How to Avoid Burnout as a Pastor in This Season

Posted by Aaron Buer on May 14, 2020

Like many of you, I’m part of a small group.

We’ve been meeting together for over four years.

Before COVID we met weekly for breakfast and these days we meet digitally over Zoom.

This week, during our small group time, everyone was sharing how exhausted they were.

One after another the theme was, “I’m exhausted and I need a break.”

As I was listening, I was thinking to myself, “Wow.  Everyone is hitting the wall.”  

Then, the next day, exhaustion hit me like a freight train.

The weight of decisions.

The extra hours.

Flexing in new ways of leadership and ministry.

Financial fears.

I ran out of gas and felt completely tanked.

Here’s why I bring this up: If I’m feeling exhausted, it’s likely many of you are feeling this way as well.

None of us are superheroes, but our churches need us, and we need to stay healthy for them.

So, let’s talk about three ways to stay healthy and avoid burnout during this long season of crisis leadership.  

Rest

Is Sabbath built into your schedule?

Have you adjusted from pre-COVID rest to a new rhythm?

For me, before COVID, I took Fridays as a Sabbath.

No church work and no work around the house.

It’s easy to exchange work with home to-do lists on our day off.

The point of Sabbath is to cease producing.

To just be and rest.  

rest


During this season, I’m taking two days of rest.

Feel free to call me a slacker but the weight of leadership is much heavier in this season and I’m comfortable with admitting that I’m resting longer, and I’m encouraging you to do the same.

Not all work is equally draining, and almost everything in this season is draining!

This past week I used some PTO and took a long weekend because I was feeling exhausted.  

An exhausted leader is a dangerous leader.

When our reserves are depleted our verbal and moral filters often become depleted.

Exhausted people can say and do stupid things.  

Most of the guys in my small group are taking a week or more off in the coming weeks.

Rest is important.

I would challenge you to be wise in this area.

Don’t let your energy reserves reach a dangerous level because that can create consequences in your life and leadership.  

This is a season, increased rest is necessary, and we need to acknowledge that it’s okay.

Awareness

Often, when we are on the brink of exhaustion, we are the last to know.

Busyness and urgency can blind us to the emotional realities of our souls.

My senior pastor often challenges ministry leaders to ask one simple question when beginning each day with God: How’s my heart?

heart-awareness
And after reflecting on that question, to pray a statement:  

“God, today my heart is…”

And to follow that up with a request for filling. For example, 

“God, today my heart is anxious. Fill me with your peace.”  

This exercise is so simple, but I find it to be profoundly helpful because it forces me to pause and ask the question,

“Wait a second, how am I doing and how am I feeling?”  

Many of us plow into our workdays without reflecting on this question, and there are often consequences.

If I don’t reflect on the fact that I’m still angry about what happened yesterday, I’m likely to bring that energy into my interactions today.

If I don’t ask God to help me process the hurt I experienced yesterday, I’ll likely bring that woundedness into my conversations today.  

What I’m saying is that reflection and prayer are vital in a season of high-pressure leadership like we’re experiencing right now.

The emotional toll is heavy.

How are you feeling about it?

Do you know?

Are you inviting The Spirit of God into that space to shape you? 

Don’t Hike Alone!

In our church, we often talk about the story of Aron Ralston from the movie 127 Hours.

It’s a gritty story of personal strength and fortitude.

If you don’t know the story, while hiking, Aron’s arm was pinned beneath an 800-pound boulder and he had to cut his arm off to survive.  

Yes, the guy’s tough as nails.

However, an aspect of the story that we often discuss with our staff and congregation is that he was hiking alone, and he did not tell anyone where he was going.

That’s incredibly dangerous.

When you hike alone and no one knows where you are, if you get into trouble, no one has your back.  

Who are you hiking with during this season?

hike
Who has your back right now?

Who is going to come looking for you when you get into a tough spot?

Who has permission to ask you questions about your moral boundaries?

Who in your life has permission to tell you that it’s time to take a break before you crash?  

Don’t hike alone.

Community and accountability are critical to staying healthy and avoiding burnout, especially in this season.

I wonder if you need to call someone today and share how you’re really doing.

I’m grateful for the group of guys that I journey with; we all felt safe enough to admit we were exhausted and needed to rest.

I hope you have a community like that too.

If you don’t, it’s time to start investing in one.  

Wrap Up

As we continue to navigate this challenging season of leadership and ministry, take time to rest.

I encourage you to pursue habits of self-reflection and prayer, and I sincerely hope that you are engaging in meaningful community and accountability.

Let’s stay emotionally healthy so we can continue leading well.

Topics: Advice

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