Avoiding burnout (Week 2)

October 11, 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

This month this column is focusing on the topic of burnout for two reasons: First, to clarify the aspects of burnout and identify its work-related implications, including, but not limited to clergy. The second reason is to offer tips to avoid burnout, thus helping one to maintain their equilibrium and enhance their ability to function in the workplace, whether in the church or in the secular arena. As we continue, let’s look at clergy burnout.

Clergy burnout

Clergy are vulnerable to experiencing stress, fatigue and burnout as they often push themselves unrealistically due to the demands of ministry. Working in ministry, building and maintaining relationships takes a toll on these dedicated, well-meaning people-carers whose motives are not only pure but Holy Spirit driven. Coate (1989) argued that while everyone is susceptible to occupational stress at some time or another, ministers find it difficult to admit to stress, feeling that they should be more able to cope with it than their secular counterparts.¹

Sanford (1982) drew attention to the repetitious nature of the work of the ministry, the realization that the work can never be finished and the difficulty of knowing whether it is having any results. In much of their work, ministers are required to present a public persona that is emotionally exhausting to maintain.²

While the church wants to think their pastor is infallible, laity must understand and grant humanity to the pastor. The pastor must be granted furloughs and vacations and given an opportunity for regular personal spiritual retreats and time with their family. This is also true of youth ministers. Oftentimes the stress of the job as a youth minister can go unrecognized by the church, even though the warning signs are there. C. H. Spurgeon, in Lectures to My Students, Vol. 1, Lecture III encouraged the preacher to take time for “holy days” by retreating for a week or month if they cannot keep up the freshness and vigor of their souls. Spurgeon said, “I would seriously recommend to you, when settled in the ministry, the celebration of extraordinary seasons of devotion. If your ordinary prayers do not keep up the freshness and vigor of your souls, and you feel that you are flagging, get alone for a week, or even a month, if possible.” These times of refreshment will avoid clergy burnout.

1 Coate, M.A. 1989. Clergy Stress, The Hidden Conflicts in Ministry, London Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge.

2 Sanford, J. A. 1982. Ministry Burnout. London: Arthur James.

Next week: Warning Signals of 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.