9 Steps for Preventing Burnout in Ministry: Part 1

Don’t be a Statistic

The Schaeffer institute has recently reported these following trends: (Click for article)

  • 9 out of 10 Pastors will be forced out of the ministry before retirement
  • 80% of Pastors believe that ministry has negatively affected their families in some form
  • 70% of Pastors are constantly fighting with depression
  • 90% of Pastors work between 55 and 75 hours a week
During High School, I ran on the Cross Country team for 4 years.  It would never fail, no matter how much experience or knowledge I had, I would always start too fast.  I would get so excited that I tried to get a head start with the fast guys, and I ended up burning out by mile 2.  I wish I had someone right there whispering in my ear “you need to start slow.”  Unfortunately, the same thing is true with many who enter ministry; they end up wanting to take over the world, but after year 2 they find that the world has taken them over.

My friend, it doesn’t have to be this way.  When we read of Apostle Paul in the New Testament being afflicted by a thorn in the flesh, we should not come away believing that ministry is the thorn in the flesh.  I want you to know that you can be a Pastor, and really enjoy it too.  I mean REALLY enjoy it.  
Jesus told his disciples in John 15:11 – “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Man!  Did you hear that Pastor?  Jesus said that He is putting HIS joy into YOU.  Do you know of any more joyful being in the Universe that Jesus himself?  And the reason he did this is so that your joy may be COMPLETE!  
Let me tell you that my knowledge about the subject is limited, but I have been motivated to write this for a few reasons
  1. In my short time of 12 years in ministry, I have seen Pastors come and go, and many times I have come close to going myself.  But God has been faithful, and I hope to encourage someone else who might be hopeless in thinking that they have no other choice.
  2. I’ve had some incredible mentors in my life and people who have told me to slow down, not carry the burden myself, and stay surrounded with brothers who provide encouragement and relief.
  3. God has provided me with an amazing wife who prods me to keep the priority of ministry in order – 1) Ministry to the Lord, 2) Ministry to my family, 3) Ministry to my Church
  4. And maybe the main reason that I want to share with you is because I thoroughly enjoy ministry.  I love it every single day even though some days are really rough.  Sometimes I feel like ministry is talked about as a burden or a drudgery, but I think it is the opposite – ministry is the most awesome privilege on planet earth, because we don’t work FOR God, but rather we work WITH God.  
  5. Most of these items below are things that I have learned from other people in ministry, and I don’t think it is right to be a hoarder of information.
My prayer for you is that you will come to experience a completeness of joy in ministry.  This post will be the first in a series about preventing ministry burnout.  But I don’t want you to think of these steps as staying away from something bad; I want you to see them as getting into something good!  
So grab a cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and let’s focus on the most expensive tool that God has given your church for the ministry – you.  Here is the outline that we will follow.  
  1. Rest Rightly 
  2. De-clutter Daily
  3. Pray Properly
  4. Schedule Successfully
  5. Withdraw Weekly
  6. Fellowship Frequently
  7. Recreate Regularly
  8. Mentor Monthly
  9. Vacate Annually
DAY 1 – We begin our talk about longevity in ministry with something simple.  Matter of fact, most people will think that you are really good at this, because in their minds you are probably a lazy pastor anyway.  Of course we know that it does not take a lot of energy to work only 1 day a week, so there should be plenty of time to do what I am going to tell you.  Matter of fact – this thing that I am going to tell you to do is something that you probably see many of your deacons doing every Sunday during church and that is – SLEEP!  
Yes my friend!  Sleep is one of your best friends in ministry.  I cannot begin to express how proper sleep is for your emotional, physical, and spiritual well being.  I believe sleep is so important that a year ago, I preached an entire message to my congregation on the discipline of sleep.  You can find that message HERE.
Sleep is so important that you will spend at least 1/3 of your life doing it.  If you live to be the ripe old age of 85, which most of you will because you are going to be taking care of yourself, then that will equate to over 10,000 days worth of sleep.  WOW.  At first you might be saying, “Well there is so much work to be done for the kingdom, therefore sleep should not be our high priority!”  Hold on a minute.  If you don’t make sleep a priority, you won’t be doing much work for the kingdom before too long.  And before you get all spiritual on me, let me tell you that Jesus loved sleep very much.  He enjoyed sleeping so much that while the disciples were wigging out on the boat because of a storm, Jesus was using his time much more productively than they were by getting rest.  Jesus knew that in order to minister effectively, one needed to be rested well.  
Proper sleep will make a huge impact on your ability to study, to communicate, to counsel, to lead, to manage, and to preach.  Here is a fantastic infographic on how proper sleep affects performance HERE.
So today I want to give you a few key pointers that will help you in your journey of effective rest.  Here are some things you should do to get proper rest:
  1. Getting even a small dose of daily exercise will increase the proper hormone levels to make your sleep more effective. 
  2. Drinking a glass of water before bed time will help your digestion through the night, making you feel more energized in the morning.  
  3. Do something relaxing before bed (Do you want a list of suggested books?).
  4. Turn the TV off at least 30 minutes before bed (or do like I did and cancel TV altogether).
  5. Don’t do things that are visually stimulating like electronics, facebook, iPad, or other gadgety stuff.
  6. I’m sure you have other prayer times throughout the day, but maximize what I call the altar of the Pillow.  Speak to God so that stresses are taken off your mind, and you will rest better.  
  7. Finally, kiss your wife good night.  You will sleep better knowing that she knows you love her.  
So do your homework tonight, get ready for bed on time, and pray that God makes you ready to charge ahead for the day tomorrow.  When you feel great because of resting like a King, you will be much more ready to do Kingdom work.  

What are the tricks you use to get a great night’s sleep?  I would love to hear from you, so feel free to post a comment below.

(After writing this, I came across this great article about Eugene Peterson speaking of the longevity in ministry that you will find helpful).

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