If you recognize the warning signs of impending burnout in yourself, remember it will only get worse if you leave it alone. Taking steps to restore balance in your life can prevent burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown.
- Start the day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed and into your busy schedule, spend at least 15 minutes in prayer or meditation in the Word, writing in your journal, doing gentle stretches, or reading something that inspires you.
- Adopt healthy eating, exercising, and sleeping habits. Respect the temple of God, and take seriously the signals it may be giving you to slow down or cut down. When you take good care of your physical body, you have the energy and resilience to deal with the hassles and demands of life and ministry. Scripture calls for a weekly Sabbath (not to be confused with Sunday which is a work day for Ministers). This should be a “day” of rest, not a power nap.
- Set limits. Guard and protect boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to, and become comfortable saying “no” (without feeling guilty) to requests on your time. We have a certain capacity for the amount of work we can reasonably accomplish and the number of relationships we can effectively maintain (even Jesus had just 12 disciples). Know your limits and do not allow others to place unreasonable expectations on you. Pastors often will not say “no” for fear of disappointing people or fear of missing out on a ministry opportunity. The fact is – Many opportunities are worth missing and there will always be more opportunities than there is time to pursue them. Your time is precious. Let your steps be “ordered by the Lord” not by others (working from conviction not guilt).
- Redeem your time. Different from mere time management, this requires questioning the purpose and value of your ministry activities and determining (whenever possible) to only engage in those activities God has called and gifted you for. Spend most of your time training and equipping others (reproducing yourself) and delegating as much as possible. This will lighten your load and frees your hands for the most important things. Most Pastors can do a whole lot of things well that they should not be doing at all, and as long as Pastors are willing to do what others should be doing, their congregations will let them. Plan, organize and prioritize ministry tasks so that you can tend to important matters before they become urgent matters that force you to operate in crisis mode (high stress/adrenalin) every day.
- Leave margin in your life. Ministry is not a sprint; it is a marathon. 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. Leaving margin creates cushion and flexibility to roll with the unplanned punches of life and ministry. 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.
- Take a daily break from technology. Set time each day when you intentionally and completely un-plug. Put away your laptop, turn off your phone, and stop checking your email. This will give you a break from the unpredictable “fire drills” that are caused by the interruptions of the bells and buzzes of technology.
- Nourish your creative side. Creativity is a powerful antidote to burnout. Try something new, start a fun project, or resume a favorite hobby. Choose activities that have nothing to do with work/ministry, and which will yield a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment.
- Recharge Spiritually. Read the Bible and pray regularly and devotionally, and not solely for ministry preparedness. Your ministry is not the same as your relationship with God. Schedule personal retreats and regular down time, treating them like “real appointments.” Withdraw from the crowds regularly to quiet places without guilt – Jesus did!
- Intentionally make space for joy in your life. Ministry pain, and constant interaction with people who tap you of your strength and emotional energy, can rob a Pastor of his sense of humor, his optimism, and trust in others. Do not ignore the truth of Proverbs 17:22 “a cheerful heart is good medicine.” Find a hobby; find ways to have fun; make time and find opportunities to appreciate and enjoy simple things that have brought you joy in the past, or consider doing something you have always dreamed of doing. Nurture healthy relationships and as much as possible surround yourself with cheerful, positive, optimistic people who share a hopeful vision of the future and can encourage your faith in the Lord.
- Pick a release valve. Because ministry creates pressure. Any leader without an acceptable release valve will either burnout from stress or blow up from sin. An acceptable release valve may include exercise, gardening, a hobby, pleasure riding in your car, journaling, or other stress relieving activity.
- Work on your life, not just in it. Pastors should take heed to Paul’s wise command to “pay careful attention to yourself” (I Timothy 4:16). Take time regularly to pull back and look with honest reflection on your life so you can work to improve upon weaknesses both in character and leadership. This may include a review of how you spend your time, reading books on leadership issues, or biographies of great leaders to learn from their lives, or possibly taking time to meet with a coach/counselor to get insight on your own life and tendencies.
- Express yourself. As a safe guard against isolationism and loneliness find and cultivate relationships with a safe group of people to be yourself with. Don’t buy into the lie that you have to “keep up appearances” and “protect your turf.” Share your successes, challenges and struggles. Express feelings of sadness, anger, resentments etc. (maybe for the first time). Share the wrestlings of your faith with someone you trust and respect before it can become shipwrecked. Express feelings of what it means to carry the burdens of ministry. Reconcile any long term tensions and resentments towards others that affect your self-worth.
- Attitude is everything! Remember the positives of ministry and reflect on them daily. Start/end your day thanking God for something of worth about your ministry and calling. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” Philippians 4:8.
- Get help if/when you need it! Those who are always helping others, are often slow to recognize their own need for a helping hand or an objective set of eyes and ears. A trusted mentor, counselor or coach can provide insight, feedback, encouragement and help along the way. Contact us if you desire additional help or resources.
Still Waters Restoration & Resource Ministries is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting health and wellness among Christian Ministers and their families.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not meant to be used in place of professional consultation/treatment for individual health needs.