Burnout: How to Dig Out

From time to time every leader and pastor faces burnout. The well runs dry. He or she becomes weary in well doing. He runs out of gas. She simply has nothing left to give. When we totter on the precipice of burnout, what can we do? As I’ve faced those times during my ministry, I’ve learned a few ways that have helped me dig out.

  1. Recognize the symptoms
    • Everybody’s burnout looks a bit different. Sometimes burnout comes from doing too much outwardly with over busy schedules. Sometimes burnout comes from an inner world in turmoil: worry, incessant anxiety, and fear. I suggest starting with self understanding. What does your burnout look like? Which of these factors might indicate you are burning out?
      • The joy you once had seems to have disappeared. You seldom have fun anymore.
      • You consistently sleep poorly.
      • You feel non-localized, free floating anger in your heart.
      • You catastrophize in your thinking, assuming the worse in people and life.
      • You easily snap, lose your cool with friends, families, or people in the church.
  2. Rest
    • After you recognize the symptoms, I’ve found that rest really helps. Whether it means taking time off, taking more breaks during your work day, getting more sleep, or trimming your schedule, the body and soul needs rest. Neuroscientists have coined a term for excessive wear and tear on our body due to prolonged stress and burnout, allostatic load. When we don’t give our body and brains time to rejuvenate, we prolong our burnout and its negative effects.
  3. Re-visit
    • Third, revisit your core values and mission. I encourage every leader to develop his or her own mission statement, their mission God has called them to achieve with His power. Most weeks when I do my strategic planning, I revisit my mission statement and personal values. If you’d like to see mine, you can click here. In this post I talk about the importance of developing your own personal values.
  4. Re-orient
    • The final step is to re-orient your time and effort to best live out your personal mission, without burning out. I suggest taking a half day alone to reset your goals and adjust how you use your time. Here’s a post on how to plan a retreat.

If you’ve faced burnout, what has helped you?

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5 Ways to Keep Critics at Bay

Criticism in ministry is never fun. And we often try to avoid our critics thinking that by keeping our distance, we can keep their criticism as bay. However, the opposite may be true. I’ve found that staying closer to them may actually lessen their criticism. Consider these five ways to keep your critics closer to you and their criticism away from you.

 Take the initiative.

Make a list of critics in your ministry that you currently avoid and with whom you need to (re) connect. Pray that they will respond to your initiatives to reach out. Ask the Lord to give you the courage to act. And determine the best way to reach each individual. Should you schedule a breakfast or lunch with him? If you do, be sure to communicate that you don’t have an agenda but that you simply want to connect. Or should you seek her out after a church service to chat? Perhaps you should perform a simple act of kindness.

I once dealt with a leader who would often cast a wary eye toward me. It seemed that I could never meet his expectations. He rarely affirmed me, and although he was not necessarily an open critic, his emotional field around me was seldom an attracting one. I knew his wife enjoyed gardening, and loved unique gardening tools. I saw an interesting hand tool in a flight magazine on a plane trip, so I ordered it for her. A few days after she got it, this leader gave me one of the few compliments I ever got from him; he thanked me for my thoughtfulness toward his wife and seemed truly appreciative. That small act of kindness helped keep me connected to this critic.

As you increase the frequency of contact with your critics, you will build trust. Someone once said, “Trust is a peculiar resource; it is built rather than depleted by use.” One final thought: some critics are so caustic that you need to keep your distance. Remember, you don’t need to maintain contact with every critic. Use your judgment.

Leverage the power of story.

Learn to share your story regularly with others. Let your critics know who you are and what makes you tick. That doesn’t mean you must share every intimate detail. Rather, open your heart to let others in. Be vulnerable to them. At the same time, learn your critic’s stories as well. In a non­intrusive way, express curiosity about his life and his story without overdoing it with questions. God may give you a broader perspective and insight to what fuels his criticism.

Put yourself in your critic’s shoes. Instead of mentally tagging her with a negative description, reframe your self-talk. Ask yourself, “I wonder why Jill acts likes she does. I wonder what she brings from her past that could be fueling her criticism.” Adopt a learning mindset rather than a judging one.

One way to share your story is through passion. I’m an introvert, and although I have good people skills, I’m not a party person. If given a choice, I’d rather read, be in a quiet place, connect one on one and stay out of the limelight. When on stage, though, I communicate passion. But I’ve realized that in day-to-day encounters, my introverted personality can sometimes convey to others that I lack passion, especially to extroverted leaders. When trying to connect with extroverted leaders, sometimes I’ve tried to force passion, which unfortunately can come across as emotional reactivity. I’m now learning to communicate more of my heart and passion through story, while staying true to how God created me. I now share more of my life when I preach and when I lead meetings. So, if you’re an introvert like me, you’ll probably have to work harder to communicate passion than if you’re an extrovert.

Become more self-aware.

When someone criticizes you, learn to become more aware of both your internal and your external responses. Although we should never let others crush us with unhealthy criticism, when we listen with an open heart to constructive feedback, the critic’s anxiety often lessens. The Bible says, “You can trust a friend who corrects you” (Prov 27: 6 CEV).

Our body language, facial expressions and eye contact can make things either worse or better. Neuroscientists have discovered something called mirror neurons. This part of our brain sub­consciously mimics what we see in others. If your critic sees a relaxed, caring persona or a smile, this subconsciously encourages him to mirror you. The writer of Proverbs understood this principle long before neuroscientists did, wisely noting, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov 15: 1)

To strengthen self-awareness, try to listen to others without mentally framing your response. Catch yourself if you begin to form a response in your mind while your critic is still talking. Ask clarifying questions so you can see your critic’s viewpoint. Toward the end of such a conversation, ask the person, “Is there anything else?” Then thank him for giving you feedback, even though you may disagree. If the conversation warrants a later response, tell him you’d like to think about what he said and get back with him later. And don’t forget to do so.

Keep your critics in the loop.

Don’t keep significant critics in the dark. Where appropriate, include them when you make decisions. “Explain your decisions. Don’t just make them.” (Bradbury and Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Kindle loc. 1886.)  Explain the why behind your decisions, and acknowledge the impact they may have on others. In doing do, you are subtly engaging critics in the decision process. At the same time, acknowledge your critic’s emotions when you make a decision about which he may have disagreed.

If you make a decision contrary to his wishes and you sense he’s angry with you because he avoids you at church or through some other behavior, a simple call to check in could make huge deposits into that relationship. A conversation might go like this: “Jim, I sense your concern about the decision I made. I respect you and don’t want our relationship to suffer because of it. Would you like to talk about it sometime?” One caveat though. Don’t allow inappropriate behavior. Staying connected does not preclude biblical confrontation if your critic becomes divisive or begins to hinder the ministry. Staying connected involves both calm and courage.

Provide a face-saving “out” if necessary.

If possible, avoid putting your critic into a situation where he loses face in front of others. I once came across so strong to a critic in a meeting that the only way he could save face was to power up and react, which he did. From that point on, our emotionality hijacked our meeting. Scipio, a Roman general, understood this principle. He “advised giving opponents a ‘Golden Bridge,’ an avenue of retreat, arguing that an enemy with no way out will fight with unprecedented ferocity.” (Perkins, Leading on the Edge, p. 111.)

How do you feel about staying connected to your critics? What has helped you manage relationships with critics?

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Used with permission of InterVarsity Press, Stone, Charles (2014-01-01). People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership (Kindle Locations 2062-2098). Kindle Edition.

Should Pastors Tell Church People to Obey Them?

Several passages in Scripture pose challenges to preaching. Even so, we shouldn’t skip the tough ones. However, when we must deal with tough passages such as this one below, we must take care how we teach them. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Heb 13.17, NIV) That first part, “Obey your leaders,” poses the challenge. How should we approach the “followership” concept this verse speaks to?

Should Pastors Tell Church People to Obey Them? Dr. Charles Stone

I’ve excerpted a section from my book 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them below that captures the essence of this verse.

“Obey your leaders” sounds quite strong. Certainly this does not condone dictatorial leadership, as Peter makes this clear in saying, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your good example.” (1 Pet 5.3, NLT) After all, God calls us shepherds, and shepherds don’t push—they lead. Unfortunately, in our world, where self is king and where those in spiritual authority have abused their power, many in our churches would struggle with a sermon titled “Obey Your Leaders.”

But that’s not the part upon which I believe we should focus. It’s the last part: “that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you.” Often it seems ministry brings more burdens than joy. After a tough meeting I sometimes wish I could get away with giving an elder a swirly. Other times, in response to a critic, I’m tempted to use King David’s words as a club: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” (Ps 105.15)

Other translations render “that their work will be a joy” in these ways:

  • So don’t make them sad as they do their work. Make them happy. (CEV)
  • Let them do this with joy and not with grief…. (NASB)
  • Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. (NLT)
  • Let them do all this with joy and not with groaning. (ESV)

A similar verse mirrors this one. Paul writes, We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. (1 Thes 5.12, NIV)

Other translators render “respect” (Greek: oida) as “appreciate” (NASB), “be thoughtful of” (CEV), “honor” (The Message, NLT), and “pay proper respect to” (TEV). On the other hand, just as “obey your leaders” can sound dictatorial, these statements can sound like they promote the self-serving, egotistical, and narcissistic.

Don’t make us sad…Honor us…Respect us…Make us happy…Appreciate us…Give us reasons to be joyful.

These thoughts likewise might seem oxymoronic when contrasted to our ministerial call to selflessly give ourselves away. But no matter how they’re translated, these verses raise some important questions. Is it wrong to want our ministries to bring us joy? Would we be sinning or at best self-serving to expect from our congregations certain things that would make serving them more joyful, less burdensome?

Should we dare even broach these matters? Did one pastor correctly assess church folk when he said, “Most truly aren’t concerned with my joy”? Conversely, should we affirm the answer of several others that “My joy is from the Lord, not from people”?

I don’t suggest a simplistic solution to pastoral joy. However, God’s Word leaves no room for misunderstanding. He expects believers to respond to healthy pastoral leadership by taking concrete steps to help make ministry more fulfilling for His servants.

Perhaps the key to making this truth become reality in the church lies in this: the church must see us as servants first and foremost. When we model Christ-like servanthood, I believe we create an atmosphere conducive for those in the church to become good followers, without our having to demand it.

What do you think? What do you believe is key to making this verse a reality in the church?


“I just learned insight about how to encourage followership in the church.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)


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4 Legal Drugs Every Leader Should Know about and Use

Drugs. At first blush the word implies something illegal, immoral, and bad for your body and brain. However, there are 4 key drugs or chemicals that every leader should know about, use, and wisely leverage in the ministry and the workplace.

God wired our bodies and brains to use these four chemicals so that we function most effectively. And leaders who understand their function can help their teams become most productive. So, what are they and how can leaders use them?

First, a  bird’s eye explanation. There are two basic kinds of these drugs or chemicals. Neurotransmitters traffic in our brain’s neurons (brain cells) and hormones flow through our blood. There there are over 100 neurotransmitters and over 50 hormones. Some act as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter.

But these four are significant body-brain chemicals that a leader’s actions can influence in the bodies and brains of those we lead.

  • Dopamine: a neurotransmitter involved in attention and reward. When you learn something new or check something off your to-do list, dopamine gives you a nice pleasurable feeling.
  • Serotonin: the neurotransmitter the brain releases when we feel pride in our work. When someone compliments you on a task you did or a talk you gave, that ‘feel good’ sense comes from serotonin.
  • Oxytocin: the neurotransmitter/hormone called the trust hormone. When you feel safe and secure around another and feel that you belong, this chemical releases and also makes us feel good.
  • Cortisol: called the stress hormone. We need this hormone to respond to the stresses in life. But when under prolonged stress, too much cortisol can damage our cardiovascular system, suppress our immune system, and diminish cognitive function like memory.

As a leader, you can leverage these chemicals in your teams in these positive ways.

  • Dopamine (attention/reward)
    1. Help your team members set and reach realistic goals. When they do, they will get a nice dopamine burst which will motivate them to set and reach new goals.
    2. When you teach, model techniques that can help your team maintain attention and learn more effectively. Some of these techniques that can help the brain release dopamine (and increase attention) include novelty, using object lessons, adding pictures alongside words in power points, and helping the listener apply what they hear.
  • Serotonin (affirmation)
    1. Look for and acknowledge good performance from team members.
    2. Know your team members well enough to know what communicates to them “job well done” (i.e. verbal, in writing, before the group).
  • Oxytocin (trust)
    1. Provide ways for your team members to build community with each other.
    2. Spend relational time with your team simply to get to know them.
  • Cortisol (stress management)
    • While encouraging hard work, reinforce the Sabbath-keeping principle by making sure your team members take a day off to rest.
    • Regularly monitor how well your team members manage their stress. If they are under long term stress, help them develop ways to decrease it.

What specific ways could you leverage these chemicals in your unique team environment?

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Should a Pastor be Accessible 24-7?

Accessibility. An issue that probably every pastor struggles with. Should we make ourselves accessible around the clock or should we not? Here are my thoughts and some helpful practices. I’d love to hear yours as well.

I believe that pastors who make themselves accessible 24/7 can’t do the job God has called them to do. We must proactively plan how we spend our days, making sure that we allocate time for our key responsibilities that include sermon prep, strategic planning, and leadership development. Although emergencies sometimes must take precedence over our planned schedules, we must manage our time to reasonably meet people’s personal needs while still fulfilling the strategic roles we must play.

On the other hand, I’ve known some pastors who simply don’t make themselves accessible at all. I knew one pastor who told me that he disappeared after a Sunday service because he didn’t want to interact with people. He didn’t last long in ministry. I’ve found that most church people will not abuse the access you give to them. We are called shepherds and we must spend time with the sheep. Otherwise, we won’t know their needs, hurts, and pains and as a result, we can’t lead the church to help meet those needs.

So in my view, wisdom must dictate how accessible we allow ourselves to be. We must guard our time so that we can accomplish our strategic roles I mentioned above. At the same time we must interact with people which requires reasonable accessibility.

Here’s what I do to try to keep a balance. I’ve certainly not arrived, but these practices have served me well.

  • I use two email addresses. One I use regularly is not public. The other is available through our web site that goes directly to my assistant. Often she can handle many of the requests that come via that email address. Those that I must handle, she forwards to me.
  • I don’t feel obligated to immediately answer every call that comes to my cell phone. Sometimes I intentionally let the call go to voice mail and answer the call later in the day when I return calls.
  • I have determined who needs to have the highest priority access to me. My family, our elders, and our key staff have the highest access to me. They have my cell phone number and know that in an emergency they can call or text me. I’m there for them. If they become aware of emergencies in our church, they can quickly get in touch with me. This recently happened with a sudden death in our church. Once I was alerted, I immediately met with the family.
  • I guard against getting sucked into Facebook. I interact very little on Facebook. I do use Twitter and link it to my Facebook and Fan page, but I seldom chit-chat on Facebook. Often, though, I will interact on Twitter because it takes little of my time.
  • I often float in our lobby to make myself available for people just for chit-chat.
  • When I close each service, I say that I will be at our guest area in the lobby and that I’d love to meet people I’ve not yet met. One of our elders closes the service with prayer while I walk to the lobby. Visitors and regulars often come to chat with me at that time. We both enjoy it and our church people feel that I am accessible, often through simply watching me interact with others in a visible place.
  • When someone tells me on a Sunday that he or she wants to meet with me, I put the onus on them to call the church office. I explain that my assistant schedules appointments. Only about 25% actually call back. I work off the premise that if someone really wants to meet with me, they will take the effort to make the call and schedule the appointment with my assistant.

It’s always a challenge to strike the right balance. But if we approach accessibility with a plan, I believe we’ll get done what needs to get done while at the same time maintain healthy accessibility.

How do you handle accessibility?

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