Recovering From Ministry Burnout
You are going to see just how to keep from being one of the statistics I posted just one post earlier. We must work hard but we must work smart. Hope this helps you!
The following are simply some things I do in my own life that I have found helpful to prevent me from dying a death by ministry. by Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church. Shared in his staff meeting.
1. Fill your plate — In a conversation with Pastor Wayne Cordeiro of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii, he gave some very sagely advice. He said that each person’s plate is a different size; each person needs to first find the size of their plate and then fill it only with those things that are of highest priority. And, before adding any additional things to our full plate, we must take something else off to leave space for the new duty. Finding the size of one’s plate takes time and attention. For example, I have personally seen that high-level leaders have an energy level that is unusually high and those working under them who seek to keep up with their pace find themselves quickly burning out.
2. Exercise — Sadly, most pastors and Christian leaders I know are woefully out of shape. Many of them pound their pulpits against rock music and alcohol while their huge gut jiggles in mockery of their own gluttony. In the early years of our church plant, I ate poorly, slept infrequently, and lived off of the constant adrenaline of perpetual stress. As a result, I weighed 235 pounds at my highest point. Through regular diet and exercise I dropped back down to a lean 190 pounds. But in the past year I have seen my weight climb back up to 210 pounds as my diet and exercise routine has been trashed by laziness, travel, and the constant state of emergency. So, yesterday I cleaned out my garage and plugged my treadmill back in so I can resume daily running and lifting conveniently at home. I got started exercising this morning. I find that when I work out, I drop weight, feel better, sleep better, and am better able to lead out of health with energy. The experts say the best time to exercise is in the morning and those who work out early in the day are most likely to remain on an exercise regimen.
3. Do not allow technology to be your Lord — A recent issue of Fortune magazine had an insightful article about the average day of some of the most successful CEOs in the country. These people lived lives ruled by technology, including spending whole days each week doing nothing but obsessively responding to every single email they received. The article mentioned that the average American worker is interrupted once every eleven minutes and takes twenty-five minutes to refocus on their original task. The problem is that the alarms and bells of our technology deceive us into reacting to them even when the matter they call us to is neither urgent or important. So, turning off the chime and vibrate on your phone, only checking your voicemail and email on certain days at certain times, and turning the notification off on your email will itself go a long way toward your healing. You won’t have the unpredictable fire drill caused by the bells of technology. Imagine what the world must have been like before the 1200s when the first mechanical clock was invented, or before minute and second hands were added in the 1600s, or before 1879 when Edison produced the first light bulb, thereby enabling us to stay up all night.
4. Sabbath — This includes taking five minutes off every hour to catch your breath, go for a walk, stand up at your desk, etc. It includes taking thirty to sixty minutes off a day to nap, go for a walk, read, garden, or whatever else releases your pressure and helps you to relax. This also means taking one day off a week to Sabbath, including a date night if you are in a serious relationship or married. This also includes a day or two off a month for silence and solitude and a few weeks a year for an actual vacation that does not leave you more tired than before it began.
5. Pick a release valve — Because ministry causes pressure, any leader without an acceptable release valve will either burn out from stress or blow up from sin. So, the key to releasing pressure is to find and use an acceptable release valve. This may include exercise, gardening, a hobby, journaling, or my favorite, dropping the top on my Jeep and heading into the mountains for a day of adventure to find new lakes to swim in.
6. Work on your life, not just in it — Rather than just pulling more hours and trying harder, time needs to be regularly taken to pull back and look at your life so that you can work on it rather than just run in it. For me this includes printing out my schedule every few months to review how I spent my time and inform my assistant of what was a waste of time that should not happen again. This also means taking time to read books on the issue of time management and burnout and biographies of great leaders to learn from their lives, and possibly even taking time to meet with a Biblical counselor to get insight on your own life and tendencies.
7. Leave margin — When we push our bodies, schedules, minds, and budgets to the point where there is no margin, all that it takes to destroy us is one unforeseen expense, one small emergency, or one small cold. Therefore, leaving margin is the key to not being crushed when life does not go according to plan. This means leaving extra money in the bank, leaving extra time between appointments, and preparing to arrive at places early so that if there is traffic you will still be on time and not stressed.
8. Spend most of your time training leaders — While thousands of people came to see Jesus, only a handful really knew Him, and only three knew Him intimately. This is because Jesus spent his time training leaders to do ministry and without doing the same we will die from our work and sadly see it die with us as well.
9. Work from conviction, not guilt — Conviction comes from God and guilt comes from people. The key to being both fruitful and healthy is to do what God wants and not always say yes to or let yourself be pushed around by people who are demanding and have perfected the art of making you feel guilty if you do not do what they demand.
* Originally prepared for an elders’ meeting at Mars Hill Church on May 22, 2006.