Burn out is all to common in today’s church. Maybe it has been rampant for years, but I am only familiar with it going back as far as 1995 or 96 when I started getting involved. Those in ministry know that Christmas and Easter are busy and there are no complaints from me there. The problem comes in when every week is like Christmas, and there is no rhythm to the work load. This leads to burn out. I have looked burnout in the eyes twice in my ministry time. I have been so close to burn out, I offered it a Tic-Tac.
I love to work hard, and it doesn’t help that in the church I am paid to do the thing I would work just as hard for if I was a volunteer. So, in a way I am predisposed to burning out if left to my own. Burnout leaves only two options in my mind – Option 1: Leave that Ministry or Option 2: Realize what it is, seek help from those you trust, and fix it. I have tried both options, Option 2 is by far the better. Option 1 leaves you bitter, angry, and hurts relationships. God has not called us into ministry so that we can be used up and tossed aside. He wants us to be healthy and productive, but how do we get there?
This past week I had hit a wall, our team was down a guy and before us was not just any mountain of work, this was back to back mountains. There wasn’t a nicely paved path either to ascend to the top. Due to situations out of our control our buffer window on these two projects had collapsed and both had to be done simultaneously. Now, a week of hard work isn’t bad, but this work was on-top of my already full plate. I had finally hit a wall and this left me zombie-esk wandering around the building in a sleep deprived state. With weeks of 10 hour days being a “DOer” I’d come home, open the laptop and put on my “Leader” hat for another 5 hours. I was seeing my family more via FaceTime than in real life.
When you hit a wall, it hurts…
My ministry was left bloody and hurting, wondering what was going on. Suddenly I was not doing my job for the glory of the Lord. Resentment had taken hold, anger was brewing and frankly I was about to Auto-Tune the sermon and walk away. I was no longer a team player, I was a team complainer. This is a very dangerous place to be in ministry. If left untreated it leads to wounds that are very hard to heal. Knowing this, I reached out to the leadership team above me. Surely, they do not want me to fail, surely they don’t want my job to cause a disruption in my marriage. But why were they allowing this to happen? Can’t they see what’s happening to me? It turns out that as tech people, we’re very good at making what we do seem simple. We blend into the background – we’re the closest thing you’ll see to an actual ninja. We make it look easy, and we push until the job is done. I have yet to meet a tech guy that keeps banker’s hours. Our schedule is based on projects not work hours.
I cried out…
God is very creative in His timing. This past weekend while I’m hitting the wall, my senior pastor preaches a sermon on “Play” a sermon about having margin in your life. (I highly encourage you to watch it here.) This sermon, empowered me to go to my leaders, and in tears tell them I need their help, or I was going to suffer from total and utter burnout. They heard me and without going into details of all the fixes, I am writing this post from time off that was granted me, and with much higher morale. I found out through just talking to those in leadership over me, how valued I was to the team, how much my sacrifice meant to them and that I was not just a mule hired to get the job done.
Preventing burn out is a team sport. I really takes you understanding yourself, and your leadership understanding your limits. I love what I do, so I tend to become a work-o-holic, pushing through to complete my tasks. I don’t always see what I do as work so those lines get blurred as well. Since as I like to say, I “*Make miracles happen,” (with complete humility, of course) my leadership has a lot of trust in me. That trust usually means more and more responsibility. Then with the added responsibility I don’t want to let them down even more and a vicious cycle ensues.
- Communicate your needs, no one knows you better than yourself, if you’re not telling those in authority over you that you’re in danger of overload there isn’t much they can do. They may just think everything is fine.
- Surround yourself with people who know you. My wife is my biggest cheerleader, she’s also my biggest reality check. I also take part in a monthly Tech Director Lunch, if you don’t have one of these group in your area, start one. This is such a pick me up each month.
- Establish boundaries and stick to them. I have wanted to full out smack people who tell me, I just need to learn to say “NO.” My response was always, No isn’t an option, I need this job, if I can’t do it, they’ll find someone who can. This is not a healthy attitude, if your church or business is asking you to sacrifice family on the altar of ministry or work, it’s time to leave. I have started forcing myself to turn off my work email on my iPhone when I come home. That way I can still play Angry Birds, but not be tempted to check it. Even if I get a personal email, my work email doesn’t show up in my inbox. I also have a contact policy for when I’m on vacation, Only call me if people’s salvation is at risk. Meaning, if it is going to keep someone from engaging with the Lord that weekend then call me, and I’ll help. If one of the Line-Array falls from the ceiling, you still have the other 2 arrays, people will hear the message. (Realistically, if the Line-Array fell, I would want to hear about that.)
- Go home at the end of the day. If you’re at all like me, you have a To-Do list longer than Santa’s naughty and nice list. You’re not going to complete it all in an 8 hour day (sorry to be a downer.) Do what you need to do that day and get home. I try to tell myself to work smarter, and as a very ADD person, this can be a challenge. I love starting projects, I need to stay busy, but my family needs me more.
I know these may seem like you have heard them all before and that’s true, you have. I haven’t found the secret formula for weekday success. I am just trying to apply what other people much smarter than I am have implemented. I don’t have this all figured out, but am trying daily to keep a healthy work/life balance and not burn out in ministry. I’m no good to the Kingdom if I become bitter and burned out towards it.
What are some ideas you have or use to avoid burnout?
* Disclaimer: I am not calming to be able to pull off actual miracles