I have experienced burnout on more than one occasion. At least once, it was combined with a medium depression where I struggled to get out of bed. I was exhausted physically, I had neglected myself in seeking to take care of others. Here is how I would coach someone to succeed in burning out as a leader, and especially as a pastor-leader.
1. Don’t rest
2. Harbor resentment
3. Be driven to find your value in approval or accomplishment
4. Lead in your own strength
5. Magnify your struggles and minimize Christ
6. Be too busy for friends or fun
7. Stop taking care of yourself because you are too busy taking care of others
8. Live re-actively with your schedule and calendar
9. Don’t pay attention to the warning lights and make adjustments
10. Ignore your emotions. Don’t ask what they are telling you, just push through them.
For the first 7 years of being a ministry leader, I refused to acknowledge and live within my limits. I was addicted to ministry. I loved Jesus, but some days I loved ministry more. I loved walking beside others and helping them grow in Jesus into their full-potential, but I also loved ministry for many unhealthy reasons. From my own experience and from conversations with other pastors, here are 6 of many reasons we can become addicted to ministry:
6 Reasons its easy to be addicted to ministry
Gives sense of value
Others celebrate you
You can make others need you
Makes you feel important
You think you’re the savior
Others modeled it to you when you were beginning
The challenge is that most of the time the negative consequences don’t show up until much damage is already done. The warning signs are hard to see. We have to continually check our hearts to understand our motives and what is driving us.
Here are signs you might be addicted to ministry:
You don’t take days off
You don’t have set day off each week
You don’t have mutual friendships
You are becoming increasingly bitter and resentful
You think repeatedly about how much harder you work than others around you
You have increasing conversations in your head and not with real people who you are frustrated with, irritated at, disappointed in
You spouse raises concerns and you become defensive and talk about quitting if that would make it easier
You are better at church than at home. Your spouse would love life if you were the same person at both places. If you were as loving, as good of a listener, as patient (I’ve been there), as hopeful
You are gaining too much weight
You pray life and intimacy with God is dying
You may experience only a few of these symptoms, or you may experience them in increasing measure. That’s what makes addiction to ministry so dangerous. It is a slow burn into spiritual burnout. I have been there. Multiple times.
Here are the 4 most important things you can do to thrive in ministry without being addicted:
Live in your Jesus identity. You are God’s beloved. You are his child. You are a new creation. When we really believe that reality is true in Jesus, we no longer have to ACHIEVE our identity and search for value. Instead we RECEIVE our value, purpose and worth in who Jesus says we are
Grow more friendships. Make it a priority to have friends. Seriously. One of the top choices that will keep you healthy
Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat regularly, get sleep. Don’t rationalize it. Take care of yourself so you actually have something to offer others that is more than a shell of yourself
Schedule your time off and guard it. Now, there are a few emergencies that require you to come in on your day off, but they are so few and far between that if you find yourself doing it more than 1 or 2 times a year, you are likely making excuses and living in others approval of you instead of Jesus’. By guard it I mean do what refreshes you and don’t let others fill that day. Seek God, have fun, rest, you choose what to do and not others.