Whether you are a pastor, worship leader, on the worship team or a volunteer, we all can suffer from church ministry burnout. If we are not careful, we can easily overwhelm ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Church ministry burnout not only affects us physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well. When we let ourselves get to this point, we can lose sight of why we are serving in the first place. Here are some helpful tips on how you and your team can avoid church ministry burnout.

How to Avoid Church Ministry Burnout

An ounce of prevention is worth way more than a pound of cure. Click To Tweet

I saw the toaster in my kitchen billowing smoke with the alarms warning me to get out. The fresh slice of Country White I was so looking forward to eating was now as black as charcoal. Some people like their bread toasted that dark, but for me it was inedible.

I don’t want to take this metaphor to the extreme, but there are certainly some strong similarities between burnt-out ministry leaders and crispy pieces of bread.

Here are some things that come to mind:

  • Both were exposed to stressful elements for too long: No rest!
  • The temperature controls were set too high: No boundaries!
  • The bread was the wrong size for the toaster. Some things don’t fit: Wrong job! A bagel is the wrong size and gets stuck.
  • We ignored the warning signs of the smell and the smoke: Lack of self-awareness.
  • We forgot that we put bread in the toaster: Too busy!
  • The toaster itself was dysfunctional: The environment we work in has issues.
  • The smoke alarms need new batteries: Lack of trusted friends to make us aware of our condition.

Dictionary.com defines burn out like this: “Physical or emotional exhaustion, especially as a result of long-term stress or dissipation.”Another way it could be defined is: “a chronic lack of enthusiasm and low motivation for things that we must get done in our lives.”

Or the way we all might say it if we get to this point is:

“I don’t have it to give anymore.”

“I just don’t care!”

This is a dangerous place to be. We need to discover the ways we can prevent this because it can take a long time to recover from it. An ounce of prevention is worth way more than a pound of cure. We are losing too many in the ministry to this condition and we all need to be made aware of what we can do if we are burning out so that we can alter our course and get help. Or, when we see it in others, we can intervene and intercede.

Church Ministry Burnout is not Church Ministry Stress. They are different and have major differences in how they affect our physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health.

Dr. Archibald Hart lists the distinct differences between the two here:

Church Ministry Burnout - Worship Leader Burnout - Worship Leader Stress

You can also self-test here to see if you might be heading in this direction.

There are literally hundreds of articles written on this subject, and from everything I’ve read, there are a handful of causes that stand out from the rest as to why we’re flaming out.  (This site has many articles related to burn out and ministry in general.)

Let’s start with the why you do what you do.

Did you volunteer for this position or were you pressured into it? Are you seeking the approval of people? Do you feel that you’re the only one who can pull this off? What is your motivation to continue and how are you going to maintain it? Are you depending on your own strength or God’s?  Are you willing to solicit the help you need or are you afraid that it will display weakness or lack of skill? Galatians 1:10.

If we don’t find a balance between the workload and the time away from it, we won’t last. This is especially true with ministry leaders and volunteers. We get so caught up in serving others that we don’t have time to worship, to pray, to sit in His presence, to be in the Word or in fellowship. I know this is true of me. I’ve heard from so many worship leaders and techs that they either don’t have or take the time to pray. Make the time and whenever that is, make certain that you keep the appointment. Don’t be late. It’s in these times that we will find the purpose of our calling, our position.  Here is where you’ll find the “why you do what you do”!

Prayer is also where we will find our strength and wisdom. He will supply all of our needs. He is Jehovah-Jireh. We can cast our cares and burdens on Him. We can make our requests known to Him and He will hear us. It is here where we will find our peace, the kind that transcends our imagination. I am preaching to me right now in case you’re wondering. This is just as much a reminder to me as it is to you. Don’t let the prayer time be the only time you pray. Remember what Paul said: “Pray unceasingly” and don’t let your work interfere with that. We can pray at any time, at any moment, with our eyes open, while we’re working or not.  We have access to the One who can supply everything we need in life but we often don’t appropriate it.

We also need to “get away” from our obligations at work or in ministry. This is especially true of volunteers who serve. The majority of churches’ worship and tech teams are staffed with volunteers. Typically, this means someone who is a worship leader or a sound operator has a full-time job outside the church and is working perhaps on a weeknight for rehearsal or mid-week service and the meetings on the weekend. In some cases, the volunteer is working non-stop for a week at their job, the weekend at church and then another week at their vocation. How long can we endure this schedule before we are toast?  Get away!! Hopefully, you won’t need a poltergeist to scream, “Get out!”

Schedule rest, vacation, time for family and NO work. If you are the only worship leader, drummer or sound operator, find people you can train up to lighten the load.

You may be saying: “there is nobody else”! Really? If you died tomorrow, you don’t think the church would be able to find someone to replace you?  So before you die, burnout or leave the ministry, recruit, train, mentor your replacements or your substitutes. The more the merrier. Share the burdens and the rewards.

I liken the controls on the toaster to setting boundaries. You need to protect yourself and your family, your friends, and co-workers from physical and mental harm and one of the best things you can do to ensure that, is to be able to say “NO!”

I said earlier to cast your burdens and cares on the Lord; but why would you want to add more burdens and cares when you don’t have to? Know your limits. Know what you can do without negatively affecting you or those in your life. Don’t be guilted into something that will just wear you out. Let it go!

Surround yourself with support. Form working relationships with your co-ministers outside of work, outside of the church so that you have a better understanding of who they are, what they do, what their hobbies are, where they are weak and strong, what talents they possess, how they are wired, where they live and what they like to eat. Likewise, they will also find out all these things about you in the process. By knowing you well, they’ll be able to determine changes in you that you might not see yourself.  Trust them to sound the alarm to you if, and when, they see these changes surface. Hopefully, you would do the same for them. Trust is the keyword. Trust doesn’t happen without having a strong relationship in the first place. George MacDonald says it this way: “to be trusted is a better compliment than to be loved.”

Keep the lines of communication open with your leaders, your peers, those you are leading, family, and friends. Be accountable to someone close to you that you trust and can confide in. Don’t shut them out!

Much of the time, our church or our work environment can be dysfunctional. You will have to determine if where you are is a healthy place for you to be. If the toaster doesn’t work and is always burning the toast, you need a new toaster. In 1987, my first house burned down due to a faulty toaster. My wife was walking our one-year-old when it happened. His room would’ve been right above where the flames tore through the house. Fortunately, he was not taking a nap at the time and no one was hurt. Praise the Lord. The house was rebuilt. However many things were lost and the damage done could have been averted if I was more aware of the problem.  Find the place where you are encouraged; the place that is dedicated to you and not just to the things that need to be done; where they will pour into your spirit and physical well-being; that will support you with resources and help you fulfill your calling; will thank you for your service and reward you in tangible ways: a weekend away, a night out with your wife, a gift card, a Thank You!

In other words, a place that cares for you more than what you do.

If you’re in a leadership position, you can help prevent your team from church ministry burnout by doing for them the things you would want done for you. Always apply the Golden Rule!

Many of you know that when you’re working, you’re really not worshiping.

For further reading click the following: Self-Care: Preventing Burnout in Ministry Robert Brennan

About The Author

Doug Gould

Doug Gould is a veteran of the Pro Audio and Music Technology Industry for almost 30 years, serving in management roles at Shure, Tascam and E-Mu Systems and has been a worship leader, musician and tech at various churches for almost as long. He is CEO and Founder of Worship MD (Market Development) a consulting firm that helps professional audio and music technology manufacturers build relationships with the church through education.

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