Grandma used to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and she was right. If you can preclude a catastrophe from ever happening in the first place, why not? The best medicine is to need no medicine at all.
In 1998, Focus on the Family reported—based on surveys they conducted with ministers across the U.S.—the alarming statistic that 80 percent of pastors, and 84 percent of their spouses, were dealing with discouragement or outright depression. So how does one avoid numbering among those statistics? With figures that high, burnout almost seems inevitable.
It may seem as though the odds are stacked against you, but ministry burnout is indeed preventable. But you need to be painstakingly honest with yourself and your situation, and you have to switch your mentality from a reactive mode to a proactive one. The cure is part change of mind, and part change of behavior.
“Prevention begins with a well-thought-out personal plan to thrive and flourish,” says Chuck Shoemake, who facilitates Foursquare’s Center for Spiritual Renewal (CSR) East. “A second thing is to be very aware of one’s own personal limitations, and learn how to say no. Another key thing is to be vigilant about knowing what fills you and what drains you, including circumstances, activities and people.”
Rod Koop, national facilitator of Church Health and Multiplication, concurs, outlining three basic steps one can take to avoid burnout: “Say yes to the right things,” he asserts. “Say no, often, again to the right things. And know what these right things are.”
Rod shares a helpful idea he personally uses to prevent burnout. Years ago, he and his wife, Teresa, developed a document that delineates how they will intentionally avoid burning out. He has given it to members of his staff and ministry team as a sample of one practical step they can take in their own lives to stay healthy.
“We call it ‘Rod and Teresa’s Sustainable Life Together,’ ” he notes. “Teresa and I revisit this document several times each year, over a cup of coffee. Making adjustments early helps us to avoid lots of grief later on.”
Other practical steps you can take, adds Robby Booth, who facilitates CSR West, involve taking time off regularly, including one day per week, and a couple of vacations each year; and having a life outside of one’s ministry assignment.
“Be with your family. Have friends. Go out and play,” Robby advises. “Be cautious of defining your life and wellbeing by how things are going at church. Grow as an individual. Read a book. Have a devotion that isn’t related to sermon preparation.”
Robby also maintains that it is crucial for one to deal with his or her hurts. If you ignore them, he warns, “Your soul will retreat and try to take time off.”
“That can be through your soul saying, ‘I am done,’ when these principles have been violated too many times,” Robby explains. “Many pastors suffering from burnout are carrying hurts, grief, anger and conflict. They have found themselves defensive and isolated. Dealing with hurts and finding the Lord as their healer takes them from burnout to the point of release in vision and joyful relationship with the Lord again.”
Although developing a new life-pattern to prevent burnout may take time, there are some things you can do immediately to help keep it at bay, experts say. For example, one big step you can take, especially in today’s world, is to unplug. That’s right—turn off your cell phone and computer for at least some amount of time each day, so that you are not constantly interrupted.
Amazingly, mankind survived for millennia without making cell calls and texting. For some, being constantly plugged in is almost an addiction. Do you really need to be available 24/7? Guess what—the world will keep on spinning quite well without you for at least one unplugged hour per day. It’ll survive. But if you don’t learn to take breaks, you won’t.
A healthy diet, exercise and a proper amount of rest are also steps you can take almost immediately. We’ve heard these tips so often that we tend to ignore them. But we really can’t afford to. You don’t need to become a vegetarian, work out at the gym for two hours a day and sleep 10 hours a night. But certainly each one of us could eat an apple, go for a walk with our spouse or go to bed a little earlier instead of answering e-mails?
Whatever you do, don’t run the risk of ignoring the signs of burnout, and even better, do whatever you can to prevent it. As Chuck Shoemake notes, the stakes are high.
“It is imperative that we deal with burnout because of the implications and overarching affect on the individual as well as his or her ministry, congregation, family and personal relationships,” Chuck conveys. “The effects exist not only in the present, but also extend to and influence the future.”
Robby Booth agrees. When a pastor experiences burnout, he says, he or she is on dangerous ground.
“Certainly burnout is an intersection of re-evaluation,” Robby adds, “but commonly this is also a place where most pastors who ‘get in trouble’ do so. Commonly, the pain of burnout brings with it a voice within them [that compels them to] desire to run to get away from the pain. Often this voice can even, in error, be confused with the voice of the Lord. It is here that we can lose precious pastors.”
And that is exactly why The Foursquare Church takes leadership health and enrichment so seriously. Foursquare cares about the movement’s pastors, and losing even one is one too many.
“My goal,” says Robby, perfectly reflecting the heart of Foursquare, “is to walk alongside them and help them experience healing, unload ungodly yokes, experience refreshing, and find new strength and joy in future ministry.”
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles
You are reading Part 3 of a three-part series.