Are you on the brink of burnout? Here are four warning signs you can’t afford to ignore.
It can happen to the best of us. Pressure and stress can consume the lives of ministry leaders. The heat builds and builds until exhaustion and burnout set in. How is it that people give their all to serve God just to end up having their lives destroyed by the good things they’re trying to accomplish? They had good motives and great intentions. Where did it get them? Wasn’t their call to ministry legitimate? Is this what God called them to do-burn out and suffer?
Often times Christ-followers have a romantic idea of what life in ministry is like. We see ministry leaders and believe they have it all together based only on seeing them once a week for maybe an hour or two. Let’s be honest… any of us can put up a front for that amount of time.
There’s no shame in admitting that you’re running on empty. In my personal journey with ministry, I became a victim to burnout. I believed my service was a reflection of my relationship with Christ. I wanted to give back to God for everything he did for me. By serving at 110 percent and I didn’t allow myself to slow down and recover. I finally realized that this thinking voids what Christ did on the cross. If I have to give back to God, then Christ’s death was in vain.
As it was for me, it’s easy to miss the smoke signals that appear before an emotional inferno. Spot these four warning signs that burnout is near-to save yourself a lot of pain.
Warning Sign 1: You Can’t Say No
Many people feel guilty for saying no to church responsibilities. Are you a “serve-aholic” who can’t say no to any request no matter how full your plate is? We ministry folk tend to let our serving be the thermostat to measure our commitment to Christ. We can struggle with wanting to prove our value to those in leadership. However, saying yes too often can quickly lead to burnout.
Jesus told us what’s most important in Luke 10:27: ” ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” God doesn’t want to share us. Jesus reminds us of the boundaries to set for ourselves about how to love and serve God. We’re to love God first, then our neighbor. Keeping God #1 is essential. We have to line up what we’re doing with how it’s affecting our relationship with God.
Warning Sign 2: You’re Malnourished Spiritually
You know you’ve seen them-the people who put their Bibles or bulletins down to save their spot in big church but leave to serve somewhere else in the church. These people will probably enter service later or maybe not at all. There’s a church I once attended where I always saw the Bible but never the person. I also saw a staff member who, when her ministry time was over, left church and never attended a service. No one knew she did this. Not the ministry leader, pastor…no one. The last three months she was on staff, she and her husband had separated. During those three months, no one knew what she was going through. She finally quit her job and left the church.
I’ve been there. I remember sitting at a Christmas service and realizing I couldn’t remember the last time I’d participated in a church service that didn’t require me working. Have you been there?
As a children’s minister or volunteer, when was the last time you participated in communion? Attended a church service with no other responsibility? Didn’t have to “sneak out” during closing prayer to go to your next ministry assignment? Shared with your pastor your personal needs? Ministry leaders need love and care just as much as those we serve.
Warning Sign 3: You’re Afraid to Take a Break
If someone offered you a free vacation, what would you say? “My ministry needs me!” “How can I go away with so much going on?” “What if I miss something?” All these excuses are rooted in pride. If you always worry about what’ll happen when you’re gone, you need a self-evaluation. People who are immature in a position can worry if their subordinates are a potential risk for them to lose their job. They fear that if they leave, someone will outshine them.
Another reason for not taking a break is that you actually believe that everything would fall apart without you. Remember that if you put people in positions who are qualified enough to do the job, you don’t need to come to their rescue. Your absence could actually help your team grow.
In ministry, our goal is to raise up warriors in the faith to go to battle. Your team will never learn if you don’t give them the opportunity to activate the God-given potential within them. If you’re feeling stressed, taking a well-earned break is a win-win for everyone. You get to recharge your batteries and your team has the opportunity to serve in a new and exciting way.
Warning Sign 4: You’re Alone
Even though children’s ministry can be very rewarding, it can also be a lonely place to serve. Sometimes children’s ministry leaders struggle with making connections outside of their ministry, and when they have struggles it can feel as if they have nowhere to turn. If something were to happen and you needed a helping hand or someone to talk to, do you have anyone outside of your church you could go to for help?
Without others to talk with, stress and pressure can build up inside us until we can no longer bear the burden. I’ve seen too many overworked children’s ministers walk away, fail morally, or suffer health problems because of bearing burdens all by themselves. Find help through a counselor, mentor, or trusted friend. Most importantly, go to God to restore your relationship with him. God promises never to deny a broken and contrite heart.
Burnout Backdraft at Home
What happens when your ministry burnout spreads into your home? When you’re out of energy, your home life can suffer and you can end up neglecting your spouse, kids, and friends. In addition, your family can burn out on ministry if you’re not careful. Here’s a simple self-test to see if your home life is in jeopardy.
- Do you and your family or friends do things outside of your church?
- Does your family have friends outside of your church family?
- Is family and friendship time free from church responsibilities and obligations?
- Are you being a leader for your family like you’re being a leader for your church?
- Do your children, spouse, and friends feel they’re more important than your church and staff?
- Do you enjoy being with your spouse, children, and friends?
If you answered no to half or more of these questions, pay careful attention that the people you love the most don’t get burned by your ministry.
If you answered yes to half or all, ask your spouse or a close friend to take the same test on your behalf and compare your answers. Ministry service requires a partnership and sacrifice. It’s important to keep in mind that the flames of burnout can spread throughout your loved ones. Family counseling, mentor couples, and accountability partners are all excellent sources to use as you serve in ministry.
If you think you’re not at risk to burn out in ministry, you’re in denial. Be realistic. Recognize you’re human and will have struggles. Put in place key people who you and your family and friends can trust to walk beside you as you serve. Set up healthy boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no. Make time for a day of rest. Stay fit physically, mentally, and emotionally.
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