor, you need a lifeline! Read on to avoid burnout using the right perspective and five practical tips.
What is burnout?
There’s no singular definition, but HelpGuide.org’s definition is helpful and clear: “Emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” Originally, burnout referred to those in care professions like doctors. Increasingly, experts recognize the impact of “excessive and prolonged stress” in any career and even relationship roles like parenting.
By nature, pastors and ministry leaders are highly susceptive to burnout. Why? Because you are willing to answer the call of God despite the personal sacrifice. You rock! But we want to equip you to draw a line between dying to yourself and spiritual death.
What causes church burnout?
Stress is a massive contributor to church burnout. Anything dangerous or exciting requires your A-game. So your body kicks in with cortisol: a hormone that increases your focus and physical ability. How beautifully God has designed our bodies!
But our bodies aren’t meant to stay in a stressful state, and too much cortisol for too long has some serious side effects.
Other contributors to burnout include:
- Lifestyle factors
- Lack of sleep
- No support system
- A role that conflicts with your values
- Personality factors
- Drive for high achievement
Why is burnout so dangerous?
Physically, prolonged stress and burnout can kill you. I’m only being a little dramatic; the health repercussions of stress are serious.
Emotionally, burnout is just as dangerous. Depression, anxiety, and isolation can steal your ability to thrive, not to mention your desire to live.
And spiritually, burnout can isolate us from God and others, stunting our growth and preventing us from being effective ministers of the gospel.
I have five practical tips to defeat burnout. But first, we need to talk about my #1 tip: perspective.
Perspective: save yourself first
If you follow the five practical tips rigorously but don’t have perspective, you will still battle burnout.
When I was a lifeguard, we had to learn how to fight off drowning victims. We actually practiced wrestling in the water. It sounds heartless, but it is natural for someone drowning to latch onto the person trying to rescue them. If you can’t get the victim to release, you may both drown. So we practiced getting away and re-approaching the victim so we could rescue them with the proper hold.
If you are so busy in ministry that you can’t hear God’s voice reassuring, strengthening, and sustaining you, it’s time to wrestle away before you drown. Put everything on hold while you seek God.
Don’t keep up the ministry in vain. Get reconnected with Jesus first. You may have to postpone some tasks to get spiritually, mentally, and physically healthy. If the task list doesn’t get finished because you’re reconnecting, the tasks weren’t essential in the first place. Just ask Martha. She heard from Jesus directly that her duties were not as important as sitting at His feet.
This article about pastoral church burnout originally appeared here, and is used by permission.