Burnout is easy to accomplish. In fact, it’s our default destination when all we do is coast along. I’ve conversed with tons of pastors who are discouraged. Not one of them predicted it. It always sneaks up on us. It’s the creep – the gentle drift – that is the most common culprit of a healthy soul’s demise.
If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, let me challenge you to make three bold decisions today, and every day hereafter.
1. I will grow deeper roots.
One of my favorite passages is Jeremiah 17:7-8:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. (NKJV)
We all want to bear fruit, but the prerequisite to doing so is tapping down and spreading out our roots. When our roots are deep, hot, dry weather and seasons of suffering won’t kill us at our core.
And how does a pastor put down deeper roots? By doing the things we are most prone to neglect in the busyness of ministry:
- Cultivating a richer relationship with God, the Holy Spirit, through prayer.
- Absorbing the nourishment of God’s Word.
- Connecting with church history and the biographies of great leaders.
- Pouring our best energy into our marriages and families.
- Having friends, even at the risk of getting hurt sometimes.
We ought to study systems, strive for growth, and read books on leadership. But we can’t neglect the study of old things, eternal things, and spiritual things.
2. I will fight to stay in rhythm.
Balance is an elusive and fleeting goal. You’ll never be able to give equal energy to all of the various relationships and commitments in your life because life doesn’t work on a routine schedule. Instead, you need rhythm. Or in the words of Johnny Cash, “Get rhythm… when you get the blues…”
Rhythm is achieved when we orient our lives properly to whatever is God’s will. It’s when my calling to be a man (or woman) of God determines my schedule. There will be seasons and weekends that I’m busy doing church things, evenings when I’m ignoring the phone and wrestling with kids, and time for rest and physical activity. I know the next thing to do based, not on the tyranny of the urgent or the expectations of others, but on my calling place Jesus first.
Finding rhythm requires eliminating clutter, saying “no” to good opportunities, and asking those closest to us for honest feedback about how they perceive us to be handling life.
3. I will cultivate relationships.
Most ministry leaders that I know have a tendency to withdraw and to isolate, especially when things are not well. When we’re stressed, we avoid people. When we’re down, we’d rather be down alone. We don’t want to burden others. We don’t want to have to fake a smile. So we hide.
I can remember a season in ministry when negative questions and complaints were coming from too many directions. People would drop by the office to share something like “people have been talking, and they’re upset about _____” Fill in the blank. And during that season, I braced myself every time I heard the door or heard the phone ring.
Eventually, I learned that good, healthy relationships serve as a place of retreat. I need people in my life who will be honest with me, but I also need people who I can simply trust to be “safe.” Even when friends are honest, they care about my heart and have my best interests in mind.
If you’re still advising younger ministry leaders to avoid close friendships, stop it! You need people!
Daily, run a little check on your life with these three simple questions. Am I growing deep roots? Am I living in a healthy rhythm? Am I cultivating relationships? We need you to not burn out!
By the way, coaching can help!