On Monday, I wrote about calloused calluses, when our hearts harden and we become spiritually dull. And I mentioned that the author of Hebrews seemed to know about ministry burnout.
Burnout is “the state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment” (psychologytoday.com).
According to the US National Library of Medicine, “The term ‘burnout’ was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals experienced by people working in ‘helping’ professions.”
Burnout happens in the ministry. Here’s a good article from Leadership Resources about Christian Ministry Burnout. It has statistics (I like reading statistics).
I’ve heard other Christians wave away burnout with cliched phrases that boil down to this: if you’re burned out, you’re not Christian enough, don’t love Jesus enough, don’t pray enough, don’t whatever enough.
But that’s not true. Even the most well meaning Christian can experience ministry burnout if she doesn’t take care of herself. We need to take care of ourselves spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As someone who went through ministry burnout, here are two very practical ways to prevent it.
You need a confidante, someone to share your burdens and frustrations with. Yes, we can talk to God, but we’re human and don’t always feel God. He’s always there, yes. He’s always listening. He always loves. You don’t have to argue that we need to get past our feelings and remember the promises of God, even read them in our Bibles. We can know all that in our minds, hearts, and spirits. But that loneliness you feel during burnout is just as real, just as true. And it can crush you.
Get that weight off your shoulder by talking to someone. Share your story. Find that person or circle of friends who will listen without judgement, offer shoulders to cry on, coffee and chocolate to make you feel better, and advice when you want it (and they’ll know when because they love you).
On the flip side, if you think someone you know is about to or is in the middle of a burnout, reach out. I’m horrible at reaching out to people. I don’t like to burden them with me. That’s twisted thinking, but it’s true for a lot of us. So reach out.
And on this note, I’m sending you over to the in(RL) conference. Share your story! Registration is free.
There’s a train of thinking that the modern woman can have it all by taking it all. By calling upon the strength that only women possess, we can slip on our 3-inch heels and march through our high powered careers, stroll through our motherhood duties, saunter and shimmy for date nights, and track success to our volunteer causes.
Rest is a two-word idea that happens once in a blue moon: spa day. Woman, you have the permission to rest more often than that. How?
Keep Sunday holy, for one. Make it a rule not to work on Sundays. If you find a stretch of time with nothing to do (say, like after church), do nothing. Enjoy a cup of coffee. Slip back into pjs and lounge around at home. Meander through a museum.
Ask to be placed in a rotation schedule for ministry duties. You cannot give what you do not have. You need that time of praise and worship. You need to hear the Word of God from someone else. You need fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Say no or scale back on your duties. It’s important not to overload your plate. It’s okay to say no than to burn out and do nothing. It’s okay to do less than burn out and do harm to yourself and to others.
Go on a ministry break. I don’t say that without consideration to other ministry leaders. I know it can be panic-inducing to be short on volunteers. But we all need breaks, time to breathe, space to reorganize and re-prioritize. I offer breaks to my volunteers, asking them to take turns and how long they need. Some need a few weeks, some months. Some realized they didn’t need a break, but they needed to scale back on their duties. And yes, I have to shuffle volunteers around if we’re “short,” but God is faithful to provide. We need to take care of the things He entrusted to us, that includes the well-being of volunteers.
Go on consistent vacations. If you’re already suffering from burnout, rest and vacation will do you no good because something in you already broke. It’s like a factory machine. One day, it started clanging. The operator shuts it down. A week passes by. The operator turns the machine back on, but the clanging is still there. To prevent the clanging in the first place, the machine need routine maintenance. It is shut down and inspected consistently.
You need to enjoy life consistently. Go on vacations or daycations or staycations consistently. Get away. Find a change of pace, a new scenery, and a breath of fresh air to rejuvenate and energize yourself.
Talk and rest are two very practical ways to prevent burnout. You can even do them at the same time! But if you’re already burned out, seek help from a professional. Take care of you because you are very important. (Tweet that!)
Linking up with Fellowship Fridays.