Question: Preventing Burnout?



Hey Josh!

I believe everyone has their own natural rhythm, and they need to discover it.

On one hand, I believe in working hard, even pushing yourself, to get the work done.  Ministry is hard work and it requires our full engagement.  Fierce warriors like Paul, Peter, Ruth, Rahab, David, and Deborah got the work done.

But this can also become idolatrous, harmful, and create a messiah complex.  So we need to know when we are approaching fatigue and resentment.  We need to rest before we get there. Any ministry worker has to guard their time wisely and know when to say NO.  We can’t save everyone, help everyone, and do all things all at once.  I can only do a few things with effectiveness.  It hurts me to say no, but I would rather be abrupt than dead. 

Honestly, I don’t answer every question in my inbox. Maybe half. It would be impossible to answer everyone. I really wish I could — but I am one dude (I know how this makes me sound, and trust me, I know I’m a nobody begging for wisdom from the Only One who has it).

In a church setting, this means building up leaders who build up leaders.  It means making disciples.  If you’re a pastor or elder or teacher, then yes, try to make time for everyone — but prioritize that, and don’t feel bad for referring them to someone else who can do a better job.  I can’t counsel a WWII veteran or a seriously drug-addicted prostitute, and I would be foolish to try.


Sometimes “burnout” is also wrongly diagnosed.  Usually we think it means when we are at the end of our strength, but that isn’t always true. Some people get burned out because they are doing things that they are not wired for.  A preacher won’t always be good at administration and a teacher won’t always be good at preaching. Often it’s our pride that stops us from using our gifts the way we were meant to.

Some of us get burned out because we’re not allowing a team effort and think “I can do it all myself,” or we are depending too much on the team and get disappointed.  So it’s important to locate the source of burnout as well.

I would also make a time for “balcony” reflection.  That means set aside time to think of what you’re actually doing and why.  Think of the direction, the next five or ten years.  I don’t mean to stress yourself out about it, but just to be certain that the momentum you’re building now can be sustainable for the long term.  Anyone can start something: you need to know how to keep that going in the strength of God and your own capability.

Love you brother, praying for you.

— J.S.

11 thoughts on “Question: Preventing Burnout?

  1. Some good wisdom here J.S. The idea of balcony reflection is especially important. Not that we can ever truly know the precise outcomes but when we have an overarching direction it makes the decisons about what to say “no” to a tad easier.


    1. I got the idea of Balcony Time from Sustainable Youth Ministry, which is a great book for even senior pastors or laymen.
      Ever since, I’ve had balcony time at least once a week.


  2. Love the ideas of “balcony reflection”. Sometimes we get so caught up in doing what we always do that we forget why we are even doing it. Setting that time aside to reflect on where we’ve been and where we want to go is so important because it helps us remember our purpose and what we’re striving for with everything that we do. Great post!


  3. We often forget we are saved by grace, not works… So we can’t make God happier when we overdo, nor are we the only ones God uses to bring hope to the world! Of course, being a true disciple brings its own risks in certain religious settings where form preempts radical spirituality. I ask, “What will Jesus say to ME at my judgement”, and none of it will be about what others did, expected or praised me for. Pleasing God rather than human, a Biblical principle that seems hard to live out. Your post is right on.


  4. It was a fantastic day when I realized that I was a “visionary,” but not the person to actually run a ministry. I’ve started and then passed off several. My gift is to see what needs to happen. Others have admin gifts and those necessary to carry out the tasks. For example, an online message board by which our church family could communicate. I got it up and running, then found someone who was tech savvy. They’re in charge of it and doing a fantastic job.

    I’ve learned that doing things that are not my gifting is a two-fold problem: 1) I’m not a good fit, and things don’t go very well for the ministry or for me (takes up time I need elsewhere); 2) I rob someone else of the opportunity to function in their gifts.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Awesome! I’ve realized over time that I’m terrible at admin and organizing, and while I’ll do it when necessary, it’s like pulling teeth with a spatula. I didn’t consider your point #2, which is a good one.


    2. Hey Tamara….thanks for your comment, it’s encouraging for me because I’m wired pretty much the same way…..i.e., to see what needs to be done, set it up, then pass it on to be continued by someone else……it’s important that we each know and accept the part God wants us to play in ministry and not try to be an eye if you are a foot…….:).


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