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Issue #7: The Single Greatest Cause of Burnout Isn't What You Think It Is

Feeding & Leading the Sheep

Ministry leaders often experience burnout.

What are the signs of burnout?

  • lack of energy to address needed issues
  • difficulty focusing on necessary tasks
  • dreading going to the church or mtgs
  • short-tempered
  • trouble sleeping at night and/or waking up in the mornings
  • loss of desire to meet with or be around people
  • thoughts of quitting or leaving

I could list more.

Here’s the question: what causes burnout?

That’s the subject of this week’s newsletter.

Not What You Think

The leading factor for ministry burnout is not what you probably think it is.

You’re probably assuming busyness is what causes burnout. It’s not.

Many people are able to handle heavy loads of work. Some prefer it. Pastors have many responsibilities and tasks that we must execute week-in-and-week-out.

If heavy responsibility and full calendars were the root of burnout, then every ministry leader would burnout.

But they don’t.

Two pastors with identical loads could have two completely different experiences.

So why does one burnout and the other one doesn’t?

The Straw That Breaks The Camel's Back

In my own experience, and with years of coaching other pastors, the single greatest cause of burnout is heightened emotional strain.

What do I mean?

  • conflict
  • continued setbacks in a project
  • resistance from key leaders on initiatives
  • complaints about things in church

These things contain an emotional cost to the leader.

This is why when things are going well, it feels like you are pushing a rock on flat ground, or even downhill. You’ve got momentum helping make the work enjoyable and endurable, despite the load.

But when emotional strain enters the picture, it feels like you’re pushing the rock uphill. That’s why the load suddenly feels reallyheavy. 

Burnout is on the doorstep.

A Personal Story

During a period of rapid growth in our church (from about 550 people to around 850 in a four month period) I almost burned out.

But it wasn’t because of the additional work or strain from the growth.

It was the conflict that arose. A group of 6-7 guys created strife by accusing the church compromising our theological convictions in order to grow. It was a bogus charge.

We met with them as an elder team for several hours to hear their unfounded complaints. Several of the guys had personal gripes because they felt passed over for leadership opportunities. Half the guys left the church. The other half stayed.

Add to it that my son had suffered a stroke a year earlier, altering everything about our lives (including elevating our emotional stress) forever.

That season almost ended me. I didn’t celebrate the rapid growth of our church because of the emotional strain everything else had taken on me.

Point of Wisdom

Most burnout is caused by the toll of emotional strain, coupled with your workload.

Be self-aware of the amount of emotional strain you’re navigating.

You can only push the boulder up the hill for so long before you reach exhaustion.

A few pointers:

  • Share the ministry load (and emotional load) with other leaders
  • Be transparent with a close group of friends who can pray for you (don’t bottle stuff up)
  • Choose which conflicts you get involved with (yes, that’s right, you don’t have to resolve every conflict or field every complaint)
  • Learn to accurately gauge your emotional energy(know how you’re really doing and don’t wait until you’re on the verge of quitting)

Thanks for Reading!

I hope you enjoy reading the newsletters. 

Whenever you’re ready to go further, there are multiple ways you could work with me to grow in your leadership.

1. Pastor Cohorts. New cohort beginning in February of 2023. We cap the size of the group. Get signed up here ASAP. We’ve also had a large demand for a Student Ministry Leader cohort. You can now sign-up here (cap of 20 participants).

2. 1-on-1 Coaching. If you desire a more personal option, this approach is tailored to your church context and areas of growth. Starts in February. I’m only taking 5 in 2023.

3. Church Consulting. Those looking for help with a revitalization effort, setting new vision for the church, and developing systems, this option can be something to explore.

If you’re interested in any of these, please let me at and we can talk further.