Pain Points: Burnout

Pain Points: Burnout

The article is a part of the Pain Points series.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

The numbers don’t lie.

Lifeway Research shows that around 250 pastors leave the ministry each month due to burnout. While that number is staggering, it doesn’t include the ones who checked out of ministry but actually haven’t left the ministry.

To be fair, no one pursues the calling God has given them with an eager expectation to become tired, emotionally spent and bewildered. We all want to run the race and finish well.

Truthfully, burnout is a stewardship issue. We must ask honest questions about what consumes us and our time.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Moses, one of the greatest leaders in the Old Testament, thought he could carry the weight of ministry alone. He was convinced he was the only one that could judge the people correctly. His father in law, Jethro, gave him some great feedback.

“What you’re doing is not good,” Moses’s father-in-law said to him. “You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone. Now listen to me; I will give you some advice, and God be with you. You be the one to represent the people before God and bring their cases to him. Instruct them about the statutes and laws, and teach them the way to live and what they must do. But you should select from all the people able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating dishonest profit. Place them over the people as commanders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.”

Exodus 18:17-21CSB

Here’s a few thoughts on why pastors (and maybe you) can burn out.

  1. Your calendar runs you, not vice versa.

What’s worse than having an event that doesn’t go as planned? Hosting an event that wasn’t needed in the first place. As a leader, you must decide what should consume your time and

The shotgun mindset doesn’t work too well in church programming. You know the formula, take multiple shots in multiple directions with birdshot and hope something gets hit. Churches throw out tons of programs and events and hope that someone will be discipled along the way.

The intentionality of a discipleship pathway helps prevent burnout because it helps you say “no” to things that don’t help people grow spiritually. The pathway shows what’s really important for ourselves and our people and helps weed out the things that “we’ve just always done.”

When you can say no, so that your YES will be more impactful, your stewarding your time well.

  1. You feel like you have to do everything.

Like we saw with Moses, the hero syndrome in ministry doesn’t work. It’s ironic: we feel like the more we do, the more valuable we are to the church. But that isn’t true. You aren’t just called to DO ministry, you are called to LEAD ministry. 

“And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.”

Ephesians 4:11-13CSB

Should we work hard? Yes. But a large part of that work must be equipping others to do the work of ministry. Too often insecurity tells us that if teach others to do what we do, then we lose value. That’s short sighted, selfish thinking. The truth is those who can reproduce themselves become most valuable, because they have led others to do what God has put in their hearts.

As a leader you are not only responsible for your time, but also the time of those you lead.

  1. You find your identity in your occupation.

Ministry is both rewarding and dangerous. It’s rewarding to see God move, lives changed and the Kingdom expand! It’s incredible being part of God’s work.

The dangerous part of ministry is what we choose to believe about ministry. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the work that we believe our ministry defines who we are. Titles or accolades have the potential of letting us believe we are more than we really are.

Pastor.

Leader.

Preacher.

Visionary.

Whatever.

A couple of questions with honest answers will help us determine if we place our identity in our jobs. Take a moment, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I feel of less value when events or programs don’t go as planned?
  2. Do I apologize or make excuses for why “the numbers” aren’t quite where they should be? Do I feel like a failure if the numbers aren’t where I think they should be?
  3. Do I feel like I have to prove myself to others in ministry?
  4. Do I prefer to be called by my title or am I comfortable being known as a Christ follower?

Probably the most dangerous thought is unspoken. It’s a trade, a slick compromise done in the name of ministry.

We let ourselves believe the lie that busyness for God is the same as intimacy with God. None of us would ever say this, but it happens. We work hard, meet peoples needs, show love, sermon prep, handle details…all in a days work. That frenetic pace sometimes squeezes out time for our own development and time with God. Somehow in our minds we justify the idea that we are ok, because we are working for God.

Friends, nothing replaces intimacy with God. While all the above points are true, your daily, close walk with God is the greatest defense against burning out.

My friend Ben Trueblood says, “Be militantly selfish about your time with God”, I agree. Loosen up the reigns, lead others to do ministry. Say no to things that don’t lead people to discipleship. Remember you are a shepherd that does ministry, not a minister who shepherds.

Be a good steward of the race you run. Finish well.

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Jeff joined Long Hollow's staff at the beginning of 2016 with a passion to see God change students’ lives. Jeff lives by 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, which reminds him of Christ’s grace and power in his life. Jeff enjoys going out for Mexican food and spearfishing. But when it’s time to relax, he loves to grab a Tim Keller or John Maxwell book. He cheers on Wake Forest football, the Miami Dolphins, and the Miami Heat.