4 Steps to Avoiding Burnout in Ministry

4 Steps to Avoiding Burnout in Ministry

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

Have you ever noticed that ministry creeps?

It has this funny way of creeping into personal time and family time.

The opportunities and needs never end. There is always more to do, always another person who needs something, and another crisis that needs attention.

Ministry creeps.

Most of the time, these opportunities and challenges are good things. The struggle is that there are too many good opportunities and we often say yes to too many things and the next thing you know we haven’t gone on a date with our spouse or pursued that life-giving hobby in three months.

How do we maintain boundaries in ministry? How do we protect the relationships and pursuits that matter most? And, how do we protect our own hearts and our own relationships with Jesus?

Correctly answering these questions is often the difference between longevity in ministry and burn out. So, how do we create and maintain healthy boundaries? I have four ideas:

1. DECIDE WHAT MATTERS

The first step in creating and maintaining healthy boundaries in ministry is to identify what really matters. What are the relationship, practices and commitments that are most important? For me, there are 4:

  1. My relationship with God
  2. My relationship with my wife
  3. My relationships with my kids
  4. Pursuing opportunities to speak and write

I’m guessing your #1 is the same as mine but depending on your family situation or your passions, your #2-4 might be different.

What’s important is to take time to list out what really matters. How do you know what matters? Ask yourself this question:

If my work ever ruined __________ I will have failed.

If my job ruins my marriage, then I blew it.
If my job ruins my golf game... who cares.

Take some time to answer this question.

2. SCHEDULE WHAT MATTERS

Once you’ve decided what really matters in your life, it’s time to schedule your life around what matters.

When it comes to finances, my teaching pastor often says:

“Instead of spending first and giving and saving from what is left, do the opposite. Give and save first and then live off the rest.”

The same principle applies to our time.

Instead of just doing what happens naturally, and finding time for what matters with what is left over, schedule what matters first. Build your schedule around time with God, time with that life-giving hobby and time with the people that matter most.

schedule what matters

Why? Because we all know that when we are unintentional and lazy with our time, well, the results are less than what we desire.

When you schedule what matters, you are guaranteed to invest your time in what you truly care about. Go ahead and schedule what matters on your calendar right now.

3. DRAW LINES AROUND WHAT MATTERS

I want to teach you a word.

It’s a beautiful word. It is one of the most important words for creating and maintaining boundaries.

Here it is: “No.”

Try saying it.

“No.”

What a great word!

When I was new to ministry, I was the worst at saying “no.” Why? Because, every opportunity was good and important. Every person had a need. But, here’s what I’ve learned the hard way: Saying yes to everything means saying no to what matters. It may sound harsh but it is so true!

“Yeses” are like money. Unless you’re some kind of “yes” billionaire, you only have so many “yeses” to spend.

If you spend too many “yeses” you will end up in debt which means that your boundaries will break down and the people, pursuits and hobbies that you value most will suffer.

How do you know what to say “no” to? Here’s a simple question:

Will saying “yes” help me succeed in my ministry role?

Then, say “yes” unless saying “yes” means saying “no” to what you’ve already decided matters. In other words, if saying “yes” to a preaching opportunity helps me succeed in the work God has called me to, then great! Except if that preaching opportunity falls on my wife’s birthday. Yup. That’s a “no!” Because, my relationship with my wife is what really matters.

when to say yes

4. FIND A REFEREE TO PROTECT WHAT MATTERS

Here’s my last piece of advice on creating and maintaining boundaries and this is perhaps the most important.

Here’s the thing: I don’t trust myself. I think dumb stuff. I feel dumb feelings. My heart is a liar.

I know, from experience that I need a referee to protect my boundaries. I need someone in my life who has permission to throw a yellow flag and blow a whistle when they see me neglecting one of my boundaries. My guess is that you need this person in your life too.

In order to pull this off, you have to tell someone who you trust what really matters to you. Then, you must give them permission to blow the whistle and throw the flag.

For me, this looks like a men’s group I meet with on Friday mornings. To say that they ask me hard questions is a ginormous understatement. But, those intrusive questions are necessary if I want to protect what really matters.

This also looks like a mentor and friend named Brian who probably cares about my success in ministry more than I do. He believes in me and believes in the ministry I lead. He’s thrown the flag on me more times than I can count but he’s an absolute gem and he’s kept me out of so much trouble.

Who do you have in your life who has permission to blow the whistle and throw the flag? If you can’t answer that question, I would challenge you to find a person or a small group of people.

So, there you have it. This is what creating and maintaining healthy boundaries looks like in my life. I’d love to hear your strategies for protecting what matters most in your life and ministry.

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