When Burnout Takes You by Surprise

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The good times in your ministry that can fry you if you’re
not careful.

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The last few weeks at Sid Balchew’s church have been so much fun!
Tons of new families have visited the church. The classroom
remodeling is almost done. Several growing classes have had to be
divided and moved into new rooms. Planning was a breeze, recruiting
teachers the smoothest ever, and the first Sunday in new facilities
is this week. It’s all coming together.

Sid’s excited now. But what he doesn’t know is that just next
week, his sizzling enthusiasm will fizzle. Sid is in a high-risk
burnout season.

BURNOUT SEASONS
A burnout season is a time or event in your ministry that requires
extra time and work beyond the average week’s demands. Excitement
and other emotions are high, and everyone’s pushing a little more
than usual to focus on a common goal. During these rewarding and
often challenging times, you’re living in a burnout season.

Burnout is no stranger to those of us in children’s ministry.
Burnout symptoms of lowered motivation, depression, isolation, and
reduced accomplishment can hit all of us if we’re not careful. You
might expect burnout in those times when everything seems to be
going wrong, but burnout can also blindside you when everything is
going great.

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Christian educators have several burnout seasons every year. Think
about all your high energy times, such as holiday programs,
musicals, teacher recruitment, summer camp, VBS, and the
back-to-school push. Burnout seasons can also be a pastoral change,
a building program, or a time of spiritual renewal. Or a burnout
season can involve positive changes in your life, such as a
marriage, birth, or a spouse’s job change.

The characteristics of a burnout season also define its challenge.
In our regular schedules, we spend time exercising, monitoring
eating habits, and guarding our alone time and private prayer time.
We balance church and family time. But when more hours must be
found to plan and run something such as the “Spring Spectacular,”
where will the time come from? From the personal areas of your
life-that’s where! That makes your “Spring Spectacular” a burnout
season.

PACE YOURSELF
Burnout can fry you unless you recognize the characteristics of a
burnout season and PACE yourself with these four de-sizzlers.

Prayer-Your daily communication with God must remain your
top priority. The goals and focus of this season are established by
your long-term commitment to Jesus Christ and his church. Prepare
yourself by praying for wisdom about the use of your time, the
strength of your staff, and renewed leadership direction from God.
Why are you doing what you’ll be doing? In what ways will Christ be
honored? Mark your calendar to review these questions in prayer
once a week during this burnout season.

Alternatives-What resources are still untapped? Since
you’ll have less available free time, look for additional assistants,
teachers, and leaders. Consider people who can only make a
short-term commitment, such as parents, senior adults, and
teenagers. For effective recruiting, share your sense of excitement
and urgency by talking personally to each person you want to
involve.

Catch up on things in your office ahead of time since you’ll be
too busy to do so for a while. Create a “piling” system to organize
your office. Mark one box “urgent” and another box “can wait.” Have
your church secretary sort your mail accordingly. This way, your
piles won’t be quite so stressful to look at while they wait for
your attention.

Give away some responsibilities temporarily. An assistant can
oversee the child care for choir rehearsals. Ask someone outside
the children’s ministries staff to perform tasks that require
little or no training, such as classroom setup and breakdown.

Communication-Ask lots of questions during the planning
stages for a burnout season. What will your role be in this
churchwide event? Are you setting the agenda as in a recruiting
program or children’s musical, or are you meeting others’
expectations in a new way? Know what others expect of you and what
you expect of yourself. Are the expectations realistic?

Is your family aware of your upcoming schedule? Plan with family
members how this season will affect daily family activities and how
each family member can share in achieving your goal. Talk to other
children’s ministers about what’s upcoming and find out how others
have protected themselves against burnout. Ask a friend to call you
at frequent intervals to remind you to pace yourself during this
season.

Maintain ongoing frequent communication with your teaching staff.
Use newsletters and notes, prayer partners, and brief meetings to
keep staff morale high.

Enrichment-Remember to exercise, eat right, and connect
with friends. The extra time you need to complete your project will
probably come from these areas. Choose carefully which area to cut
back from. Do you need to minimize your exercise or spend less time
alone? Perhaps you can stop time-consuming meal preparation. Rather
than cutting back on one area for several months, alternate the
areas you eliminate. If you must spend less time with friends,
choose one or two friends to not take a vacation from.

Combine activities, such as making planning notes on a clipboard
while you take a 20-minute walk. Make recreation a social event.
Keep your energy high. Eat four to six small meals each day. Keep
trail mix and energy bars in your desk for energy boosters. Drink
lots of water and rest often.

Identify the burnout seasons you’ll face during the next 12
months and build your defenses now.

Then you can enjoy the challenges and rewards of your ministry
in all kinds of seasons. Because you’ve paced yourself, you’ll have
the freedom to focus on God’s work and know that you’re protected
from the dangers of burnout.™

Ellen Larson is a Christian education specialist in San
Diego.

IF YOU’RE ALREADY FRIED
Too late to pace yourself for the upcoming burnout season? Try
these ideas.

1. Pray for joy. As a fruit of the Holy
Spirit, joy is one of the results of your relationship with God.
Read Scriptures that focus on joy.

2. Focus on the goal. Write a simple
goal statement for the current season and tape it to your mirror.
Pray for guidance about what things can be released because they
detract from reaching the goal.

3. Communicate. Have a staff and/or
family conference. Ask for help to ease the time and work schedule
this week.

4. Laugh. Protect your mind and
attitude. Singing, laughing, and slow, deep breathing have
emotional benefits as well as physical ones. A note on your
telephone can remind you to sing several times a day and keep your
sense of humor.

5. Sweat it out. Try a new way to
exercise. The physical exertion and new challenge will relax
you.

6. Network for your nerves. Choose one
encouraging, happy person to go to lunch with each week.

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