Guest Post written by: Rob Bailey
According to an article in Psychology Today: Burnout is one road hazard in life that leaders need to be aware of. But often, because of the uniqueness of a leader’s personality, they often don’t see the signs of burnout.
Because most leaders are so passionate about what they do, they sometimes ignore the fact that they are working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy workloads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel. These are the ingredients for burnout, regardless of what occupation we are in.
But what about for those of us engaged in ministry? Shouldn’t that change the rules a little? Ironically, (and unfortunately) sometimes those in the business world and are more adept and proficient in dealing with burn-out than those in ministry and church leadership.
I think ones of the reasons why is in ministry, sometimes we don’t afford ourselves to the opportunity to be human. Those of us in ministry leadership are often tempted to never allow our humanity to show. In fact, I know some well-meaning previous generation leaders that even encouraged younger ministers to not ever show weaknesses, flaws, or shortcomings. While there is certainly merit to leaders having healthy boundaries in regards to disclosure of personal inadequacies as well as merit to not airing dirty laundry at every opportunity. However; sometimes we erroneously are led to believe that if we are spiritually minded enough, then we won’t face difficulties like sadness, depression, loneliness or even burn-out.
But as I read the Bible, I find some pretty outstanding spiritual leaders that were also confronted by burn-out. In fact, men like Moses, David, Solomon, Paul, and even Peter faced some pretty difficult emotional struggles and even burn-out. Even the great prophet Elijah, who under the power of God, called down fire, burned up false prophets, performed inexplicable miracles and had faith to proclaim oil would not stop flowing, found himself under a juniper tree. Why was he there? Elijah holed up under a tree because he was depressed, exhausted and on the brink of a complete breakdown!
But what I love is that even in this state of complete burnout, God doesn’t throw him away! God doesn’t cast him aside. Instead, God sends an angel to minister to the needs of his flesh. God ministered to the needs of his humanity, so Elijah could get back out there and continue his work for the Lord.
So how do we prevent burnout? One of the things to remember is that burnout doesn’t happen abruptly. You don’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden “have burnout.”
Burnout is like a slow leak in a car tire. The air escapes from a tire in such a slow way that it makes it hard to recognize what is causing the air to escape the inner tube. But one day, you look at your tire and see it is flat. That’s how burnout hits us. The leak is slow. The leak is gradual. Many times people that are experiencing burnout feel tired all the time. Some other symptoms of burnout are depression, insomnia, anxiety, and even unexplained hostility.
So how do we overcome burnout? Many experts recommend a combination of rest, nutrition and exercise will help combat burnout. And while all of those are incredible suggestions, I’ll add three things.
An ageless saying is this, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That means it is easier to maintain something than fix it when it’s broken. In other words, if we can stop a catastrophe from ever happening in the first place, it is a lot better than trying to fix a catastrophe once it occurs.
Ministry burnout is indeed preventable. The cure is a combination of changing your mind and also changing your actions.
THREE basic steps one can take to avoid burnout (or help repair burnout):
- Say YES (to the RIGHT things)
There are some things that are a necessity. Ministry is hard and sometimes the ox gets in the ditch and you are the ONLY one that is able to pull the oxen out. So, make those things the priority!
- Say NO (to the OTHER things)
There are some things that are not important. Say NO to those things. Or at least delegate those things to someone else. You simply can’t do everything…there is not enough time in the day for everything. If you don’t say no to some things, eventually the important things that only you can do will suffer.
- Prayfor DISCERNMENT to know the difference.