Burnout among ministry leaders is a very real issue, and has been for a long time. But it doesn’t have to be. Leaders in all domains suffer from an ideal of western civilization that amassing more equals success. I used to think the same thing, until I burned out and had to remove myself from public life for a determined amount of time. There was no sin. There was not family or marital strife. I was simply exhausted.
Avoiding this subtle trap can be very practical however. And since there are books that cover this in much more detail, here are the areas that I attacked in my own life so that I don’t fall into that same trap again.
1) Set a reasonable pace. Often ministry leaders experience exhaustion because they are running at breakneck speeds. There are few things that must happen ‘now’ that cannot wait. We are conditioned that we have to carry an unreasonable load, otherwise we are seen as unreliable or the dreaded, ‘low capacity leader’. This is dumb. The human body can only do so much before is settles into a personal twilight zone where items get checked off, but nothing of substance gets done. Many have heard the saying, “Learn to manage your business. Don’t let your business manage you.” The same is for ministry leaders. Take the time to sit and think about your day before starting it, and set appropriate limitations on what you will and will not accomplish in that day. It is okay to leave work at the office. It will be there tomorrow.
2) Take time for yourself. Ministry leaders are duped into thinking they need to always be on call for others. Clients, congregation members, anyone who is in need – they all compete for a limited amount of time. And ministry leaders often feel they must sacrifice themselves to meet this need. This is a fallacy. Be available for emergencies, otherwise set regular appointments in your calendar for self-care – and then keep the appointment. It sounds simple because it is. If this is difficult for you, it may be that you have either over-promised, or have attached an unhealthy sense of identity to your ministry role. Setting regular time in your week for yourself will help you break this addiction.
3) Take control of your diet. The food that we eat affects our energy, motivation, and general bodily comfort. Begin to rule over what you eat and drink and you will find a renewed sense of awareness and energy. For instance, do not eat at your desk. Get up. Walk to the kitchen or break room and eat a sensible meal around others or while doing something other than work. Learn to make dietary choices that align with your health goals. No goals? See #2 and set some. Reduce your snacking diet from eating M&Ms and chips, to packing fruit, mixed nuts, meat and cheese, or anything else you like that isn’t a late afternoon pop tart.
4) Get plenty of sleep. Similar to setting a pace, setting and abiding by a regular sleeping pattern will make a huge difference in how you work through your day. If you know you need 8 hours of sleep, set a bed time that allows that to happen. The old maxim, “I can sleep when I die” is worthless for those who count on you while you are still alive. When we run our bodies down by not allowing ample sleep, we then eat and drink poorly, lower our mental acuity, and are sluggish when we need to be alert. Added caffeine in lieu of sleep is not a solution. Set a schedule. Your body will adapt to the schedule and will run more efficiently.
Making these simple and practical shifts in my daily life has made a huge difference and has increased my productive capacity. I am able to get a large amount of things done during my day, because I have set reasonable limits on each area of my life. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. You should too.