issue13 pastoralburnout bsutton 1

Issue #13: How to Protect Yourself from Pastoral Burn Out

Faithful & Fruitful Pastoring

I was ready to quit ministry for good. There was a time when I didn’t believe that was possible, but there I was searching for secular jobs. I was tired and burnt out.

Pastors leave the ministry every day. Many never return. Countless more do not make it past the five-year mark. We know why. Ministry is hard. We begin serving the church for good reasons, but over time, we get jaded and disillusioned. People hurt us. Expectations go unfilled. It’s death by a thousand cuts.

But we know there are many stories of pastors who have gone the distance. They didn’t quit. They stayed the course and had long, fruitful ministries. How can we give ourselves a shot at going the distance?

Here are five ways that have helped me last 13 years.

  1. Stay in the Word. I know. I know. You expected this one. But I don’t know many pastors who have a thriving devotional life and quit the ministry. David said, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Psalm 19:7). Let His word revive your soul, brother pastor. His word is good food to live on as you serve Him for years to come.
  2. Stay in prayer. John Piper says, “Prayer is a war-time walkie-talkie, not a domestic intercom for ringing up the butler to change the thermostat. It is a war-time walkie-talkie to call in firepower because the enemy is greater than we are. If you try to turn this into a domestic intercom to bring another pillow, it malfunctions, and you wonder why. Its not made to be an intercom. It’s made to be a war-time walkie-talkie.” Brother pastor, we are at war, and the enemy hates us. Do you remember that scene in Forest Gump when Forest first meets LT. Dan and tries to salute him? Lt. Dan instantly stopped him. He didn’t want to be identified publicly as a leader. Why? Because the enemy loves to kill leaders. The devil knows you’re a leader, and He wants to kill you. Prayer is your greatest weapon against the enemy.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get counseling. It’s hard for us to find people in the church to talk to. That’s why you should have someone outside the church to turn to for counsel. This might be a Christian friend or fellow pastor. But I would not be afraid to get professional counseling. Our church pays for our staff to get counseling. I have taken advantage of this benefit. We carry a lot of burdens. It’s healthy to work through them with someone who cares.
  4. Don’t work more than 5 days a week. You need to build into your regular rhythm time for rest. I take two solid days off every week (unless a crisis hits) to rest and spend time with family. This has been a game changer for me. I used to work six days a week and it was a major contributor to my near departure from the ministry.
  5. Exercise regularly. You already know you need to do this. But I want you to know how advantageous it is for long term ministry endurance. Working out relieves stress, makes you feel better and gives you more energy.

More could be added to this list, but I hope this gets you thinking about the future.

Our lives are in the hands of the Lord, but so far as it depends on us, we should strive to have long, fruitful ministries. To do that, we must act now to ensure we go the distance and don’t burn out.

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