3 Ways to Avoid Ministry Burnout

Everybody knows what makes a great ministry, right?

EVENTS! LOTS AND LOTS OF GLORIOUS EVENTS!

At least, that’s what I thought when I got started. Quickly I found myself phasing out friendships, college work, dating, you name it. The busyness of ministry became my idol and everything else blurred in the periphery around it.

But goals without guidelines are just dreams, aren’t they? So here are three quick guidelines to guard against burnout, misery, and your eventual exit stage left of ministry.

Don’t do everything you know how to do.

This was actually some great advice I picked up at a conference somewhere along the way. Newbies, listen up, because this is important: Don’t build your ministry on how impressive and creative you are. You will eventually tap out. Then what? Get a new job? Impress new people? Repeat forever? That’s what they call a “one-trick pony.”

The reason we do this, especially starting out or in places with high turnover, is really rooted in our desire to demonstrate how invaluable we are to our organization. Look at all I can do! Now don’t fire me, because you’ll lose all this talent!

Everything you know how to do may not be what God wants you to do. You might actually charge full steam ahead with a bright and shiny ministry while God is standing somewhere else waving his hands in the air like he just don’t care, because he’s actually doing something else.

Our task as ministry leaders is to simply find out where God is working and to go join him in it. A full plate and a busy calendar can look great, but trying to impress is exhausting, Jesus didn’t do it, and you’ll eventually run out of ways to outdo yourself. Sometimes less is more; which is a great transition to…

Set a goal for a sustainable pace of life.

I once worked for a church that had me working at least 60 hours a week. I’m not talking about that unfunny joke we all make about pastors always being “on,” but a real scheduled and expected 60 hours. I had one full day off “unless we needed to work” which was often.

I knew it was time to quit when my boss suggested that I miss my son’s first birthday to (ironically) go to a father-son retreat because “he’s not going to remember it anyway.” Yes, that really happened.

The bottom line is that humans were meant to rest. Our pace was not meant to kill us, even if the work we are doing is for God’s kingdom. I don’t believe that glorifies Him at all. I’ve said this and I’ll say it again, God rested, Jesus rested, they both commanded it, so what’s our problem?

“Jesus calls us to his rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.”  – A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Some businesses are actually putting nap rooms in their offices for employees to use! (I hope my boss is reading this.) You might need to decide how many nights a week you’ll be away from home, how many weekends you’ll work on Saturdays, or what time each day you will stop answering emails, texts and phone calls. You may also need to decide how many events per month or week you’ll allow for. This is not laziness. This is healthy. This is Godly.

Always let your purpose drive your programming.

This is the real practical application step for avoiding burnout. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

I think if ministry leaders let every programming decision, every appointment, every daily use of their time filter through the lens of what God has called you to do we would have fewer pastors leaving the ministry. There would be fewer frustrated POW’s on the front lines of ministry and more decisive generals taking ground each day.

I was once fired from a church over this issue. Their idea of a successful ministry was a busy one. There’s an old Indian proverb about a dragonfly and an eagle. The dragonfly beats it wings quickly and goes a short distance and works hard to do it; but the eagle stretches out and rides the wind, traveling further with much less effort. That’s what it’s like when we try to replace God’s Spirit guiding us with a calendar meant to simply entertain. Is that what we are now? Event planners? Because you can make way more money outside the church doing that and you don’t have to censor your DJ as much.

The process is very simple. Ask yourself these questions three before making major programming decisions: 1) Why would I/we do this? 2) Does it aid me/us in reaching God’s plan for me/my ministry? 3) What would I/we not get to do if I/we do this? Be honest. No canned answers here please.

That last question is a big one, because you just can’t do everything. I used to say that my ministry philosophy was to “become all things to all men.” Now I realize that that was Paul’s calling, not mine. Besides, he was not at all talking about being involved in every type of ministry possible…because he wasn’t.

Paul didn’t have a ballet ministry or a gun club. I don’t even think he was on the worship team at a large synagogue.  Paul was an evangelist to the Gentiles, an apologist to the Jews, and a tent-maker to himself. Focused.

What are you doing right now that has stolen your focus? What do you need to stop doing so that you can do something else that God is calling you to?

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