In my last post I wrote about the epidemic of ministerial burnout. You can read that here. As I stated, the first step toward healing is recognizing that you or a loved one is suffering burnout or is near burnout. That can be a problem.
May I suggest an excellent article titled Depressed, Stressed, and Burned Out: What’s Going on in My Life? by Archibald D. Hart. It is rather lengthy, but well worth the read.
So, let’s assume you’ve acknowledged there is a problem. What now? There are dozens of web-based articles that address this subject. I suggest you do your homework and search these out. At the end of this post I will list a few sources I found very helpful.
In the meantime, let’s talk about some practical steps that you can begin to implement. Just so you know, I’m not a doctor, psychologist, or professional therapist. I’m a pastor’s wife, of 34 years, I’ve seen it all – been there, done that, got the t-shirt, and the ball cap. Oh, and I’ve also suffered from burnout. These are some of the steps that I took. But I’ll tell you my story in a future post.
- Keep first things first. Not to guilt trip anyone, but who is first in your life? We all know the answer is supposed to be Jesus. But is he? Has the busyness of serving him overshadowed your relationship with him? Do you consider time spent alone with the Lord something to be protected at all cost or are you often robbed of that time because of ringing phones, pinging text messages, and emergency emails? I hate to burst your bubble, but time spent reading scripture to prepare for your Sunday message isn’t the same as time spent reading scripture in order to hear from God to refresh YOUR soul today, not just to encourage your flock this week. This is muy importante folks!! The health of your spiritual, emotional, and physical being depends upon it. Don’t put it off. Schedule time to meet with Jesus, even if you don’t feel like it. Remember we have an enemy that doesn’t want us spending time with our Lord and Savior. Those roadblocks are Satan’s attempts to discourage us. You will find forgiveness, peace, and hope at the cross – same as you did the first time you met Jesus!
- Gain fresh perspective. What is causing you to feel overwhelmed, overburdened, and overworked? You’ve found yourself in a hole, do you know how to get out? Find someone to talk to. Better yet, find lots of people to talk to. Is there a pastor in your area that is further along in ministry that would be willing to mentor you? Is there a group of local pastors that meet together as a sort of accountability group? Do you still have relationships from seminary or Bible College that you could take advantage of? Do you need to meet with a counselor? Talking through your issues will help you gain fresh perspective and will open your mind and heart to multiple solutions to your present burnout situation. It takes humility to admit that you are facing burnout. Please don’t allow pride to keep you from seeking help and advice from others. Chances are you would be willing to help someone who came to you. Return the blessing by allowing someone to help you.
- Deal with physical issues. Are you sleeping poorly? Is your blood pressure off the chart? Has your waistline increased as your hairline has receded? Are you getting enough exercise? Take some time to take care of yourself. If you are burning the candle at both ends you eventually will burn out. Don’t reach for medicine first; however, try #4 below. You may find some of your physical issues resolve once the immediate feelings of burnout subside.
- Take a vacation! A real vacation, not one or two days tacked onto a speaking engagement. Can’t afford one? Can you afford NOT to take one? Disengage, unplug, chill out. Go somewhere without cell phone coverage! Relax. Have fun. Laugh. Rediscover your inner child. Your church is not going to fall apart in your absence. Take as long as you need to recharge your battery. Afraid someone will judge you for taking time off? They’re probably already judging you. Don’t worry about what “they” are saying. It is time to take care of YOU! In some instances you may be able to arrange a sabbatical of 2-3 months. Do what you need to do in order to get healthy again!
- Rediscover balance. Balance between your professional life and your personal life. If you don’t have much of a personal life then you know you are definitely out of balance! Build margin into your life. Learn to say no. Learn to put off non-emergencies until a later time. Delegate. If you don’t know what delegate means then learn! Recreate yourself. No man or woman is indispensable. Teach others to do some of what you do!
- Develop interests in areas outside of ministry. Take up a hobby. Learn a new sport or skill. Join a club. Make a list of things you’ve always wanted to try and then start working your way through the list! Don’t talk yourself out of doing something that you once loved because you are no longer as good as you used to be. Who cares!! Enthusiasm in one area of your life spreads enthusiasm to other areas.
- Cultivate a stronger marriage. Chances are if you are burning out in ministry your spouse is feeling much the same and, quite possibly, about marriage as well! Attend a marriage seminar. Go on a Standing Stone retreat or something similar. Read books together on marriage. Talk. Listen. Then listen some more. Figure out what areas of your marriage need strengthening, then work on those areas – together. Take the time to make the effort. A strong marriage is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your church, and your community.
While my list is certainly not the final word on strategic action steps to heal from burnout, it at least points you in a positive direction. I’ve also found a 10-step list you can peruse (here) and a 12-step list (here). That should keep you pretty busy.
Remember, you are not alone. You have a God that loves you unconditionally and if you look around you will find people in your life that love you and are willing to walk through this difficult time with you. Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t give up on God. You can walk through the fire and come out the other side victorious. Pinky swear!