Burnout is a topic that comes up often in conversations, especially when one is involved in ministry. I read and hear stories, almost daily it seems, of pastors and leaders who succumb to various sins, often because of burnout. These include sexual immorality, quitting the ministry, substance abuse, financial dishonesty, divorce, and even suicide. It not only affects the leader and his or her family; the ripples go out far and wide, affecting group/church members and their families.
Pressures from within and without often lead to this state of burnout. Outside pressures can include the needs, demands, and expectations of those within the group or congregation we lead. In addition, there are the needs of the family, which are often neglected because of the above. Personal needs, including time with God, are often last on the list of things to do. When given into, these pressures become a recipe for disaster and certain burnout.
Then there are the pressures within. Legitimate human needs, such as affirmation, validation, acceptance, and love can drive us unwittingly to perform and to prioritize people pleasing above pleasing God, taking care of ourselves, and our families. These needs can make it difficult to set healthy boundaries and say “no” to people when necessary. This behavior, over time, leads to resentment, anger, and bitterness because people cannot meet those needs, not even the ones who love us the most. This behavior, in turn, will lead to burnout.
So how can we avoid burnout? As in all matters of life, Jesus is our perfect role model. Though He was constantly surrounded by needy people, He was never driven to meet every need. He Himself clearly said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19) When ministry became hectic, He understood the need to rest. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31) Jesus modeled our need to spend time with Him and the Father. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16) He understood our need for affirmation, love, and acceptance. “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love.” (John 15:9)
Often, healing and deliverance are needed to bring the wholeness that enables us to resist these pressures, and thus, burnout. Issues such as unmet needs from childhood, lack of identity or purpose, absence of one or both parents, abuse, rejection, or abandonment by parents or others, etc., must be resolved – they don’t just go away. Whether we realize it or not, we live, and minister, out of these areas of wounding and the lies we believe as a result. Consequently, we reproduce what we are, for we can only give to others what we have within.
Burnout can be avoided if we receive healing and resolution to our own personal issues, learn to make quality time with God our first priority, and spending time with family above time spent in ministry. Learning to get enough rest, eat healthy, and exercise are also important to maintain our own physical, mental, and even spiritual strength. Though this may sound difficult for some, it is possible, by God’s grace. Jesus wants a whole, healthy bride, which must start with whole, healthy leaders.
Have you struggled with burnout? Did you overcome it, and if so, how? Please share your comments.