If you serve in ministry, you are at risk for burnout. But, if your work is in ministry, your risk is even higher.
Learn what burnout is, how to handle it, and how to apply faith in self-care to prevent ministry burnout.
If you are one of the many people who serve or work in ministry, you have a special heart for the lost and hurting. You likely have a nurturing spirit and personality.
Whether you are ministering to people through a church or preschool entity, a homeless shelter, a crisis pregnancy center, a family violence center, an online ministry, or through the hundreds of other types of ministries, you experience stress when you work with the clients in the ministry.
Frequently, time is of the essence. It never seems to be the ‘right time’ for a break, let alone lunch. There may be a shortage of people or supplies. Funding may be a daily topic of conversation. Requests come at all hours of the day. And, it feels wrong to say no.
This environment is not set up for good self-care.
So, you have to set yourself up for self-care success. And you can, when you apply faith in self-care to prevent ministry burnout.
There are several definitions for burnout. In general, burnout comes after experiencing chronic stress.
- Job burnout – is a particular type of chronic job stress. It’s a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.
- Caregiver burnout – is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from your positive and caring approach to a negative and unconcerned attitude.
- Ministry burnout – is the point at which a pastor, church leader, or ministry worker gives up, and is unable or is unwilling to continue serving or working in the ministry.
People who work, rather than serve in ministry carry the burden of risk for all of those burnout opportunities.
This article will discuss the causes, who is at risk, the physical, emotional and spiritual consequences, ways to handle burnout at work, best self-care recommendations, and how to apply faith to self-care to prevent ministry burnout.
One way to overcome or prevent burnout is to recognize what the causes are, so let’s look at those first.
The Causes of Burnout
To begin, you need to know the major causes of burnout. Those related to chronic job stress are listed below — the more that apply to you, the higher your risk of experiencing ministry burnout.
- Lack of control – This is primarily related to your control of the decision making related to your job. For example, making your schedule, assignment, or workload. Also, do you experience a lack of resources to do your job which prevents you from doing your job well?
- Unclear job expectations – Do you know your job authority or role? A lack of limits or boundaries can make you uncomfortable in your position and interfere with performance or cause stress.
- Dysfunctional work environment – Working in an area with an office bully, micro-managers or undermining co-workers can add to burnout.
- Mismatch values – Value differences may be related to the day-to-day business or in the handling of grievances.
- Poor job fit – It may be that you love working for the organization, but your job title/task doesn’t suit your gifts, and you aren’t able to do what you do best.
- Extremes of activity – Stress is experienced when a job is monotonous or chaotic; you need constant energy to stay focused and that leads to fatigue or job burnout.
- Lack of social support – If you feel isolated in your work environment or your personal life you may feel more stressed.
- Work-life imbalance – If your work takes up so much of your mental time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you are at risk for burnout.
Next, we can look at who is at the highest risk of job burnout.
Who’s at Risk and Should Apply Faith in Self-care to Prevent Ministry Burnout
Unnaturally perhaps, I’m going to say, anyone because you don’t have to fall correctly into these categories. But there are a few top personalities or lifestyles that may be more at risk.
High achievers – People who always say “I can do it” or “I love people and will do whatever it takes” are especially at risk.
Your work IS your identity – Do you lack a reasonable balance between your work life and your personal life? Rather than asking yourself, ask your friends and family this question about you.
Overcommitted – Do you try to be everything to everyone? Do you have trouble saying ‘no’?
You work in a helping profession – Working in the health care, counseling or teaching, ministry professions, or a combination, place you at risk for burnout.
You feel you have little or no control – You do not think you have control over some aspect of your work. (This may not be true, but if you feel this way, it will need to be addressed).
Maybe you do not really fit into those categories? You can ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients? Or family and friends outside of work?
- Have you become more cynical or overly critical at work?
- Do you have to drag yourself to work and then have trouble getting started on regular tasks once you get there?
- Do you lack the energy to perform at your previous level of productivity?
- Have you stopped receiving satisfaction from your achievements?
- Are you using shopping, food, drugs, alcohol, or something else to feel better or to just not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed recently?
- Are you experiencing unexplained back pain, headaches, or other physical symptoms?
- Have you started to feel disillusioned about your job?
How many of these are yes answers? Do not ignore them! Why? Let’s go through the consequences of ongoing stress and burnout next.
Consequences: Why You Should Apply Faith in Self-care to Prevent Ministry Burnout?
Ignored or unaddressed job burnout can have significant consequences and risks to health & wellness, and these include:
- Increased vulnerability to illnesses and diseases. Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.
- Insidious (unknown cause) physical symptoms. These may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal discomfort, dizziness, fainting, and headaches (all of which should be medically assessed).
- Loss of appetite. Initially, you may not feel as hungry or may start skipping a few meals. But later, you may completely lose your appetite and begin to lose weight in significant amounts.
- All of the following diseases have been linked to burnout: heart disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, especially in women, stroke, and obesity.
- Fatigue (or more appropriately, chronic fatigue). At first, you may notice a lack of energy and that you feel tired most days. But late, you will likely feel exhausted, drained, and depleted – both physically and emotionally, and you may feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead.
- Insomnia – You may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep just one or two nights a week initially. But later, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal; as exhausted as you are, you can’t sleep.
- Feelings of overwhelming stress.
- Impaired concentration and attention, and forgetfulness. Initially, there is a lack of focus and mild forgetfulness. But then later, the issues may get to the point where you can’t get your work done, and everything begins to pile up.
- You might experience negative spillover into your home life or personal relationships.
- Anxiety. At first, you may have mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. But as you move towards experiencing true burnout, the concern may become so severe that it interferes in your ability to stay productive at work. And, after that, it may also cause problems in your home and social life.
- Depression. Initially, you might feel a little bit sad, have an occasional episode of feeling hopeless, or episodes of feeling guilt and worthlessness. But after that, it could eventually even lead you to a crisis, where the feelings of being trapped, severe depression, and thoughts of suicide make you think your family, friends, and family would be better without you. (If your depression is to this point, seek a professional healthcare provider right away.)
- Anger. First, this may present as irritability and tension. But then, it may turn into outbursts of anger and unusually severe arguments at work or home. (If anger gets to the point where it becomes to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, seek immediate professional help immediately.)
- Alcohol or substance abuse.
Signs of Cynicism and Detachment:
- Loss of enjoyment of things you typically enjoy. Initially, loss of enjoyment may seem minor where you have a couple of days of not wanting to go to work or being ready to leave work. Without help, loss of enjoyment can extend to every area of your life, including spending time with family and friends. At work, you may try to avoid projects you typically enjoy or do well, and then starting thinking of ways to get away from work entirely.
- Pessimism. In the beginning, this can present as negative self-talk. Another way it can show itself is moving from a glass-half-full to a glass-half-empty attitude. In it’s most severe form, pessimism may extend beyond feeling this way about yourself and expand to feelings of not being able to trust or count on coworkers or family members.
- Isolation. At first, this might feel like mild resistance to getting out, speaking with, or socializing with friends or work peers. You may start closing your door or declining lunch invitations. But, in more advanced stages, simple things like someone speaking to you can cause you to feel anger, and you may even start to come in early or leave late to avoid interacting with your peers.
- Detachment. The feeling of being completely disconnected from others or your environment. You may experience any of the isolative behaviors described above, which can result in the act of removing yourself emotionally and physically from your job and all other personal responsibilities. You may begin to call in sick frequently, stop returning calls, stop responding to emails, or develop a habit of coming to work late.
- You start to drift away from a close relationship with God. This drift may be subtle because, in ministry, everything feels spiritual. Everything feels like “ministry and God stuff.”
- You feel more isolation – you may begin to feel like you lack the permission to be you (versus wanting to be alone and away from people).
- Ego growth is noticeable – you begin releveling in the thanks and praise for helping.
- Boundaries disappear – no end to the ministry as it overflows into all parts of our lives.
- You begin feeling extreme fatigue, but you refuse to rest.
Remember, if you think you might be experiencing job burnout, don’t ignore your symptoms. Consult your doctor or a mental health provider to identify or rule out any underlying health conditions.
Now, let’s discuss ways to develop a plan to resolve the stress.
Best Way to Handle Burnout:
- Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout. Once you’ve identified what’s fueling your feelings of job burnout, you can (and should) make a plan to address the issues.
- Evaluate your options. Discuss your concerns with your supervisor as appropriate. Perhaps you can work together to reach compromises or ideas for solutions. Can you explore unique options like job sharing, telecommuting, or flex time? Is continuing education or professional development available?
- Adjust your attitude. If you notice you are cynical at work, look for strategies to change your outlook. Remember the aspects of your work that you found enjoyable. Share compliments with your co-workers for valuable contributions or well-done work. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy. Take your vacation time.
- Seek support. If you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of the available services. Reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones for support. Seek appropriate help to cope with the job stress and your feelings of burnout.
- Finally, assess your interests, skills, and passions. Being honest with your self-assessment can help you decide whether you should consider an alternative job. You may find another job is a better fit for your gifts or scheduling requirements to meet your family’s needs.
- Take some time off to reconnect with God. Actively engage God and His Scriptures with the purpose of connecting your heart with God’s heart.
- Get some rest. Perhaps consider a vacation or a short sabbatical.
- Remember who you are. Remember why you were created to be in the place of ministry in general.
- Find a group of people with who you can be safe and real. Stay grounded with people who aren’t impressed (family & friends) with what you do or where you work.
- Develop a plan to reset your sense of identity and value based on who you are in Christ!
Professional Limits and Boundaries:
- Follow professional rules and boundaries. The rules are there to protect you from over committing and crossing borders with clients or patients.
- Remember that clients can only do what they are capable of doing. Setting expectations for them will open the door to disappointment for you.
- Work hard to separate professional and personal life.
- Have non-work friends to do things with.
Now let’s look at strategies we can do for wellness.
Strategies for Wellness and How to Apply Faith to Self-care to Prevent Ministry Burnout
1 Get More Sleep
Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health. Aim for at least 7-8 hours each night. Focus on improving your sleep hygiene. And, to develop your sleep habits, based on research, it also may help to make some of the following suggestions:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Avoid caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening
- Avoid nicotine
- Exercise regularly, but don’t exercise too late in the day
- Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night
- Don’t take a nap after 3 p.m.
- Relax before bed, for example by taking a bath, reading or listening to relaxing music
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool
- Get rid of distractions such as noises, bright lights, and a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, don’t be tempted to go on your phone or tablet just before bed.
- Get enough sunlight exposure during the day
- Don’t lie in bed awake; if you can’t sleep for 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing
- See a doctor if you have continued trouble sleeping. You may have a sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea. In some cases, your doctor may suggest trying an over-the-counter or prescription sleep aid. In other cases, your doctor may want you to do a sleep study, to help diagnose the problem.
2 Drink more water
A lack of water can lead to dehydration — a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired.
Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body needs water to work correctly. For example, water:
- Gets rid of wastes through urination, perspiration and bowel movements
- Keeps your temperature normal
- Lubricates and cushions joints
- Protects sensitive tissues
When should you drink water?
- During and in-between meals
- When you are hungry
- Before, during and after exercise
Exercise or movement is a great way to release chemicals that reduce stress and make you feel better both physically and emotionally. But, you don’t have to turn into a gym rat. Even light to moderate activity is beneficial. A great way to start? Walking. Aim to walk at a pace where you can talk, but fast enough that you can’t sing.
And, get outdoors. Not only is the fresh air and sunshine helpful, but if you can get outside, you may get reconnected to God’s creation, and feel closer to the Lord.
4 Eat better
Better food choices add to better physical, mental and emotional health. Remember, when it comes to health and wellness, 80% of your health status comes from your food choices, and 20% comes from your physical activity choices.
Aim to eat the proper serving sizes of protein, dairy, and fats, and eat more vegetables and fruits. Aim to consume 50% of your grains whole.
Avoid junk and processed foods that contain chemicals that can be harmful and are void of healthy nutrients.
5 Have a Grateful Attitude
Choosing to have a grateful attitude can help you refocus your thoughts and emotions and realign your priorities. Being intentional about reading scripture, prayer, and doing your quiet time with the Lord can position you to have a grateful attitude.
6. Live out Romans 12:1 to Apply Faith in Self-care to Prevent Ministry Burnout
As a nurse, I knew what I needed to do to improve my self-care. But, I found I needed the right why-the motivation to do the things to take better care of myself.
Well, I found that in Scripture. I wanted to dig into that a little more before we wrap up. We’re going to get deep into scripture for a minute.
When you take care of your body, you have the ability to use your gifts for the Lord at your highest level (at any state of health).
But, it also can honor the Lord.
Let’s look at Romans, 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship.” (NIV).
This verse speaks to actively living out your faith with your body. Taking proper care of your body is a way to obey God’s request.
When you obey the Lord, you are obedient to Him, and you show worship to the Lord.
Thus, your self-care efforts are also a form of worship to the Lord when done to honor him, which is what you are doing when you make a spiritual commitment to take care of yourself for the sake of your marriage.
You glorify God when you do this – because your focus remains on Him. You stay on His mission. In other words, it’s not about worldly expectations for weight loss, or a certain look, a special diet, properly exercising, or even how productive you are at work. Your self-care is honoring to the Lord.
REMEMBER THIS WHEN YOU STRUGGLE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF:
Because even small self-care steps can be a form of obedience and honor to the LORD when you are doing so through a spiritual commitment and a way of worship.
What you do isn’t as important to the Lord as to why you do it!
What might that look like if you apply faith in self-care to prevent ministry burnout?
- So maybe it’s getting enough sleep is the way to honor the Lord.
- Maybe it is going to the gym a couple of times a week to keep your blood pressure in check.
- Or, maybe, it is to cut back on caffeine or sugar.
- It may be following their healthcare providers medical plan and taking their prescriptions as directed.
I think you may already know what this answer is.
And if you don’t, I promise you that spending quiet time on this subject will reveal your answer.
In closing, this may seem like a lot to take in or change!
I’ve talked about being proactive to identify the causes of burnout, whether you are at risk for it, how to handle the stress, and how to take care of yourself for the prevention of burnout.
But, the key is to remember that when you serve in ministry or take care of others, you have to take care of you too! It’s not only important to stay well, but it is the way God created our bodies-to require self-care. What do you need to change to make this happen? Need help setting up yourself to succeed? Need motivation? I can help.
Want to remember this? Post this Apply Faith in Self-care & Prevent Ministry Burnout article to your favorite Pinterest board!
Lisa Kimrey is a 30-year veteran registered nurse, speaker, and author of the Bible study, The Self-care Impact: Motivation and Inspiration for Wellness. At Mylifenurse, Lisa writes about simple ways to care for yourself to stay happy, healthy, and rejuvenated while you serve and care for others. Combining her years of nursing expertise with Scripture-based encouragement, Lisa shows readers easy ways to begin and maintain their self-care journey – without feeling guilty. Be sure to grab your FREE Self-care Starter Guide!