Avoiding burnout (Week 1)

October 4, 2018

The Counseling Corner

By Rev. Judith T. Lester, B.Min. M.Th

“…he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Ps. 23:2b-3, NIV

‘I’m so burned out!’ ‘I need a vacation!’ ‘This stress is wearing me out!’ These and similar comments are often voiced by those who are stressed out and are close to burnout. In this modern society, these comments are as common as owning a cell phone. People are doing more, talking more, and giving more of themselves than ever before. Burnout is real. Merriam-Webster defines “burnout” as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Occupational burnout can cause a sort of lackadaisical approach to the job along with dissatisfaction and general unhappiness. Those who are involved in ministry where it requires a great deal of sacrifice and commitment to others, can also experience burnout. Signs of going down the road of burnout can show itself in one’s lack of interest and zeal, withdrawal from the congregation where they serve and a disinterest in the church-sponsored activities. A negative, critical spirit is also a sign of burnout.

People are not machines. There is a limit to what the human body can handle. When a person’s limit has been exceeded the price that is paid is burnout. If not recognized and controlled, burnout can be a metastasizing cancer that will spread like a plague through a workplace or ministry with amazing speed. Join us this month as we address the topic of burnout.

Characteristics of burnout

According to an article titled Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of Modern Societies, the authors noted: “According to one of the first more extensive characterizations… burnout is the result of chronic stress which has not been successfully dealt with. It is characterized by exhaustion and depersonalization (negativism/ cynicism). A later definition describes exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced satisfaction in performance as the decisive elements of burnout syndrome.” Depersonalization is a dimension of occupational burnout that cannot be overlooked. Depersonalization will separate workers from others and causes pessimism to colleagues, customers and the organization.

Herbert Freudenberger popularized the term “burnout” in 1980 and called it “the high cost of aiming too high.” Since that time, it has been a common topic of concern among those in ministry fields. Anyone in any occupation or profession can experience burnout. However, burnout tends to occur more frequently in caring and social professions, such as ministry, nurses, counselors, social workers, police, firefighters, etc.


Weber and Reinhard, “Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of Modern Societies,” Occupational Medicine, Vol. 50, No. 7, pp. 512- 517, 2000.

2. “How Does Personality Affect on Job Burnout?” International Journal of Trade, Economics and Finance, Vol. 2, No. 2, April 2011.

3. McBurney, Louis, M.D. “Counseling Christian Workers,” (Word Publishing, Vol II), p. 177.

Next week: Clergy Burnout

The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in this article, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. Further, this information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your medical doctor or health care provider. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.