How to Avoid Ministry Burnout
Burnout happens only to givers. Its nature is the depletions of the physical and emotional resources that enable the giver to keep giving. Losing these resources causes despair, depression, irrational anger and a host of physical problems. God’s servants who burn out are those who have too little consciousness of—or care for—their personal needs to do what is necessary to replenish themselves from the intensity of their sacrifices. Frequently a period of rest will cure burnout; the same is often not true of depression and wounding.
Depression can be the result of depleting one’s physical and emotional resources for dealing with stress and can happen to anyone who faces and inadequately deals with long-term stress. Depression is often the result of a performance orientation. Performance-oriented people have not learned that hey are acceptable apart from what they can achieve. The fear of failure exacts a terrible physical and emotional toll. The result can be deep depression until the victim learns that self-acceptance; the love of God and the love of others come by grace, and are totally unearned.
Wounding is an emotional condition caused by the hurtful acts of others. Just like the body has finite and exhaustible physical resources through which it copes with life, so our emotions draw upon limited resources in human strength in order to meet and deal with the lumps life serves up for the heart. When those resources are spent, the result is devastation and desperation. Anyone can suffer emotional wounding, but the wounding is especially severe for those who are givers by nature or by profession. Normally, life serves up its hurts, betrayals and abandonments by loved ones at a pace that leaves time for recovery and replenishment, but occasionally they come either too quickly or hurt too deeply for the individual to recover from them effectively.
Here are some destructive patterns that should be addressed.
- The personal obligation pattern. Most wounded warriors feel obligated to everyone. Sometimes the problem is a fear of not being like or loved for saying no once in a while. Or the wounded warrior may genuinely feel that without him terrible things will happen in the lives of those who look to him for ministry. He sees their failures as his own and can’t risk letting them fall.
- The self-sacrificing pattern. This person feels that: “If I’m not working to exhaustion, I’m not working hard enough.” Fun is a waste of precious ministry time. Therefore, time for fun means time for guilt. Sleeps, hobbies, exercise taken away from work means guilt.
- The isolation pattern. Most patterns of church government are set up to keep the pastor isolated and to deprive him of power. Most churches today are governed as democracies in which the task of those who occupy offices is to carry out the will of the people as expressed in the vote of the majority. But God’s church was never designed as a democracy, but as a theocracy, ruled by God through His anointed and appointed servants who discern and carry out His will-and how have both the freedom and authority to do so. The elders or deacons should be part of the pastor’s support team, helping him to carry out the work of ministry and encouraging him in his leadership. So often the elder board rotates off before solid, deep relationships can be developed.
- The self-abuse pattern. This pattern is most often manifested in habits of diet and rest. Your eating habits have probably been atrocious. Rest is a really big issue. Most pastors and lay leaders regularly violate the Sabbath rest. God designed us to function best when we take one day in seven to stop, worship God and do what we ourselves enjoy. If you are a leader, don’t expect to accomplish a Sabbath rest on Sunday, since that’s the biggest workday of the week. Listen to your body and begin to know when you need rest.
- The prayer pattern. Your prayer discipline is probably shot, and if you take a close look you will probably find that it needed to be. Most of us carry out our devotional lives in a legalistic fashion, rather than being moved and led by the Holy Spirit. Include “listening time” in your daily devotions. Nowhere does the Word of God mandate anything concerning daily devotions other than to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to meditate on some part of God’s Word daily and continually (Psalm 119). David says talks about seeking the Lord morning and night, but not as a duty-as a joy! That leaves lots of room for creativity and change in your spiritual walk with God.
Begin breaking patterns by confessing your helplessness, and then call upon the Lord to rescue you. Be kind to yourself and begin to do those things that energize you and are healthy for you. Mourn your hurts with a trusted friend and surround yourself with a support team. It’s a time-honored step toward healing, and proven-to-bear fruit!
Excerpts are taken from Wounded Warriors : Surviving Seasons of Stress by R. Loren Sandford. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Victory House Publishers, Chapters one and six. Reprinted by Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing. Used by permission.