Avoiding Ministry Burnout

There are a few questions that come up at some point during consultation conversations with people in part-time or full-time ministry. There comes a moment when every person serving in ministry wonders if their effort is worth the sacrifice. Each time this conversation begins, I take notes while the person on the other end processes through a list of concerns, questions, and sometimes regrets.

Exhaustion invites the emotions we tamp down during our work day to bubble up to the surface. There are many disappointing situations that ministry workers experience. In a less exhausting season, it’s likely that most things will roll off our backs. But when burnout increases, it becomes more challenging to respond in encouraging, positive, and healthy ways.

For example, we realize that the student we’ve been mentoring for months is still struggling with the same issues, and we wonder if anything we say is influencing them. We work hard on an event at our church only to hear complaints from attendees who were too busy to volunteer to help the program run smoothly. We spend hours on a team devotional only to stand before the students and see the tops of their foreheads as they play games on their phones.

When ministry workers find it more challenging to control emotions, spend time praying and studying the Bible and speak kindly to family, friends, co-workers, and those they serve, it’s important to pause and evaluate the signs of burnout. Without taking action to recognize the presence of rising feelings of burnout, it’s possible that the later stages of burnout will lead one to burnout from ministry altogether.

How to Avoid Ministry Burnout

I’ve come to understand that to thrive in our calling includes learning work and life balance so we can avoid burnout. We can’t avoid what we can’t identify, which is why we need to learn how to identify our burnout stage. And we also need to figure out how to cycle down from higher stages so we can continue to focus on the most important things in our lives. Identifying our burnout stage should be part of our checklist as we make decisions about our yeses and nos.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear writes, “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” Clear also points out that both successful and unsuccessful people have the same goals in many situations. Because of this, setting a goal is not what differentiates winners and losers.

Clear uses the example of two elite sports teams competing against each other and points out only one team will win. He asks,

“Now for the interesting question: If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still succeed? For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results?”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Prioritize Thriving in Ministry and Life

If you’ve read Lessons from the Sidelines, you’re aware that I’m a huge advocate of the block calendar. Below are two scenarios to consider as you evaluate your current stage of burnout before saying yes or no to a new activity.

block calendar

Scenario 1

  1. When a request comes your way pause to weigh the pros and cons.
  2. Consider if the request fits into your mission statement.
  3. Review what is currently on your calendar
  4. If your calendar is full and the request does not fit your mission statement then you need to really pause and pray. I advise that people say no in 99% of the situations where this is the scenario. The only exceptions are the times when God says yes and it’s clear you need to obediently move forward.

Scenario 2

  1. When a request comes your way pause to weigh the pros and cons.
  2. Consider if the request fits into your mission statement.
  3. Review what is currently on your calendar.
  4. If your calendar has space to add something the next thing to consider is where you are on the burnout scale.
  5. If you find that you are consistently in stage 2 or 3 or higher of burnout it’s unwise to add more to your calendar.
  6. If you are mostly in stage 1 of burnout you will want to then move forward again with additional consideration filters.
  7. Since this request fits your mission statement it’s worth evaluating what you have on your calendar that may be contributing toward your burnout if you are in stage 2. You may find that you can replace the activity that is draining you with something that fills you up. If this new activity request fits that option it’s worth considering.

Remember, just because you commit to something doesn’t mean you can’t quit in a few months. However, communication is always necessary. I suggest communicating upfront that you would like to commit for a certain timeframe. Maybe three or six months. And then you can re-evaluate how your new activity is working with your overall work and life balance.

When we identify our burnout stage and evaluate our yeses and nos based on where we currently are on the burnout scale we will set ourselves up for better success moving forward and achieving our goals.

Part of avoiding burnout is knowing what parts of work to delegate so that we have time to rest. If you’re looking for marketing support download this free guide and send me a message.

Scroll to Top