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The Engulfing Flames of Burnout

Self-care to avoid burnout in ministry

“Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast,
immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work,
knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

— 1 Corinthians 15:58 (HCSB)

Even if you have not yet reached a place in ministry where burnout has engulfed you, learning how to practice self-care now, can help you avoid possible burnout in the future. If you are new to the ministry or at a place where you are excelling and seeing God work in mighty ways, you might think a series of blogs on revolutionizing your ministry through self-care practices are not needed. However, statistics paint a sobering picture.

What research says

In an online article from LifeWay Research, Lisa Cannon Green reported on a survey of 1,500 pastors of evangelical and historically black churches in which pastors stated that their professional roles are difficult. From that research, it was found that eighty-four percent of pastors say they’re on call 24 hours a day. Eighty percent expected conflict in their church. Fifty-four percent found the role of pastor frequently overwhelming. Fifty-three percent are often concerned about their family’s financial security. Forty-eight percent often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle. Twenty-one percent feel their church has unrealistic expectations of them (Green, 2015).

Burnout in other types of ministry

If the pastorate is this hard, imagine for a moment the added stressors that missionaries face: living in a different country or continent from their friends and family members, dangers they face if working in a place where proclaiming the gospel could cost them their lives, facing illnesses in third world countries with limited medical help, just to name a few.

Christian counselors are constantly bombarded emotionally with the life-stories of their clients. As a result they often face secondary trauma, a trauma caused by the trauma of people with whom they are counseling. They constant stories they hear can lead to burnout.

Even if your ministry is leading a small group, mentoring, or providing care in the church nursery, the demands on your time, emotions, and energy can become overwhelming at times. It doesn’t matter if your ministry is full-time, part-time, or volunteer. At some point, you will experience some level of stress, burnout, or compassion fatigue. 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. Your energy and emotions that fuel you to serve God have been burned up and you are burned out.

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?

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?

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.

Self-Care reignites vision and passion

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. Self-care allows us to find a new vision. It renews our passion to minister and serve others. It keeps us on the spiritual battlefield.

Self-Care isn’t selfish

Self-care isn’t selfish. Rather, it allows us to refuel the empty tanks in our lives so we can continue to pour into those whom God places in our lives to minister to. Refusing to practice self-care is what is selfish because eventually, we will give up and stop doing the work we’ve been called to do. Then those whom we are to minister to do not receive from us what God would give to them through us.

The more difficulties we face in ministry, the more vitally important practicing self-care becomes. When things are great, we may not need as much self-care as when ministry becomes a raging storm. However, practicing self-care even in the good times ensures that when the storm hits we are fully fueled up in every area, ready to face the battle.

#selfcare #burnout #ministry

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