Surviving Church Burn Out: Recognizing the Problem
Matt note: I have been a fan of Ed Cyzewski’s writing for quite some time. His blog In a Mirror Dimly has been on my daily reading list for quite some time. Last week he began writing on ministry burnout, something which I have both seen and experienced in my time serving churches. Ed has graciously allowed me to repost his series here. Enjoy.
Pastors aren’t the only ones who burn out from church and ministry. Volunteers who serve on worship teams, in nurseries, and on maintenance teams can grow weary. Attendees who show up every Sunday and still struggle just as much each week deal with mounting frustration.
There are many reasons, but many of us at one time or another will burn out from church for a season, if not longer. How can we recognize this and what should we do about it?
Let’s begin with a look at healthy ministry before looking at the signs of burn out…
I would define healthy ministry as using our gifts to serve others from the strength and joy that God gives to us. We aren’t able to fill others until God fills us first. While we can still grow weary and will require times of rest, healthy ministry should also fill and energize us.
Those feeling worn out by ministry should prayerfully consider the reasons for their situation. The reasons could range from a personal spiritual struggle, to serving in a place where they are not gifted and passionate, to a church that fails to support them with seasons of rest and encouragement. And the possibilities go on.
Even those in a healthy ministry can grow weary, and to be honest, it’s quite hard to detect unhealthy patterns in our ministry when they develop. When some burn out, the inclination sometimes is to feel guilty for not being strong enough to push through.
Guilt is a terrible reason to serve, and an even worse one to persevere when feeling weary or overwhelmed. Be honest with your emotions and cut yourself some slack. Keep in mind that Jesus regularly withdrew to quiet places to pray.
Recognizing the Signs of Burn Out
In my own experience, the marks of my burn out were ongoing battles with frustration, resentment, and a sense of hopeless weariness that my ministry would never be done, appreciated, or make a difference. Of course anger does not automatically equal burn out, but as we pour more of our time and our emotions into ministry that seems to be going nowhere and passes by unappreciated, anger is completely understandable.
When it comes to attending church in general, we can also sometimes grow weary with the sense that things are going nowhere and that the Sunday gathering isn’t helping us all that much.
In brief, if we can’t bear the thought of showing up for another Sunday to serve others or to go through the motions, we may be burning out.
Exploring the Reasons
There could be personal, interpersonal, or systemic reasons for burning out, and they often mix together. We don’t have cut and dry, compartmentalized burn out most times. Obviously, if we are personally far from God or struggling with anger issues, we need to confess them to God and seek healthy connections with others.
However, there are plenty of situations in which fellow Christians can discourage us, fail to encourage us, or grind us to bits in the church system that asks a great deal of volunteers. In addition, the act of just putting on a service does not necessarily guarantee the work of God among those who show up, leading to frustration and burn out at times.
Next Week’s Post: Taking healthy Steps
When facing burn out, it is perfectly natural to start cutting ourselves off from the sources of our difficulties, whether that’s a volunteer ministry or a Sunday church service. Perhaps a season of rest is the right option, but we’ll look at both the short and long-term impacts of the ways we deal with church burn out tomorrow.