Gerry was an amazing pastor. He could do just about anything. He had a blazing intellect, and could exposit a passage like you wouldn’t believe. His skills in counseling were outstanding. He did amazing things with the youth group and children’s program. Attendance grew under his leadership. He launched new programs and carried out the vision of the church in a way that no pastor had done before him. When it finally happened, no one saw it coming.
It all happened when one Sunday morning, Gerry and his family didn’t show up at church. No one knew where Gerry had gone. He couldn’t be reached on his cell phone. That entire Sunday, there was no sign of Gerry. A couple of the deacons drove to his house, and found that most of the family’s belongings were gone. His vehicles were not in the driveway. Gerry and his family had completely disappeared.
It wasn’t until seven months later that Gerry contacted the church to apologize for his abrupt departure. To make a long story short, Gerry had experienced total burnout as a pastor. His sad saga isn’t the only pastoral burnout story that could be told. Pastors have a difficult job that is full of stress. Without the proper precautions, pastors will burn out.
How to Burn Out
Someone has said that “when ministers worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship, they burn out personally and professionally” (Robert Dale, Church Administration Handbook). The causes of burnout are plentiful, but here are some of them.
- You engage in all-consuming busywork, without focusing on the big-picture vision and mission of your ministry.
- You pursue an unrealistic or unreachable goal, like getting everyone in California saved by Tuesday.
- You never take a vacation or a day off.
- You experience severe disappointments and challenges in ministry life and in your personal life.
- You neglect a time of personal interaction with the Lord.
- You have no friends or ministry confidantes with which you can share challenges.
- You have an uncooperative ministry team.
- You have an unresolved personal conflict or harbored sin.
- You don’t spend time with your family.
- You micromanage every facet of the ministry.
- You have misplaced priorities.
- You fail to delegate responsibilities to volunteers or other ministry team members.
Scripture and Stress
Stress is part of life. Stress leading to burnout, however, does not need to happen. Christian does not need to “deal with stress” like nonbelievers have to do. Instead, believers has the promises of the Bible to depend upon:
- “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
- Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)
- Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)
Burnout can be avoided by following the injunctions of the Scripture to cast our burdens on the Lord and depend upon Him for the strength we need in daily ministry. These suggestions may help you to avoid burnout.
- Protect. There are certain aspects of your life that you must be vigilant about protecting. Protect your personal time with God. Protect your time with your family. Protect the occasional time to unwind, relax, and to get away from the demands of the ministry.
- Pray. Prayer is essential. To neglect prayer is to neglect your lifeline and source of strength. Pray frequently. Pray always.
- Enjoy friendship. Leadership can get lonely. Find a friend, a peer, who can understand your situation and help you work through the challenges that you face.
- Prioritize. Possessing a healthy sense of purpose and direction can help to clear up the myriad distractions that crowd our lives and push us toward burnout. Take some time to focus on the big picture goals of your life, your ministry, and your family. Then prioritize your time, your energy, and your actions toward achieving realistic goals. Staying frenetically busy at a slough of activities and programs can be disillusioning.
Keep in mind that one of the purposes of Sharefaith is to make the job of media easier for you. We can’t promise to keep you from burnout, but we can provide a great resource that might help…in a little way!