It’s not just the tough times that leave us running on empty. The good times in your ministry can lead to a burnout season, too, if you’re not careful.
The last few weeks at Sid Balchew’s church have been so much fun! Tons of new families have visited the church. 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.
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.
Ministry 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.
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 Before a Burnout Season
Ministry burnout can fry you unless you recognize the characteristics of a burnout season and PACE yourself with these four de-sizzlers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If You’re Already Experiencing a Burnout Season
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.
Have a staff and/or family conference. Ask for help to ease the time and work schedule this week.
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.
Ellen Larson is a Christian education specialist in San Diego.
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