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25 Jan '09

Lessons learned from ministry burn-out



Recently I addressed the issue of ministry burnout which is not uncommon among successful pastors or missionaries in their fifties. One of my cohorts who has experienced this is a founding pastor of a church that now runs around 2,000 people per Sunday.

As he has tried to make sense out of the growing lack of satisfaction in his role as senior leader and has thought through his sweet spot – the things he is good at and those things he is not good at, he offered the following seven observations that are worth considering.

1. We are an amalgamation of body, emotion, and spirit. These parts borrow from one another like good neighbors. But when all are depleted, bankruptcy follows. I kept borrowing and nearly lost the farm. Weariness is God's wake-up call that I am in debt in my life and need to pay down that debt before investing again.

2. I have learned that a good leader first cares for his own life. Sounds selfish, but it isn't if it is motivated properly from a devotion to stewarding God's resource, and a determination to lead long-term. I am advance blocking unstructured hours into my week to assure that I will retain time to do what I determine is most important. My schedule used to determine what was most important.

3. I have been learning what energizes and sustains me and what exhausts and drains me. I need to delegate the exhausting long-term job-related aspects of my life. I used to feel that was what I was paid for. Now I am pushing more down to others without losing sleep.

4. Growth brings good things, but also grief. There is a lot of loss that travels with growth: Loss of connection, Loss of control, Loss of old roles... and the list goes on.

5. Founders have full underwear drawers. We keep ill-fitting stretched out stuff that needs to gets tossed as our 'body' changes. Finding the courage to throw away old expectations and roles that don't any longer fit is essential of life is going to be good.

6. You will disappoint people no matter what. Choose the right people. Your own sense of calling, God and your family, and your closest colleagues are not the right people. I am being very intentional in choosing my priorities wisely, building structures and accountability to avoid disappointing the right people, but I am steeling myself to endure the judgment of those I do disappoint. I have learned that I am not good at 'no', so I am creating structures that can say 'no' for me... and an assistant who understands my priorities and steers appointments to others as needed.

7. Fun is holy. Without it planned into my life, I lose the ability to be renewed and carry joy and hope to others.


My friend also listed symptoms to pay attention to that may well be indications that not all is well and that a rethinking of roles, responsibilities and priorities is needed: I am sure many of us could add to this list.


Symptoms to pay attention to:

1. When you are so immersed in your job that you don’t plan anything fun anymore.
2. When a day off is a zombie-like shuffle through sadness that seems to have no clear source, not a day embraced with enthusiasm.
3. When work seems like it is all that is happening in your life.
4. When resentment over-takes satisfaction.
5. When a day off does not refresh you, and you resent having to go back to work.
6. When you are preaching about contentment, but you are discontented with your sermon. (Not proud of that one.)
7. When you resent people calling you or wanting to meet with you and you wish everyone would just leave you alone.
8. When people talk about the future and you feel numb.
9. When you have stopped laughing, and emotions seem to be just under the surface.
10. When you feel alone even though you are surrounded with people.
11. When you feel used and taken for granted.
12. When you have trouble sleeping at night, and trouble getting up in the morning.
13. When you are mostly irritable instead of mostly affable.
14. When you feel like everyone wants something from you, and you cannot possible meet all of their expectations… but you try anyway.
15. When people tell you. ‘You don’t look so good, you look tired, get some rest’ and you are stunned that they have no idea how tired and worn out you really are… and you wish you knew how to stop your schedule and just figure out your life.