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Doing Ministry on Empty Tanks

by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC, Mental Health Coach,
CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries

The simple truth is that when stress, burnout and/or compassion fatigue become your norm, then you have reached a place where your tanks are empty, and you cannot pour from an empty tank. You cannot give what you do not have. You will never be effective in ministry when you are operating on empty tanks. In fact, the lower your tanks are, the lower your effectiveness is. There are six self-care tanks, but even with one of them low, it lowers your ministry effectiveness.

Who ministers to the minister?

Every Sunday, church members file into their favorite pew to hear God speak to their hearts and souls through the pastor’s sermon which renews, recharges, and sends them out to face the next week ahead. They sing the worship songs with hands raised and tears running down their cheeks as they worship the God they love. And when they leave (hopefully) they say, “It was good to be in the house of the Lord today!” But who ministers to the minister? Who shepherds the shepherd?

As ministers, in whatever calling you are serving in, people come to us, expecting us to fill their tanks. But where do we go when our tank is empty? How do we stay filled? How do we stay charged up and ready to stand firm on the battlefields we face day after day?

Fueling up your tanks with Self-Care

As a Christian, the immediate and most obvious response would be that we stay filled through Bible reading, devotion, and prayer. Others might add that they listen to sermons on the radio. Some might add that they read spiritual growth books, blogs, and articles. Some will add in worship music. But we must realize that the spiritual battlefield is only one of six battlefields we fight on day after day. We must also realize that if we do not tend to our spiritual self-care first, we won’t stand a chance at self-care in the other five areas.

Research from Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer wrote a blog post in 2013 entitled, “From Burnout to Vision: Twelve Ways Pastors Went from Burnout to Vision.” Mr. Rainer talked with seventeen pastors who had experienced burnout and asked them, “What did you do to reverse the dark spiral of burnout?” He summed up their responses into twelve responses and ranked them in order of frequency. The responses included:

  • spent more time in prayer and the Word
  • dreamed again
  • stopped comparing
  • developed relationships with non-Christians
  • moved my focus from the negative to the positive
  • learned to have fun
  • ended draining relationships
  • expressed gratitude regularly
  • spent more time doing things that energized me
  • got in better physical shape
  • made a commitment to have a greater servant spirit
  • began to pray for my community (Rainer, 2013)

The sum of these responses is that they found a way to practice self-care. However, we need to make sure that when we practice self-care that we are taking care of all the multifaceted parts of who we are. Taking care of our spiritual needs only represents one-sixth of who we are. Each part is like a tank that is empty, full, or somewhere in between.

We lose our effectiveness when we operate on empty tanks

As human beings, created in the image of God, we have six “tanks” that we need to keep filled: spiritual, sensory, emotional, physical, social, and intellectual – one to match each of the battlefields we must face. We can be running low on one tank, several tanks or all tanks. However, even if only one tank is low or empty, we can lose our effectiveness in the ministry.

Take a moment to look through the twelve responses given to Mr. Rainer and see if you can match at least one response to each of the six “tanks.” For each response, name in the “tank” that is being filled.

Self evaluating the fullness of your tanks

Take a moment to do some self-evaluation. Beside each of the “tanks” listed below, determine how full your tank is right now. Then as we explore each of these tanks, I will ask you again to self-evaluate and see if you change your response.

Notice any tank that is on empty. What areas are between half-full and empty? As you look at your self-evaluation, perhaps your spirit cries out to God, “Fill my cup, Lord!” Maybe you look at it and say, “Not doing too bad.” Or maybe all your tanks are full to the brim.

Whether you are reading this reading this blog series because right now you are in full burnout mode and ready to call it quits, or because you want to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue in the future, or because you just simply want to know more about self-care, our self-care blog series will help you find the way back to full tanks or help you keep your tanks full so that you can keep on pouring into others. Just remember that as you pour out of yourself and into others, you must keep coming back to fuel up again and again if you want to keep your tanks full.

In the coming blog posts

As you continue reading, the coming blog posts will help you understand the differences between stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Also, in those chapters, you will learn the danger signs of stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. The following chapter will explain what self-care is. After that, I will explain the six areas in which you should practice self-care and give you ways that you can practice self-care in each of the six areas.

Self-care is not a miraculous cure-all

I must point out that self-care is no miraculous cure-all to what ails in your ministry. It will not fix the problems or make them all disappear. It will not make all your parishioners get along. For as long as Satan prowls this earth like a mighty lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), then we are on a battlefield, and we need to be able to stand firm in our calling until the day of Christ’s return. Self-care will allow you to keep your “tanks” as full as possible so that you will be more capable of standing firm, steadfast, immovable and always excelling in your work for the Lord. It will give you the physical and emotional strength you need so that you don’t choose to throw in the towel and walk away from your calling.

As we close out this chapter, let’s return to 2 Corinthians 4:8. Paul wrote: “We are pressured in every way…” Look up the verse in your Bible and write out verses 8-9 on an index car or piece of paper as a letter God wrote to you. Write your name on the first line then the verses, exchanging the words “we” for “you” or “I” as needed. At the end write “God” as the signature line. Keep this verse handy where you can refer back to it every time you feel the pressure and troubles of Satan and remember that the battle belongs to God. You do your fighting on your knees in prayer and activate the power of heaven to strengthen you and fight for you.

Self-care course and coaching

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Coming December 2021!

Pre-order for a 50% discount. You will get the complete set of downloadable self-care video-based course plus 10 group coaching sessions.

Pre-order now to receive a 50% discount! (Releasing December 2021)

You will get the complete downloadable self-care video-based course plus 10 group coaching sessions.

We know that ministry is hard! When you serve in ministry as staff or volunteer, you are on a spiritual battlefield 24/7. As you serve God, you fight for the Kingdom of God and our adversary is constantly attacking. He wants you to either lose your effectiveness in your ministry role or get you to quit. We must be sure we are reconnecting to the Vine (Jesus) so that we can refill, renew, and recharge. Then we can keep on pouring into others.

If you are feeling like you are losing the fight or struggling to stay in the fight, Jesus says to you, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) Self-care is both Biblical and necessary, if you are going to stay in the fight and be effective in the Kingdom of God. Stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue are real weapons that the adversary uses against us.

Even if you do not serve in ministry, if you are a Christian, you too are in a spiritual battle. Every Christian fights the same adversary and our Biblical self-care principles are for every Christian.

What you get in this self-care course:

In Part 1 of this video-based course, you will learn about the spiritual dangers in ministry, discover if God is testing you or is Satan attacking you, understand that ministry is battlefield and how to be steadfast, immovable on the battlefield, learn how the devil uses his wiles and schemes against us, and remember how to use your Spiritual Armor. We will also breakdown stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue.

Part 2 is all about Preventing and Recovering from Burnout and Compassion Fatigue as we go through six areas that need self-care. In this part of the course we will provide you with practical ways that you can immediately begin practicing self-care. As you continue to serve God in whatever way He has called you, self-care is vital if you are not going to grow weary in doing good so you can reap at the proper time (Galatians 6:9).

Additionally, this packaged deal will provide 10 group coaching session where we will discuss the weekly assigned videos and do check-ins on where you are in each of the six areas of self-care that include: Spiritual, Sensory, Emotional, Social, Physical, and Intellectual.

Releasing in December 2021, this packaged deal will include the complete video-based course plus 10 group coaching sessions with the author, Julia Bruce. In the 10-week program you will complete weekly videos and assignments and then meet virtually for a group coaching session to help you apply self-care where you need it. 

But wait! That’s not all! Check out this Bonus to the self-care course and coaching program.

BONUS: While this course and group coaching is not releasing until December 2021, if you’re purchasing this material, we know you need help now. So, if you purchase before the release date, we’ll place you in our new private Facebook membership page for free through the end of 2021. In January, this group will require a monthly subscription of $19.99. But it will be yours free through the end of year when you purchase the pre-release of the course and group coaching sessions.  

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<<<NEW>>> In the Spreadshop Store:

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We’ve added a new canvas print to the Teespring Store. These prints make great gifts or for decor in your home.

When we ask Jesus to forgive us and save us from our sin, He takes our old, sinful self and makes us new in Him. This beautiful canvas is a great reminder of what Jesus has done for us.

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