I just spent a month in Finland visiting family and friends. Yes, a month. While it was nice to have all that time off, it was much more valuable than just R&R. It was a time to be filled up to be poured out again in service without burning out. After months of work and ministry and often pulling long hours, I was approaching the end of my rope and needed to seriously unwind to keep going.
The bottom line is that ministry is hard. We deal with packed schedules, conflict, personal issues and personalities at a level of business leadership. Our responsibilities take a toll on us, and if we ignore taking care of ourselves, burnout is guaranteed. Just recently, a young friend of mine stepped down from his church position. He had gotten married recently, is in the middle of his Master’s in Divinity studies, and started his church job two years ago. That’s three top level stress factors at once! Even as we are working with and for God, we can’t ignore the realities of living in these earthly bodies. We have to take care of ourselves to make it. Here are some ideas for staying well, hope they help!
Pray and devote time to God and His Word daily
You’ll learn what He wants and doesn’t want you to do. You’ll find His peace, rest and direction for each day, one day at a time. You don’t need to know what happens in the future, He’s got you.
Spend time with family and friends
Life is about relationships, and so is God. Don’t just think that others need you and end up burned out, you need them too. Learn to enjoy your relationships and to receive from others. Relationships are a two-way street. Enjoy life by going to the movies, get out in the nature, go bowling, eat out and do stuff that will fill you up emotionally.
The older you get, the worse you will feel without it. Stretch to avoid pain and do aerobic exercises like running to keep your heart and body going. As an example, airline pilots need to pass a peak oxygen uptake test to keep flying. I know of a pilot that lost his license after years of smoking and not exercising. Since our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1. Cor. 6:19), we are called to take good care of it.
Most Americans eat too much. Learn what your body needs instead of what your mouth wants, and you will be able to be healthier. Here too, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Let’s show Him reverence and keep working at this. I used to run on caffeine, but have recently cut it down to one a day, at most two on occasion. What’s just one step you can take to eat a bit healthier? It doesn’t matter where you are at now, but that you pursue health so God can use you better. There’s a lot of great and healthy stuff out there, and our bodies tell us what fits. Find the resources you need for a balanced life, they’re out there.
Keep healthy boundaries
Learn how to deal with conflict face on instead of avoiding it and letting it fester. There’s a profound lie that some of us believe, which says we need to say “yes” to every request and work incalculable hours per week to prove our worth. If you struggle with this, you need to check your emotional health and deal with issues that might make you react this way. Learn to listen to God to know when to say “no” and when to say “yes.” Read “Choosing to Love” for more on boundaries by clicking here.
Whatever you do, you must step away for just a moment to collect yourself to keep going without burning out. I love Rick Warren’s quote after he got burnout when Saddleback Church was a year old and he was sidelined for a year: “Divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually.” The daily diversion is a 10 minute daily break to do something fun you enjoy, the weekly withdrawal is the Sabbath, and abandoning annually is your vacation. Make them all count.
These things don’t just happen, you need to calendar them and guard your time jealously. Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent get the better of you and steal your lifelines.
Most of all, be sure to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30) and follow Him by following your God-given passion. Avoiding burnout will allow us to continue to serve others, and it will make God’s work through you possible for years to come!