In a 2002 survey conducted by The Barna Group, researchers discovered that 25 percent of pastors didn’t know where to turn for help when facing personal issues or family problems. They also found that 40 percent had no opportunities for personal renewal away from their ministry settings, such as being able to take a vacation or continuing their education. No wonder so many clergy—who first entered vocational ministry with confidence and zeal—end up in a quagmire of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual exhaustion. You can’t burn the candle at both ends forever.
But how do you know whether you’re sliding down the cliff into the abyss of burnout, or simply tired and just need a day off? Who is most at risk? And if, after taking an honest look in the mirror, you realize you need help, what steps can you take to get your life back before it spins completely out of control?
You’re a high-risk candidate for career burnout, warns the Mayo Clinic, if you are in a helping profession; identify so strongly with your work that you lack a reasonable balance between your work life and personal life; and try to be everything to everyone. Hmm ... sounds a like lot pastoring.
It can be easy to misread the signs of burnout or even miss them completely, because some of the symptoms may actually be the result of unrelated medical conditions, while others may seem insignificant at the time to the person suffering. This is why the Mayo Clinic recommends consulting with your physician or mental health provider if you are experiencing any of the following issues:
- You’ve become critical or cynical at work.
- You drag yourself to the office and have difficulty getting work started.
- You have become irritable or impatient with those around you.
- You lack energy.
- You don’t feel satisfied by your achievements.
- You feel disillusioned about your career.
- You medicate your feelings with food, drugs or alcohol.
- Your sleep habits and/or appetite have changed.
- You have unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical issues.
But once you realize you can’t live this way anymore and that something needs to be done, where do you start? Chuck Shoemake, who facilitates Foursquare’s Center for Spiritual Renewal (CSR) East, says the first step is to acknowledge that you need help.
“Second,” Chuck tells Foursquare.org, “it would be best if he or she could emotionally and geographically get away from the situation. Third, [it is important] to talk over the situation with an emotionally neutral person.”
Robby Booth, who facilitates CSR West, concurs.
“Talk to someone who has leadership experience and lives a healthy life, who is also trustworthy to have a heart-to-heart conversation with,” Robby affirms. “Make sure he or she is a good listener, and that you can talk openly and thoroughly about the issues that have weighted you down to the point of near collapse.”
Both CSR East and West give pastors a place to turn, whether the need is someone to talk to for quality advice, or a place to go for a sabbatical. Chuck notes that ministers who need help can talk with an emotionally neutral person who has experience in ministry and counseling. The ministry, he explains, offers counsel for preventive self-awareness and self-care; helps individuals and couples design a personalized plan to flourish in life; and, in the event of burnout, they lead people to places and personnel that will be helpful to their individual needs.
Likewise, Robby meets with pastors in both a “mentoring” context as well as for pastoral counseling, both done in the safety of a confidential setting.
“This can be done via the phone, Skype or in person,” Robby explains. “We help the pastor define the areas in his life that are weighting him down to the point of burnout, as well as walk with him through steps that bring life again.”
Perhaps the most crucial step is the first step. As Rod Koop, national facilitator of Church Health and Multiplication, suggests, if a pastor is consciously aware that burnout is taking place, it is likely already far advanced. Very often leaders, he says, are slow to recognize the symptoms until it’s too late.
“Intervention is a good word to describe the posture that must take place,” Rod asserts. “Get help. Your direct overseers may or may not be the best ones to provide it, but please, don’t walk this process alone.”
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles
You are reading Part 2 of a three-part series.