How do you steer clear of burnout?

Burnout—if you’ve not experienced it, chances are you’ve skirted its edges once or twice. It’s a phenomenon alarmingly common in ministry professions (although it’s certainly not restricted to them); visit online forums frequented by pastors or your ministers and you’ll bump into regular requests for help with burnout, despair, and frustration.

So how to cope with burnout when you feel it crouching at your door? Legacy Youth Ministry Resources has a good article about detecting and coping with burnout. Here are their suggestions for someone feeling overwhelmed:

  1. Take a break and get some rest. Understand your physical limitations and accept them. God probably has much less expectations of you than you have of yourself.
  2. Change the habits in your life that are unhealthy – whether eating, sleeping, exercise, etc.
  3. Write out a clear statement of your specific calling in ministry. Share this with a close friend. Make a commitment to not accept any offers that do not fit clearly into this calling and ask this friend to help you make decisions accordingly.
  4. Make a list of everything you do in a week. Draw a line through anything that doesn’t help you accomplish God’s calling in your life. Next, underline the things that you do that could be done by someone else. Write the name of that person next to this thing. Delegate! What are left with should be the things that ONLY you can do. If these things are really God?s will, you have enough time to accomplish them without burning out. If not, you still need to draw some lines through more things.
  5. Designate one day a month for solitude. Find a place with no distractions (including your mobile phone) and spend the most part of one day there.
  6. Make a list of all the people that you spend time with on a regular basis. Next to each name, determine if they are drainers, average, teachable or fillers. If you find that you are not spending most of your times with the latter two, make the necessary changes.
  7. Review your vision statement and the goals that you have set to accomplish this. If you have not yet written these things on a piece of paper, do this during your day of solitude at the monastery.

Read the full article at Legacy Youth Ministry Resources.

Those are easier said than done; of course. For further help with burnout, see also Say No to Burnout by Elizabeth Skoglund of the Psychology for Living ministry.

Have you lived through the nightmare of personal or professional burnout? How did you make it through, and what would you say to somebody who feels burnout coming on?

What do you think?

4 Responses to “How do you steer clear of burnout?”

  • Hiram Green says:

    From past experience, I believe that there is another need to prevent burn-out. We must have a brother or sister that we have no secrets from and, the both of you being in submission to authority. Only there are you properly covered by the ‘in order,’ authority of God and have covering for council and making important decisions. This also provides you with a safe and confidential way of venting and talking through the more volitile subjects. If we receive the cares and problems of others dailey, and have no where to unload these problems, they build up within us and will short circut our ministry. Having a confidential, joint or joined-to brother or sister, provides us the outlet,safety net, and prayer partner to help us take those cares and burden to God’s Throne and leave them there.

  • Ruth Bard says:

    This will sound harsh, but “burnout” is a secular concept, not a Biblical one. To walk on water, as Peter discovered, there is only one requirement: keep your eyes on Jesus. What did God say to Paul? “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And what did Paul say, as well? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Delegation, accountability, and support networks are just common sense for anyone whose work pulls them in numerous directions, but, in the end, you need to tear your eyes away from yourself and the “how do I feel today” mentality.

  • @Hiram, that may be helpful for some, but if you are in leadership (which is where a lot of burnout happens), then “submission” line doesn’t help that much. I actually think the “in order” hierarchies are not as strict in Scripture as we’ve read into the Scripture and walking in humility is a better cure than being in a burden of hierarchy where others aren’t allowed to bear your burdens as well (because they are your underlings).

    @Ruth, whatever the term, it is very much alive and well in Christian circles because we’ve abused the work ethic of the Puritans by pretending our work is our identity and that if you aren’t serving 100%, then God is displeased, or people will be lost, or “if you don’t do it, nobody will.” I’ve even heard pastors say, “It is better to burn out than rust out.” It’s a false dichotomy. Burnout is an epidemic in our sub-culture among people who do “ministry.”

    For my own part, I think we’ve lost a very important gift God gave us at the beginning of creation, the gift of rest. This time of rest was the first thing he calls “holy” in Scripture. And that rest, though for some reason ignored by evangelicals, was traditionally called the “Sabbath” where you let the world take care of itself and you spend your day in study of the Scripture and reflection on God and our place in his world. Nothing has helped me more against the tyranny of being overworked than that simple thing.

  • Eric Simmons says:

    Accountability, Focus on Jesus, Rest!