According to Wilson and Hoffman,
“Of ministers in the United States: 25% have been forced out of or fired from their ministry at least once. 90% feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands. 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively. 45% say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence. 40% have serious conflict with a church member at least once a month. 20% admit to having an affair while in the ministry. 37% admit that Internet pornography is a current struggle. 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend” (Wilson & Hoffman 2007, 31).
Let’s face it: American ministers are often running on spiritual and emotional fumes. One could argue that the American church has placed far too many demands on their ministers. While this could be true, many in ministry are facing spiritual and ministerial burnout. This does not only include ministers. Many in high-stress jobs (e.g. doctors, lawyers, police officers, executives, etc) face similar problems.
However, burnout does not need to be the case. When one is pushed to the maximum, methods exist to help the person cope with the high demands so that they will not become a victim of burnout. Recently, I took a course at Liberty University called LEAD 625: Preventing Ministry Burnout. Through this course, I learned ten great tips to help one cope with spiritual and emotional burnout. This list has been compiled in the fashion of a top-ten list by which I personally have benefited. Others may find lower-ranked tips more important for themselves. Without further ado, here are the top ten list of tips to help one prevent spiritual and emotional burnout.
#10th Best Tip: Learn Who You Are and What God Has Called You to Do.
God said to Jeremiah, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). This passage of Scripture is powerful in many ways. First, God taught Jeremiah that Jeremiah had a purpose. Jeremiah was not some random mistake that came about by happenstance as many atheists would want one to believe. No, Jeremiah had purpose. Second, God demonstrated that Jeremiah was set apart for a certain task. Finally, God revealed to Jeremiah what that task would be: that of a prophet.
The point is that each one of us has a purpose. You were born with a divine plan. God has a purpose and plan for you. The problem is that so often we fail to see what God’s plan for our lives may be. So many individuals wander around in life with no purpose and direction. However, if they would go to God, they could find their purpose and God’s plan for their lives. In addition, one must understand that he or she is unique. So often, I have heard people tell me, “You do a good job. But, I wish you would preach harder.” Others say, “Wow! You do good, but you preach too hard.” I cannot be anyone else other than what God has called me to be. Truthfully, if you are in the center of God’s will, it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you. Find God’s plan and accept that reality and you may find less spiritual and emotional problems in life.
#9th Best Tip: It’s Okay to Say “No.”
It is difficult. But if you want to avoid being burnt out, learn to say “no” to those things that are not priorities. Wilson and Hoffman write, “Our boundaries help us to say “no” to the manipulator and “yes” to our spouse and kids” (Wilson & Hoffman 2007, 146). Don’t be manipulated. Just because someone has a good idea does not mean that YOU have to act on it. Encourage the person who has the idea to investigate it themselves. It may be that God is calling that person to something and the person wants to push the calling off on you. But if God has not called YOU to do the thing, YOU do not need to do it.
Saying “no” is completely biblical. Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him during Jesus’ earthly ministry. They tried to persuade Him to go to Jerusalem before it was time. They said, “Leave here and go to Judea so Your disciples can see Your works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition” (John 7:3). Jesus replied, “My time has not yet arrived but your time is always at hand” (John 7:6). In essence, Jesus told them “No.” It was not time for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. Learning the art of saying “no” to the things that are not essential may be one of the greatest practices you can do in order to find spiritual and emotional balance in your life.
#8th Best Tip: Protect Your Family and Close Friendships by Boundaries.
Going back to what Wilson and Hoffman said, “Our commitment to our family, coupled with our refusal to be manipulated, will help us, our family and the one manipulating us to see more clearly the consequences on all sides” (Wilson & Hoffman 2007, 145). Can someone give them an “Amen”? Don’t be bullied. Emotional bullies exist everywhere. Emotional bullies are individuals who use guilt in order to manipulate you to do what they desire for you to do. But, the real issue is that you are not serving that bully. Your call is to serve God first and foremost. Your first calling is to your family. Paul writes that “But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Understand one thing: ministry and all occupations are necessary. However, chances are likely that those you work with and work for are much less likely to care for you while you are on your deathbed than those of your household. Protect the relationship with your family and closest friends.
#7th Best Tip: Always Operate with Humility.
John Dickson defines humility not as “being a doormat for others, having low self-esteem or curbing your strengths and achievements…Humility is the noble choice to forego your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself” (Dickson 2011, 23-24). The Bible says much about the need for humility. Proverbs 22:4 states, “The result of humility is fear of the Lord, along with wealth, honor, and life.” The prophet Zephaniah states that one should “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who carry out what He commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility…” (Zephaniah 2:3). Paul warns about false humility in Colossians 2:18. There is a great benefit in understanding that not all of life is a competition. Live with humility and you may not only find spiritual and emotional balance, but you may find many other blessings as well.
#6th Best Tip: Learn How to Handle the Fires of Conflict without Getting Burned.
It is inevitable that conflicts will come. However, knowing how to handle those conflicts go a long way in helping one deal with the issues of burnout. While articles could be written about this very thing; the best advice that I received in this course is by being prepared. Prepare for possible problems in advance. Be proactive instead of reactive. Many conflicts can be headed off at the pass by simply preparing in advance for possible problems. What would you do if A happened? What if B took place? Also, understand that you are not going to make everyone happy. There was only one perfect person that ever walked this earth and He found Himself nailed to a cross. In addition, leave the conflict where the conflict occurred. Don’t take it home with you. In this case, the preacher may be preaching more at himself than anyone else. Nonetheless, it is still good advice.
#5th Best Tip: Relax and Unwind.
The Bible states that God worked six days and relaxed on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Was it that God needed the rest? No. Perhaps God wanted to take time to look to see what He had done. Nonetheless, you are not God. You do need the rest. I think this is the whole principle behind having a Sabbath day. A Sabbath day not only serves to provide one time for worship, but it also allows one to have time to unwind and to relax. Our family has recently started a Family Fun Night in which we play card games or board games. It’s amazing how a simple game of Uno® will allow one a chance to unwind and relax. For examples of Jesus unwinding, see the number one tip provided in this article.
#4th Best Tip: Learn that Everyone is a Problem Person to Someone…Even You.
It is unavoidable: some people are going to drive you nuts!!! Different people have differing temperaments. These temperaments have been called a variety of names. Wilson and Hoffman are creative in their approach. They have called these temperaments the following:
Themes: ‘Let’s do it my way!’ ‘Let’s move, shake and make it happen!’ ‘Let’s get it done now!’
Can be ‘spotted in a crowd’ by their restlessness; quick grab for control; fast-moving and high-energy approach.
Versatile Swiss Army Knife:
Themes: ‘Let’s do it the fun way’; ‘Lighten up, don’t take things so hard!’ ‘Don’t worry, we can just wing it!’
Can be ‘spotted in a crowd’ by constant chatter; animated and colorful expressions; enthusiasm; ability to mix easily; networking with others.
Adaptable Duct Tape:
Themes: ‘Let’s do it the easy way!’; ‘Don’t make waves!’; ‘Let’s take the path of least resistance!’; ‘Excuse me, can I say something now?’; ‘I don’t know what you want me to do?’
Can be ‘spotted in a crowd’ by their calm, modest and accommodating posture; maintaining a low profile by ‘blending’ into the social situation.
Precision Tape Measure:
Themes: ‘Let’s do it the right way!’; ‘But what about _____?’; ‘The job isn’t complete until the paperwork is done!’
Can be ‘spotted in a crowd’ by their sensitive nature; serious conversations; well-mannered approach to others; well-groomed appearance (with some exceptions)” (Wilson & Hoffman 2007, 193-195).
Here’s the point. If you are a Hammer, you will be frustrated by the Duct Tape because they won’t speed up. If you are the Army Knife, you will be frustrated by the Tape Measure because everything has to be precise, or perhaps they think things through to death. If you are a Duct Tape, you will be frustrated by the pushy nature of the Hammer and wonder do they ever slow down? If you are the Tape Measure, you will be frustrated by the Army Knife wondering if they will ever shut-up!!! Everyone has someone that drives them crazy. But you probably drive someone crazy too. Jesus told us that we were to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35)…this includes those that drive us crazy. Looking at people from Jesus’ lens will transform the way we look at those problem people.
#3rd Best Tip: Accept the Fact that You Cannot Change Everyone.
Understand that there are just some things that you cannot change. God has granted people with a level of human will. God demonstrates His own frustration in Ezekiel when God says, “‘Do I take pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ This is the declaration of the Lord God. ‘Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives'” (Ezekiel 18:23)? Some people will not change regardless of what you may do. The best you can do is to love them, tell them about the salvation found in Jesus Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their lives. In the end, only God knows whether that person will repent or not. Understanding that you are not responsible for the outcome, only the proclamation makes evangelism much easier.
#2nd Best Tip: Make the “Main Things” the Main Things in Life.
The next best tip that could be offered is to allow the “main things” to be the main things. Several things could be said. If you are a concerned Christian, you are probably overwhelmed at the amount of problems facing our culture and our children’s future. That is why we must strive to protect our freedoms and our faith; for our children’s sake. It is overwhelming when one observes the mass problems facing our culture: moral collapse, rising persecutions, the deterioration of the family, and so on. In the end, we must learn to trust God. Change those things which you can change. Focus on those things in which you can make a difference. Grow and blossom where God has planted you. Leave the rest to God. Understand that God has not called you to be a Superman or a Superwoman. God has called you to fulfill the calling that God has placed in your life. Let the main things be the main things…trust in His work in those things…and leave the rest to God’s providential care.
#1 Tip: Protect and Maintain A Strong Devotional Life: Prayer in Solitude.
The number one tip is number one for a reason. Everyone needs time with God. Jesus, the Son of God, needed time alone with His Father. Mark writes that “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, (Jesus) got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there” (Mark 1:35). We must protect our time with God. This may require a mode of fasting, too. By fasting, I do not necessarily mean that one should go without food. I simply mean that one should leave one’s phone in the other room. Do not get on Facebook. Do not allow any distractions during this time. Focus completely upon God and upon His Word. My wife has told me that she can tell when I spend an adequate amount of time with God from those times when I do not. When I spend an adequate amount of time with God, I am more rested, peaceful, and content. We live in a hurried time. Maybe the best advice of all is that we need to slow down and take time with the One who is responsible for anything to exist in the first place. Wilson and Hoffman say it best as they write that “We must maintain strong boundaries around our inner life, for as soon as we relax them we may be attacked by an enemy who sees us as the gateway to hundreds if not thousands of souls” (Wilson & Hoffman 2007, 167). For spiritual and emotional peace, call up the Prince of Peace. His number is toll-free and is available 24/7.
I have had some health issues as of late. Some of these issues were based upon some anxieties and problems that I was carrying and had never let go. While I cannot say that I am completely over these issues as it takes time, I can say that by applying these principles I have found a greater sense of peace and contentment in my life. I know that God has called me to continue my education. I don’t mean to promote Liberty University as Liberty is one of many fantastic Christian universities. However, I will say that God has placed me in classes that I needed at the times I needed them the most. LEAD 625 “Preventing Ministry Failure” may be seen as a course requirement for some. For me, I think God used this class as a means to save me from burnout. That is why I pass along the principles that I have learned on to you. Many of the health issues we have come from our mishandling of stress. But, it does not have to be that way. Trust God. Love others. Stand for truth. Provide for your family. God will handle the rest.
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman, 2009.
Dickson, John. Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffman. Preventing Ministry Failure. Downers Grove: IVP, 2007.
© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.