This one is tough for me. As a mental health professional, I have training in self-care and recognizing some signs of burnout. That being said, it can still be challenging at times to admit that I need to take care of some of my own needs before I am able to adequately meet the needs of others. I see this struggle all the time in both myself and in those that I work alongside. It takes humility to recognize that you have to hit the breaks and pull in for a pit stop.
Ministry work can lead to burnout for several reasons:
- Lack of self-care and self-renewal
- Unrealistic expectations for self
- Poor stress management
- Sense of perfectionism
- Lack of close, supportive relationships
- Lack of recognition for good work
- Too many responsibilities
- Need for control
- Doing work that may feel monotonous or unchallenging
These are but a few of the risk factors for burnout. It is important to note that there is a difference between stress and burnout. While unrelenting stress can lead to burnout, too much stress does not always indicate burnout. Stress usually is characterized by too much; it involves the many pressures that demand too much of your physical and psychological resources. Burnout is usually characterized by not enough; it involves a feeling of emptiness, no motivation, and you are beyond caring. People who are experiencing burnout see no hope or positive outcomes that will change their situations.
If unrelenting stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up.
We are typically aware of being consumed with stress—we are less aware of burnout when it happens.
While not an exhaustive list, here are a few indications that you may be experiencing burnout:
- You feel tired and drained most of the time. You lack focus, motivation, and clarity of thought. You have overloaded expectations and experience a constant block for mental energy.
- You lose passion for your work and ministry. You dread conducting meetings and the other responsibilities. It becomes more of an obligation or commitment, rather than a passion in your life.
- You go from being a leader to being a manager. Leaders have vision. Visionaries are at their best when they receive instruction from God at the top of the mountain and come down and give vision to the organization. When experiencing burnout, a leader does not have a capacity for any more vision. All forward momentum comes to a hard stop, while the leader goes into management mode to try and hold everything together. Managers focus on the details, the processes, and the different parts of the organization rather than the whole. They do this, all the while with a small hope that they will receive a burst of energy to take their organization to the next level. However, this is a deception; unless the leader takes adequate steps toward self-restoration things will only get worse. Additionally, you may see people leave the organization. Unless there is a compelling vision coming from the leader, the people will scatter (Read Proverbs 29:18).
- You isolate yourself from others. When experiencing burnout, you are exhausted. You create an emotional distance from others because you simply lack the energy to have lengthy conversations or minister to their needs.
- You lack patience for the monotonous. Your work becomes boring and you feel disenchanted from the work that you are doing. You lack the patience to deal with the mundane things necessary to maintain oversight of staff and organizational responsibilities. Relationship challenges become petty and the grace you once had for the immaturity of the saints is now gone.
- You shy away from new challenges. Unless you take the necessary time for self-care and self-renewal, your organization’s growth will become limited. You may shy away from new challenges, renewed vision, and forward momentum. You are also too tired to problem-solve.
- You would rather call it quits, than take on a new mountain. When you are thinking about laying down your weapons, rather than going off to war to defeat your foes, then you know you need to be renewed. Anyone who is living for retirement is an individual who has already stopped living! God calls leaders to minister out of abundance and overflow—not out of the fumes of an empty tank!
- You view ministry as work rather than a calling. You may feel undervalued and underappreciated. Please know that the work you do is eternal and life-changing! As Galatians 6:9 says: “So let us not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” It is the greatest privilege and honor to be used by God and as an overseer of a ministry or organization. It is not a job, but a calling.
How can we recover from burnout?
- Take a day of rest! This will most likely not fall on a Sunday, but making a day of rest a priority is key to a healthy work/ministry-life balance.
- Spend time with God. This seems obvious, but do not underestimate what a single moment in God’s presence can do for your overall quality of life!
- Make time for life-giving activities. What energizes you? Extroverts are energized by being around others, while introverts need alone time to recharge. Prioritize your time with God, with family & friends, your hobbies and interests, and for your physical health. Make sure you are not missing meals, getting a good night’s rest, and are exercising. You cannot effectively help others if you are not taking care of yourself first.
- Refocus on your calling and God’s vision for your ministry. If you are feeling lost, you must find your way back to why God has called you to minister. Find focus in that and realign with the vision for your ministry.
- Stay accountable. You are not meant to be an island. Leadership can be lonely and it does not always have to be. Connect with other leaders by reaching out for prayer and encouragement. Be honest about your victories and your failures. We must sometimes reach out for a little bit of help!
Mattera, J. (2015, April 21). 10 Signs of Leadership Burnout and 5 Ways to Recover. In Ministry Today.
Smith, M., Segal, J., Robinson, L., & Segal, R. (2017, April). Burnout Prevention and Recovery. In HelpGuide.Org.