About my fifth year in ministry, I began experiencing nasty headaches. Combine full-time ministry with part-time grad school and three kids under the age of five and you have the perfect stress storm. Of course, I didn’t see it as that—I thought it was something medically terminal. But after a visit to my doctor, he well advised me of two things—cut down on two things in my life—caffeine and stress. He then asked me more about my work and asked me if I was passionate about what I do. For the first time ever, it took me a few moments to answer. I had always been passionate about serving in ministry. Then my doctor advised me in one more thing: if you want to continue to do what you love, you need to learn to say no once in a while and stick to doing what you do best.
Wow. He nailed my tendencies without even really knowing my story. I had a hard time saying no, and I wanted to do the best for God so I did it all—and then some. But I wanted to do more than survive; I wanted to be in ministry for the long haul. It was my heart cry, and I didn’t want to be a statistic of ministry burnout so I learned to recognize the warning signs, pulled back when needed, and learned to live with balance.
In Part Two of the book Mad Church Disease, author Anne Jackson examines the risk factors and symptoms of ministry burnout. Here are some of the warning signs:
Personality and Family History: It doesn’t matter if you’re a Type A or a Type B personality, each can produce qualities that can lead to stress and burnout. Be aware of your family history and how you were raised to deal with stress or if you performed to please others.
Health: Stress filters out of your body and not always in a healthy way. Stomach pain, headaches, chest pains, are just some of the ways your body may be dealing with stress.
Relationship With Christ: When your time with God gets put on the back burner, it’s a sign that you’re heading for burnout. We can’t effectively be serving God if we’re not spending any time with Him.
Distractions: Things such as technology can be a roadblock for us to take a break from ministry, to spend time alone or with our family, and can influence us in a negative way.
Pressure for Perfection: Competition, ego, drive to be the best, are all factors that can steer us toward burnout—even though they are all good qualities in appropriate portions. In addition, sometimes we get mismatched in our position and we’re working too hard at doing something we’re not designed to do naturally.
Church Politics: This could be unclear expectations set forth by your leadership, personality or value conflicts, no freedom to dream or grow, or constant pressure under fire to perform. Sometimes the church can be our worst enemy if we don’t learn to manage and balance the politics that come from an organization that’s doing God’s work but is still run by humans.
Think On This
What are things from your past that can make it difficult for you to do your best in the present? What are the things that distract you from your passions or goals in life? When do you feel out of control in your ministry position? How can you make sure you’re taking time with God to prevent ministry burnout?