By Alison Zeller
How do you define burnout?
The master of definitions, the Merriam-Webster dictionary, says burnout is “the cessation of operation usually of a jet or rocket engine.” No, churchworkers are not rockets, but that “cessation of operation” is completely relevant if you’re experiencing burnout.
Going beyond the basic dictionary, one researcher commented on the multifaceted definition of burnout, mentioning chronic work stress, mental weariness, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.
Pastor, CEO of KidzMatter, and leadership expert Ryan Frank frames burnout a bit differently: “When someone says that they are burning out, here’s what they are saying: ‘There is a need in my life that is not being met.’ This is the ‘why’ behind burnout.”
Lyndon Wall of Refresh Ministries says, “At the heart of burnout is deferred or denied hope. . . . [What] I have found again and again as I talk with people who are struggling with burnout is that they have lost hope in how they think God has called them to change the world.”
Which definition seems the closest to reality for you? Do you feel mentally weary, hopeless, or as if the littlest thing could send you over the edge? If you’re suffering from burnout, or something close to it, the following questions will help you put the pieces together and identify how it’s impacting your life, at church and beyond.
- Are your relationships suffering?
If you are married, your spouse may have already approached you to talk about burnout. It may have been a calm conversation or it may have been a war of words filled with defensive feelings. You are giving all you can to the church, but your spouse is feeling neglected. Your spouse worries about you and can tell that you aren’t acting like yourself anymore. You feel alone in ministry—your spouse just doesn’t understand what you go through. These same feelings might apply to your children and close friends, too.
- Are you taking care of yourself?
How are you sleeping? Some churchworkers with burnout will sleep a lot and never feel rested. Others can’t fall asleep. Those suffering from burnout often go days without eating a real meal or getting any sort of exercise. Hobbies, vacations, and, for some, even taking bathroom breaks falls by the wayside.
- Are you engaged in your ministry?
Does ministry still excite you? Do you look forward to your favorite parts of ministry or have you started to dread them? Burned-out churchworkers may feel less connected to their church and less motivation in their ministry role. Church workers in this position tend to become overly negative and cynical.
- Do you have boundaries?
For burned-out churchworkers, this question goes beyond saying “no” once in a while. Burnout means these people feel responsible for everything. They micromanage everything. Some individuals become so immersed in their ministry work that they cannot separate themselves from it. “If the Mother’s Day luncheon fails, I’m a failure.” “If this sermon is no good, I’m no good.” “If we lose church members, it’s all my fault.”
- Do you spend personal time with God?
Think back to the last time you went to God in prayer—for yourself, your needs, your confessions, your praises. When is the last time you read the Bible outside of sermon prep, lesson planning, or other church-related work? Burnout may make it feel like your Savior is distant or silent.
If you’d like more information on assessing burnout, check out these risk metrics from Barna or this burnout inventory from Pastoral Care. Both are written for pastors but can be useful for any type of churchworker.
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