Pastors and church leaders are frequently faced with leading on the fringes of burnout. A week’s work can pile up quickly, and the “to do” list gets longer and longer. Eventually, we feel trapped with too much to do and not enough time to do them. There are administrative tasks, sermon prep, pastoral care, staff meetings, counseling, church conflict, phone calls, emails… At times, it’s overwhelming!
On the other hand, church ministry is energizing and provides an incredible sense of personal fulfillment. Many have said, “I can’t believe that I get paid to do what I love doing the most!” There is such joy from seeing God’s people enthused about the Lord and the church. It is a high privilege to shepherd God’s people and nurture them toward spiritual growth and transformation.
Over time, however, there is a real “wear and tear,” a personal cost from church ministry demands. Motivation and inspiration wane. Energy levels bounce from high to low. Personal and family problems are distracting. Church conflict is draining. All of these challenges and more can lead to a slippery slope toward burnout.
In October 2021, the Barna Group conducted a survey among senior pastors. The results confirmed this tendency toward ministry burnout. The study indicated that thirty-eight percent of those surveyed had considered leaving the ministry within the past year! Burnout is a serious and growing problem among pastors and church leaders. They have long struggled with the effects of ministry burnout, being plagued with discouragement, weariness, and disillusionment. Ultimately leading to the desire or actual quitting of the ministry.
Burnout is literally emotional burnout. There is emotional overload, depletion, and loss of energy to function in a healthy and productive way. It manifests itself in discouragement, fatigue, loss of joy, lack of motivation, depression, weariness, cynicism, and even resentment toward church ministry.
Perhaps, you can relate to some of these symptoms. If so, you may be on the fringe of burnout or deeply into it already.
Here, we will focus on two critical steps that will advance you with wind revitalization. The first is to understand what could be causing your burnout. Here is a checklist of symptoms to help you analyze your own measure of stressors. Note which of these currently applies to you. This listing is not exhaustive.
The results may indicate a need to seek professional help or, at the least, to confide in a trusted friend to get loving and honest feedback.
“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14 ESV
The next step is the single most crucial and important one toward overcoming burnout. Spend regular time alone with God. Start each day being with God and avoid fretting over all that you must be doing for God. Enjoy the awareness of His presence.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 NAS
Biblical Burnout Case Study: Martha
In Luke 10:38-42 NAS, 38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who was also seated at the Lord’s feet, and was listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do the serving by myself? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered by many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary; for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Jesus’ course correction for Martha was to point to her sister, Mary, as the role model for staying healthy while serving Him. As you lead your church, be more like Mary and less like Martha.
Greg Sumii is the former Director of Church and Pastoral Care for the California Southern Baptist Convention and the retired Pastoral Care and Missions Pastor of Northwest Church in Fresno. Greg has a Master’s in Counseling from Azusa Pacific University.
He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Yolanda, for 50 years and together they enjoy two children and 5 grandchildren
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