Burnout and Church Responsibility

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Burnout and Church Responsibility

In the past one hundred years, the church has placed upon its leaders more responsibility than ever before.  This type of responsibility can create an environment for personal burnout.

In a recent conference, I attended I took a class on time management only to be thoroughly discouraged by the speaker that Burnout and Church Workday.  The leader of the conference told us with great pride how he worked sixty-plus hours a week.  His goal was to instruct those of us in attendance how to do the same.  I must confess that this was a frustrating hour for me.  I had no desire to put more on my plate than I already had, nor was I aiming to become proud of an addiction to work.

Burnout and Church Overload

The result of too much work on too few people is one of the most destructive stressors today.  Several years ago while pastoring in North Carolina, I witnessed an epidemic of ministry burnout the like of which I had never seen before and never hope to see again.  The congregations and ministries involved had several common characteristics:

  1. All the churches placed a significant amount of responsibility upon the pastor in being the primary caregiver of the congregation.  This practice seemed to work well as long as the congregations had an attendance below 50 people.  When pastors were asked to carry the full responsibility of caregiving it produced a negative atmosphere.
  2. The role of deacons in these churches was that of “administrators,” not “ministers.”  With these deacons the needs of the budget, construction, taking care of the property, etc. took priority over the needs of the people.
  3. All the pastors were sincere, hard working men who found themselves caught in a web of church responsibilities, family loyalties, and not enough time in a day.  This personal behavior became an area of personal conflict for some of the pastors.
  4. As the churches grew, the mechanism to “take care” of those coming into the churches did not change.  It was similar to the situation Jethro found Moses practicing in Exodus 18.  It was a case of one man trying to take care of the many.
  5. Most of these churches were rural churches that were feeling the sprawl of a growing metro area.  The country farms were becoming suburbs.  The adjustments for the congregations were not easy in most cases.  This behavior led to more stress for all involved.
  6. The pastors in these churches were being called upon to be more than their training had prepared them to be.  In the past century, the local pastor has become a counselor, advisor, politician, preacher, evangelist, teacher, caregiver, technical adviser, educational director, C.E.O and much more depending on the expectations of the congregation.

This type of behavior was creating an environment of burnout development within several congregations and several pastors.

Burnout and Church Stresses On the Leadership

Burnout is a mental break-down that has destroyed great people of God.  It works against the design and plan of God for His people.  Consider these statements when dealing with the temptation to exhaust your mental, spiritual, and physical resources:

  • Stress means stretching yourself beyond your limits, overextending yourselves without an adequate time for recovery.
  • When you worry about or frantically anticipate future events that can’t be avoided and then are preoccupied with it even after it is over, that’s stress. If you have something in your life that’s dominating your thinking that you can’t let go of, that’s an indication this is stressful.
  • In life, valleys of recovery should follow mountains of high-stress levels. When you go from one mountain to another with no time to relax, and you don’t deal with your stress that can lead to burnout.
  • Burnout means to deplete oneself…… to wear oneself out by striving to reach unrealistic expectations imposed by self, values of the society or your church.*

Today’s pastors certainly have more responsibility than ever before.  This type of behavior can certainly lead to burnout and exhaustion.  This is not a new problem.  In fact, burnout has been addressed as far back as the first-century church.  In Romans 12:11-17 (The Message) the Apostle Paul writes these words in dealing with burnout and exhaustion.

11 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, 12 cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. 13 Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. 14 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. 15 Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. 16 Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. 17 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.

The causes and stresses of burnout and church responsibility can be avoided.  How are you doing?  What is your congregation expecting from you as a leader?  Are you kind to yourself?  Do you have a real day of rest?

 Dale Roach

* National Preschool and Children’s Convention, Oct. 16-19 at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Norm Wright


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