By Thom S. Rainer
There are few vocations that can engender burnout like the pastorate. The demands on a pastor’s time, emotions, and energy can be overwhelming. When I was a pastor, I often felt at least the symptoms of burnout.
I recently spoke with 17 pastors who had experienced burnout, or who felt they came precariously close to burnout. The good news about these pastors is that they moved out of burnout; and now they are re-engaging in exciting and visionary ministries.
So I asked them the obvious question. What did you do to reverse the dark spiral of burnout? The question was open-ended, so they could respond with as many answers as they desired. When it was all said and done, I tabulated twelve different responses from the 17 pastors. Obviously, many of them gave similar answers.
Here are the twelve responses ranked in order of frequency. Each answer has a representative quote from one of the pastors.
- Spent more time in prayer and the Word. “Slowly over time, I spent less and less time in the Bible and in prayer. I succumbed to the tyranny of the urgent. When I committed to reversing that pattern, my life and leadership began to renew.”
- Dreamed again. “When I first arrived at this church, I had great visions and excitement. But I got caught up in negativity and trivial things, and I lost my vision. But recently I asked God to restore my dream and vision for my church, and He’s already answering that prayer.”
- Stopped comparing. “One of the most freeing things of my ministry was to stop comparing myself to other pastors, and my church to other churches. I finally got it that God doesn’t love pastors of larger churches more than He loves me.”
- Developed relationships with non-Christians. “I got so busy doing church that I started neglecting engaging people in the world. Now I make certain that I’m in some type of ongoing relationship with a non-Christian.”
- Moved my focus from the negative to the positive. “I don’t know why I let the critics dominate my time and thoughts. When I stopped letting them control me, and when I started spending more time with positive and great people in the church, my entire emotional state improved dramatically.”
- Learned to have fun. “I realized that there is a difference between taking my ministry seriously and taking myself too seriously. I have learned to lighten up and laugh more. As a result, I find myself rejoicing in the Lord more.”
- Ended draining relationships. “There was this church member that made an appointment with me almost every week. He was so negative and so draining of my emotional energy. I knew he had his own emotional problems, but I knew I wasn’t equipped to deal with them. When I finally got the courage to end our counseling relationship and refer him to a professional, I felt like a weight had been lifted off me.”
- Expressed gratitude regularly. “One of the ways I dealt with my impending burnout was to commit to handwrite five letters of gratitude a week. It was amazing to see how my vision began to restore when I took the focus off me and expressed gratitude to others.”
- Spent more time doing things that energized me. “I tend to be a prideful person, so I don’t like to admit that I am not very good at something. Well, I’m a poor administrator, so administrative work drains me. When I finally got the courage to admit I wasn’t very good at it, I had a lay volunteer step right in and take much of the work off me. He told me that everyone knew I was a lousy administrator, and that he was thankful I finally admitted it. I am now spending time doing those things that I enjoy and give me energy.”
10. Got in better physical shape. “In my busyness, I started eating more, exercising less, and sleeping fitfully. I stayed tired and depressed. But when I got into an exercise routine and ate better, my whole outlook changed.”
11. Made a commitment to have a greater servant spirit. “I had trouble admitting that I had an ego problem. I always wanted things my way. God got to me and showed me that my calling in life is to serve others. It is absolutely amazing to see my leadership passion restored as I put myself last to the needs of others.”
12. Began to pray for my community. “Burnout can be the result of looking inwardly too much. I asked God to give me a greater vision for our church’s community. Shortly after I prayed that prayer, I became burdened for the elementary school near our church. Now I’m praying for specific direction to serve the school. I know God will answer that prayer as well.”
How about you? Have you experienced burnout or near burnout in ministry? What steps did you take? Do you identify with these twelve steps taken by other pastors?