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What to Do When You’re Burning Out in Ministry

David Clark
David Clark Wednesday May 13, 2020
<? echo $type; ?> What to Do When You’re Burning Out in Ministry

We’ve all been at a point where there’s tension between what we feel called to do and what we have the capacity to do. If you’re in that space, you might have thoughts like: 

  • “I’d love to have dinner at home this week with my family, but it’s the beginning of the month, and the volunteer meeting tomorrow is important, and I need to finish this [fill in the blank] for this weekend.”
  • “It would be really great to have a Saturday without worry . . . except two volunteers just told me they forgot they had conflicts with teaching tomorrow, and one has a sick kid.”
  • “I’d love to get away to Texas for my niece’s wedding next month! But can they make a Sunday run without me? Is it worth losing one of my vacation Sundays for it?”

Does any of this resonate? Are you at a point where you feel like you can’t possibly handle one. more. thing? Or maybe if you have to make one more Costco run for goldfish and fruit snacks, you just might scream? 

If so, take a deep breath. You’re not alone and you’re going to be okay. At some point, almost everyone in ministry has felt this way.

But if you didn’t already know, let me tell you: you’re burning out. Let’s look at how to turn this around. Because it doesn’t have to be this way.

4 things to do when you’re burning out 

So, how can you turn the ship around? How can you course correct, and ultimately get to a better place? Here are four tips that you can do to help prevent that burn out.

1. Acknowledge it 

In order to address this and make changes, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a part of your experience in life right now. It might be scary to admit, but nothing will change until you can name what you’re feeling. 

Don’t worry about blaming or fixing anything just yet. For now, pause, sit in the truth that you’re struggling, and know that it’s not going to be this way forever.

2. Share it

Now that you’ve gotten to a point of recognition, it’s time to do the hard thing and speak up. Start with a trusted friend or close family member—not a co-worker!—and sit down to explain where your head is and what you’re experiencing. Don’t leave anything out. Your struggles are so much more manageable when you give them words and when you continue to practice giving them words. Sharing allows you to practice those words, and it also allows loved ones to empathize and support you.

When you share your experience with someone, you’re no longer alone in it by yourself.

3. Make a plan

First, give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve done the exceptionally difficult work of admitting that you’re struggling, and the brave work of being vulnerable with another person in your life. 

Before we write down any solutions, think about what’s causing tension or draining you. 

  • What or who is causing you the most stress? 
  • What parts of your role are the most draining? 
  • Where are your pain points? 
  • What needs to change in order for you to care for yourself?

It’s important to identify these things first so you can make a plan that will actually be helpful.

Now, make a plan to address the concerns. Brainstorm solutions. Research what other churches do. Sit, pray, and ask for discernment from God. Re-evaluate if necessary. Give yourself time to really come up with a well-thought-out set of action steps. 

Here are a few examples of what your plan could include:

  • Find and train a volunteer to do the draining part of your job.
  • Turn your e-mail notification off for a few dedicated evenings a week (gasp!).
  • Plan a getaway—with your family, friends, or by yourself. Take a little road trip or even just an overnight away. You could even do a stay-cation!
  • Find what kind of environment you work best in . . . maybe make a plan to work at a coffee shop one morning a week.
  • Decide what healthy boundaries look like with the difficult person and have a conversation with them if you need to.
  • Incorporate spiritual practices in your routine if you’re feeling dry spiritually.
  • Make plans to attend Orange Conference! (We had to get a little shameless plug in there!)

Whatever it takes to give you a bit of a mental break and have some margin—do it. Nothing is too big or too small if it will bring you some restoration.

Implement it

Again, you’ve done a lot of hard, introspective work up until this point. GOOD FOR YOU. Now, it’s time to put the plan into action. 

For example: In your plan, if you decided to work Fridays from a coffee shop rather than the office, start doing it! You have to pry yourself away from the distractions to test your plan out. And spoiler alert: It may not work right away. 

Changing old habits can be difficult, so be patient with yourself as you find a new routine! It may take some time before you notice a difference. Perhaps what you planned needs to be tweaked, added to, or altered in some way. That’s completely normal. Your plan is never a guaranteed fix. The good news—it’s a start and so much further than you were before!

Your mental health matters

Here’s the thing: Despite what anyone may tell you or what you may have heard, your mental health matters. Unfortunately, ministry isn’t always set up for that to be a top priority.

So, you have to advocate for yourself. It’s likely that no one else will because they have their stuff too. It’s never easy to admit you have a problem, because that means that maybe you won’t be able to do it all. We all know the work is important—but so are you!

Acknowledge that you’re struggling, share your experience with others, plan to make changes, and implement the plan. Choosing to care for yourself will only allow you to continue doing the important work!

David Clark lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where he works in advertising. He is passionate about creativity, social media, running, and Chipotle.