Avoiding Burnout in Ministry – Part 3 The Physical Aspect

This is part three of a series of blogs on avoiding burnout in ministry.  You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

This week I read two very different Facebook postings.  The first was about a pastor that was back in the hospital for the third time after having a heart attack and undergoing a quadruple bypass operation.  The second was from a pastor that posted about his morning 10 mile run in the rain.

Both pastors are about the same age.  One works as the Executive Pastor of a humongous church, with multiple campuses, in the Los Angeles area.  The other is the lead pastor of a small country church in rural Arkansas.

That got me thinking about health, stress, and burnout.  Stress can lead to health issues, which can contribute to burnout.  Health issues can lead to stress, which can contribute to burnout.  Stress contributes to burnout.  Ill health contributes to burnout.  Seems to me both are intertwined and both need to be addressed.

Can you guess which pastor had the heart attack and needed the bypass?

It wouldn’t be unusual to assume it was the pastor working under intense pressure every day in one of the largest metropolitan areas of the world.  Instead, it was the pastor who lives in a very laid back, slow paced, rural town.  I don’t know why one man had a heart attack and the other one didn’t.  I do know that both pastors experience stress on a regular basis, because that’s the nature of ministry.

I’ve known the pastor from the Los Angeles area for many years.  He has always been an average kind of guy.  Over worked.  Over stressed.  Not particularly athletic, most probably due to long work hours.  I mean, who has time to exercise when you’re working 40+ hours a week?  So I asked him.  Why?  Why the sudden switch from sometime athlete to a committed athlete?  What made the “light bulb” go off in his head that caused the change and made it “stick”?  His answer was,

“The light bulb for me was a couple of things.  #1, seeing friends my age dying and knowing I had a lot more stress in my life than they did…”

I’ll stop there for a second.  This pastor recognized his level of stress and decided to do something about it.  He didn’t just think about it.  He didn’t worry about it.  He didn’t put it on his To-Do List for when life got a little slower.  Nope.  He made the decision to change something in his life that he had the power to change.  Did you catch that?  He changed something in his life that he had the power to change!!  He didn’t beat his head against the wall over something immovable in his life.  Instead he recognized that stress can lead to ill health and ill health can lead to death.  So he made a change.

What was his number two reason?  Again, I’ll let him tell you in his own words.

“My daughter decided to do her first half marathon and I wanted to support and encourage her. I ended up supporting her by just being her dad and cheering her in instead of running the actual race with her, but it was enough to get me off my butt…. I am going to do a half marathon at the end of this month….. The biggest thing for me is the energy I feel after exercising, it changes my whole day to start off with a workout.  I have said I wish I could put the feeling I have after working out in a pill because I could make a fortune!  Also I don’t exercise as much to extend my life (that is up to God). But I do it so the days I have left I can live “feeling better”. 🙂

I love the fact that this one man made the personal decision to pursue a healthier lifestyle in order to eliminate some of the stress in his life, build better health, enhance his personal sense of well-being, and ultimately lessen one of the major factors that lead to ministry burnout.  And then he stuck with it!!

He didn’t quit his job in order to de-stress his life; he just added an exercise component.

He didn’t push himself too soon and then burn out in the first two weeks.

He didn’t add to his stress by stressing over his exercise regime!  He wasn’t ready to run that first half marathon, but now he is!  He is happy and looking forward to the experience rather than dreading it, and quite possibly quitting the workouts afterward.

None of that “Goal met.  Check!  Now back to being a couch potato.”  No way!  Exercise has become a way of life and he is happy and energized because of it – not in spite of it!

His workload hasn’t changed.  His job description hasn’t changed.  His personal life hasn’t changed.  But, his overall sense of well-being has changed.  And a greater sense of well-being lightens the effects of stress on our minds and consequently our bodies!

So there you have it.  Adding a physical component to our lives, in whatever form works for each of us personally, will enhance our lives and help to lessen some of the effects of stress in our lives.  Thus, we are less likely to experience burnout.

I’m not training for a marathon, although I did run a marathon (well, ran a bit and walked a lot!) a few years ago.  Today I walk.  My husband, who has had two hip replacements (on the same hip), also walks with me.  We aren’t looking to set any records, but we do try to increase the distance regularly.  As we walk we talk.  We enjoy God’s creation as we go along.  We laugh.  We plan.  We dream.

How about you?  Can you add a physical component to your life to help lessen the stressors and lessen the likelihood of burnout?  What do you love to do?  Do you now, or did you at one time, run, walk, lift weights, kayak, sail, surf, or ride horses?  If you are not currently doing something physical, do you have an interest in pursuing one of the sports above or do you have another way of being physical such as gardening or hiking that you haven’t been pursuing because of your perceived lack of time?

I encourage you to be like Pastor Tim and “get off your butt” and add a physical component to your lives on a regular basis.  It will be a blessing to you in so many ways!

Walkin’ my way to better health and smaller jeans,


I’d like to thank Pastor Tim Winters of Shepherd of the Hills in Porter Ranch, California for his contribution to this blog. 


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