What happens when you hit that wall—when you cannot seem to find the physical, emotional, or spiritual wherewithal to lead one more thing? What happens when “burnout” is no longer just a phrase you hear about, but a very personal, immediate reality?
Solidarity is a powerful human experience, so I’ll simply begin by saying, “I’ve been there.” I have been involved in ministry leadership in one form or another for over 14 years, and along that journey I have experienced various levels of exhaustion and burnout. I encountered a particularly hard time a couple of years ago—a time when I nearly left ministry entirely. I implore you, please do not wait until you find yourself on your living room floor, crying uncontrollably—physically, spiritually, and psychologically exhausted—before you address the situation. Be proactive.
Burnout is a very real problem for ministry leaders. It is impossible for us to be invested relationally, emotionally, and spiritually in the lives of others without “opening a vein” and giving of ourselves to those we’re closest to and those we’re called to lead. Spend just a few seconds leading a small group or a team of leaders, and you realize how quickly you wind up on the front lines of each other’s lives. The best groups always require some amount of spiritual and emotional investment from all involved, and this starts with the leader.
Of course, one of the easiest ways to avoid burnout is to just operate on “cruise control”—doing the bare minimum your position requires. But God has not called us to be mediocre, and he holds those in positions of leadership to a higher standard. And let’s be honest—you care too much to do just the minimum—if you didn’t, burnout would be the least of your concerns. So I offer three ideas about how to avoid burnout in your leadership—lessons I have learned from my own experiences and mistakes.
1. Seek help—no one gets out of burnout alone.
Small-group ministry leaders like to talk about the value of community. We love to quote Scripture verses about the “body of Christ” and how we were never meant to go through life alone. Yet in our biggest struggles—our lowest points in life—we are often the first to withdraw and try to fight through it on our own. This does not work. Every group I have ever led, and every leadership position I have held, further proves this reality.
Whenever I go to the gym, the best workouts I’ve had were done with someone else—someone to encourage me, challenge me, and push me to be my best. I needed someone to spot me when the weight seemed too much. Leadership works a lot like this.
Who can you depend on? Find someone—a spouse, a trusted friend, a mentor or coach, a pastor, or even a coworker—who can provide the encouragement you need when the tasks of leadership and ministry become too heavy a weight to bear. You do not have to go through ministry leadership alone—ever. I have found this kind of support through my wife and a cohort of other ministry leaders throughout the country who I can depend on when life and ministry become hardest. Seek out supportive relationships with people who walk the same road and can relate to the challenges you face as a ministry leader. (You can also find great support through different social networks for ministry leaders like The Small Group Network’s Facebook group).