Stay in ministry long enough and it will happen to all of us at one time or another. The alarm goes off in the morning and instead of looking forward to going to church and leading worship, we have a sinking sense of “something is not right” in our gut. Maybe it is conflict, either among staff or worship team members, maybe it is the complaints of congregation members, or just that stale feeling that you just aren’t that into it any more. However it manifests itself into your worship leading life, burnout has arrived and is driving you away from ministry, and maybe even away from God.
Feeling Pastor Burnout? Here’s How to Get Back on Track – Part 1 of 2
Burnout can come creeping up on you like a virus, gradually weakening your resolve and your motivation until you realize one day that it has you in its grip. Burnout can also come crashing down on you as you have pushed yourself to the very limit until one day the bottom drops out below your feet and you look around, bewildered, asking, “what happened?” (this is my usual pattern, run until I drop!) I have heard people say burnout is not real, it is just a lazy persons excuse for not wanting to do their job anymore. But I assure you, if you are feeling burnout, I believe you, and I want to help you find your way back to that place where ministry was fun and God filled you each day with the Spirit as you worked to bring the Gospel of Christ alive in worship.
In this two-part article I will walk you through the steps that have brought me back from burnout in the past. This is not easy or quick because you are working to undo damage that either you have done to yourself, damage that has been inflicted on you by others, or most likely both. But your desire for ministry can be repaired and you can come back to yourself through diligence, self-honesty and self-awareness, beginning with a healthy dose of prayer and a long conversation with God.
Before you begin any walk back towards where you were, understand that God has a plan for us in all things and all situations. Begin with prayer and surround your journey in prayer to God, continually seeking God’s will. My guess is if you have been feeling this way for a while you have already been crying out to God. Keep going. There is no end to God’s love and patience for you, nor for God’s desire to see you on the path that God has selected for you.
Step 1– Admit that you are not in the same frame of mind about your ministry that you used to be. I know this sounds like the beginning of most 12 step type programs, but it is a fact that if you cannot admit to yourself that you are having a real problem in your ministry, and that you might actually be the source of that problem, then your burnout will only continue to get worse. Ultimately you are the one who has to deal with how you feel about yourself, your ministry and others, and how you deal with those feelings.
Step 2 – Do a little (a lot?) of research. There are so many resources out on the web for understanding and combatting burnout. Even a cursory search can get you to quality articles on burnout from no less than the Mayo Clinic and Psychology Today. I wish I had been able to gain such information and understanding when I first encountered burnout. I might have made some different choices. Read and seek to understand the clinical reasons you may be feeling the way you are. They matter. Researcher’s can perhaps help you identify what has happened to get you to this place. For example, I learned that my work habits and relationship patterns make me prone to burnout and I always have to be on the look out for these tendencies as I try to avoid burnout in the future. Talk to people you trust and ask them about your interactions and how they may have seen your ministry attitude change. Insight from trusted friends can be very beneficial.
Step 3– Understand that because this is ministry it is likely effecting you twice as hard than if you had a “regular job.” In a 2007 article on burnout in New York magazine, the title, “In a culture where work is a religion, burnout is its crisis of faith” was particularly compelling for me. What about when religion is our work? What about when burnout is not merely like a crisis of faith, but might actually be a crises of faith? The underlying joy of this truth is that it means we are not in this alone. God is walking beside us the whole way if we will turn toward our faith and listen for God’s will.
Admitting that we are struggling with burnout, learning about what it is and its effects on us and others, and acknowledging that we may be dealing with a crisis of faith and not simply job dissatisfaction, are all important steps. But what can we actually do about it? In part 2 I will outline the actions that I was advised to take and eventually put into action to put out the fire of burnout and relight the blaze of passion for my ministry.