Burning Out and Finding Healthy Rhythms in Ministry

If you’ve been in ministry or leadership for any amount of time, you know how easy it is to burn out.  And while burning out is a scary thought, I believe leading a ministry WHILE burnt out is even scarier.  Unfortunately, the world is full of ministry leaders leading while burnt out.  We lead, because it’s our job, and we have to push through no matter where we are spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  The problem is, when we are at the end of our rope, we have nothing to toss out to the people we are leading.  And empty cup cannot fill an empty cup.  We can go through the motions of pouring, but it’s all in vain.  And so, even though we think we are doing the world (the church, our ministry, our family) a service by leading through our burn out, we are actually causing more harm.  And eventually, if we do not get healthy, we know burn out can lead to the loss of your job, ministry, and even family.

What leads to burn out?

Simply put, not refueling ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically will lead to burn out.  And it really takes refueling in all of those areas.  You may work out an hour a day for 7 days a week, and be in peak physical condition, but if you neglect yourself emotionally and spiritually, burn out is coming.  Likewise, you may spend hours a day praying, but if you don’t eat right and you work 80 hours a week, burn out is coming.

The truth is, it takes health to produce health.  If you are not healthy, you cannot expect the ministry you lead to be healthy.  It may appear healthy, as you appear healthy.  The truth of the matter is, we can do a good job with our appearance.  But health isn’t measured by just appearance.

So, if a healthy leader produces a healthy ministry, how do we pursue healthy rhythms in a world that can drain us so quickly?  We must be intentional!

1. RE-FUEL YOURSELF REGULARLY

God rested for a day, and I don’t think it was to prevent burn out.  I’m going to say this loudly, so you don’t miss it:  IT’S OKAY TO REST!  It’s easy to feel like we have to constantly be busy in ministry, so that it appears that we are important.  The truth is, you are important.  You are important to your ministry, your church, and your family.  And a healthy you is more important than a busy you.  It’s crucial to create regular re-fueling rhythms in your life.  Some ideas (many of these I have implemented over the years) might include:

  • Spiritual Renewal Day once a month.
  • 2 Days Off every week.
  • 24-Hour Sabbath each week (as part of your day off).  Turn off electronics, and just BE.
  • 2-4 Weeks Off for Vacation every year.
  • Going to the Gym 3 times a week.
  • Regular Date Nights with your spouse.
  • Meet with a couple of close, trusted friends regularly.
  • Do something that brings you joy and fun regularly.
  • Daily Morning Time praying and reading Scripture.
  • Interruptions for prayer and Scripture throughout the day, also referred to as the Daily Office.
  • Meeting regular with a Counselor or a Spiritual Director.
  • Month-Long Sabbatical after every 5-7 years.

Some of these things may require some conversations with your supervisors.  But always remember (and even say to yourself when feeling overwhelmed or headed towards a cliff), A healthy me is more important than a busy me. Read more about how to deal with the highs and lows of ministry, that can typically lead to burn out, here.

2. BE MORE STRATEGIC WITH YOUR CALENDAR/SCHEDULE 

If all of the COVID shutdowns have taught us one thing, it’s we do not HAVE to have crazy schedules in order to be effective in ministry.  Just because it’s summer, doesn’t mean you have to be gone from home 30 nights of the season.  In fact, a strategic ministry calendar is a more effective ministry calendar.  Put your entire year in front of you, and have a planning day.  What are your ministry pillars?  For me, my ministry pillars are our large events that typically serve as spiritual markers in students’ lives.  This would be our summer camp, our fall retreat, and our mission trips.  Just as any pillar, I want to spread these out to create stability and a sturdy calendar foundation.  Our mission trips take place in March, our camp is in July, and our fall retreat is in November.  I typically don’t plan one pillar until the one before it is complete.  We don’t even talk about a pillar until we’ve ended the one before.  Here are a couple of other suggestions:

  • Partner your invite nights with current programming rather than creating an entirely new invite night.  In the summer, we do After Parties to our programming.
  • Protect your days off.  Obviously, there are exceptions, but try hard to not schedule meetings, events, or ministry when you are supposed to be resting.

You are in charge of your calendar/schedule.  I have realized that there are not many things in life that I have control over, but this is one that I do.  Control it, so it doesn’t control you! To read more about what it looks like to plan events with intentionality, read this!

3. READ THESE BOOKS

There are a couple of books (actually series of books) that have really helped me set much healthier rhythms in my life, and I highly highly recommend any and all of them!

Remember, a healthy leader produces a healthy ministry and healthy family!  The people you lead deserve your best, not your busy. Read more about the importance of reading quality books to lead better!

Published by Nick Ballard

I am the Next Gen Pastor at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, MO, which is outside of St. Louis. I've been in full-time student ministry since 2005. I've been married since 2004, and I've been a father since 2011. I love student ministry, I love the local church, and I believe that God has big plans for this generation of teenagers!

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