Avoiding Burnout in Ministry

Two weeks ago, I wrote about finding rest in the busy seasons. Sometimes, too often in fact, busyness leads to burnout among those in ministry. I know because it has happened to me. Let me share a bit of my story. 

My heart was racing. My body was tense. My breathing was rapid. I was supposed to be in a meeting but I couldn’t bring myself to walk into the room. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly. I found myself in my car rocking back and forth in the driver’s seat. After some time I somehow drove home and made it to my bed where I stayed undercover for the next 2 hours. 

It was my first of many panic attacks, some minor and some so destructive I can’t even recall my erratic behavior. Anxiety and depression had overtaken me. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I was in ministry after all. But I couldn’t function. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t take care of my family. I was trapped inside my own mind – in isolation from the world and in constant bombardment with the lies of the enemy. It was becoming my defining characteristic. I was inadequate. I was not enough. Even then God was whispering, “But my grace is sufficient for you.”

It took a long time for me to recover and I hope you, dear reader, can avoid some mistakes I made when encountering a breakdown. Here are 3 things you can do to avoid burnout.

  1. Remember why you started serving.

When we’ve reached our breaking point, we tend to forget the “why” behind “what” we are doing. We get so caught up in all the tasks that pile up with no end in sight. We get discouraged because we don’t have the help we need. We don’t have the support we deserve. We’re left to pick up the pieces of a struggling ministry day after day. In the midst of these valleys we forget why we started doing this in the first place. 

Maybe you started serving because you were passionate about the opportunity to meet people where they were and serve them. Maybe you started serving because of a calling from God. Maybe you started serving because you saw a need and had the skills necessary to fill that need. God has not left you. God has not abandoned you to figure it all out on your own. 

Remember your reasons for getting into ministry. Do those reasons still ring true for you? If so, be encouraged. If your reasons still exist you may have more gas in the tank than you think. Seasons of retreat, reflection and remembrance can be rejuvenating for our souls and our ministries. Take time to remember. The Lord will meet you there. 

2. Recreate your spark by trying something new. 

Let’s face it. Sometimes we are just in a rut. We do the same things week in and week out keeping our ministries afloat. Sundays are spent running services that look just like what we’ve done for months and we spin our wheels the rest of the week to prepare for services that, frankly, we are bored with. 

Chances are if you are bored with how you do things, so are your people. Try something new. Switch up your service schedule. Plan an event that you’ve never done before. Don’t make it huge, just enough to mix things up for you and those you serve. Doing things a little differently may just breathe new life into you and your ministry. 

We get comfortable with what we know really quickly. But if we push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we’ll learn to do things better and grow as leaders. Break the monotony of ministry by venturing into the realm of “new.” It may give you that burst of energy you’ve been longing for. 

3. Reach out to someone.

If you’re still feeling on the verge of burnout, know that you don’t have to struggle alone. Talk to someone. Talk to a friend. Talk to a counselor. Talk to others in ministry. Chances are you will find someone who understands what you are experiencing. 

I recommend reading Reset by David Murray. It’s proven to be an incredible resource for me when I reach dangerous levels of exhaustion. I’ve worked through it multiple times. 

You can also find my book on Amazon. It details my story of breakdown and my journey back to mental health while still pursuing ministry success.  I pray it is an encouragement to you. 

Leave a comment below to share your own story. You are not alone.

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