Christmas is just a few days away.
And that means a few things are probably true of your life right now. It means you, your staff, and volunteers are gearing up for multiple Christmas services, ramping up year-end-giving campaigns, throwing volunteer and staff Christmas parties, finalizing ministry plans for the coming year, figuring out how you’ll spend time with family, and cramming as many Christmas “have-to-do” activities as possible into an already overloaded schedule.
The other thing that means is you’re feeling the “weight” start to set in. You know, that feeling like you can’t breath and you’re just about ready to pull your hair out.
Guess what? You’re well on your way to burnout.
Why are we prone to burnout as ministry leaders?
At some point almost every leader faces burnout. The question is how do we get ourselves in that position to begin with?
Typically, burnout comes from reaching out to meet as many needs as possible over a long period of time.
Max Lucado was once asked about burnout and how to avoid it. He thought for a moment and said, “I have learned that I can’t solve everyone’s problems. I can’t do it all.”
The popular pastor and author confessed something we all seek to be and do in today’s ministry world: we want to be superheroes and we want to solve everything from who will bring pizzas to the youth fellowship to how communion is served on Sunday mornings. The problem is: we can’t do it all. God did not equip us to run solely on raw human strength. But there are plenty of leaders who try.
“One of the reasons we burnout is because we place heavy expectations on ourselves. Instead, we need to go into [ministry] with our eyes wide open. This helped me to survive burnout,” says Lucado, “I wish I had been taught this when I had first gone into ministry.”
Burnout creeps up on us causing problems we never dreamed possible and most of the time, it doesn’t show its face immediately. We may actually get through a rigorous season of planning, events, and emergencies because adrenalin is pumping. But, sustaining such a pace isn’t realistic and can ruin your ministry, your family, and your life.
Years ago a well-known pastor was actually confronted by his wife and board of elders out of their concern over his hectic and busy lifestyle. At their urging, he checked himself into the hospital and a physical exam confirmed what everyone already knew: the pastor was exhausted and was headed for trouble. Later he remarked to his wife, “I just thought I had to do it all. I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
How to beat burnout this Christmas.
If you are in ministry work, you usually hit a point where you know you should say no, but you don’t. You charge forward even after going through months of planning and goal setting. Our fast-paced world ramps up during the holidays and doesn’t come down. Even as they turn the Christmas lights out, first quarter planning stares leaders straight in the face.
Jesus gave us a pattern when it comes to staving off the threats of burnout. There were times when like all of us, He hit His limit and needed to step aside and recharge. The crowds following Him grew and had many demanding needs. John the Baptist had been beheaded. The people following Him were hungry and needed to be fed. The pressures surrounding the Savior were insurmountable, but He recognized the need to be alone and stepped away to pray. (Matthew 5:13-23) This is where our batteries are recharged: alone with Christ—hidden in His care.
Here are 5 ways you can beat burnout this Christmas.
- Realize that burnout is real! This doesn’t just happen to those in ministry. It can happen to anyone who pushes beyond what God has called and given him or her to do. Remember the principle: Jesus took the time to step away from the rush of society’s needs and demands to be alone with the Father and also alone to gain perspective on His earthly life and ministry. We need to do the same. Burnout can and does creep up on all of us. But building time into your schedule for honest reflection, meditation, and prayer can bring fresh insight and vision.
- Stop trying to be everyone’s hero. Most of us have a need to be needed. We love to hear the words, “That is fantastic. I can’t believe you did that. You are wonderful!” Or “I know I can always count on you to come through for us!” It’s okay to be a “go to person” as long as you keep your time, schedule and emotions in check. Balance is the key. There are people who get their personal needs met by being everyone’s hero but usually that self-imposed honor is short lived.
- Practice setting healthy boundaries and stick to them. Counselors and Christian psychologists will tell you that one of the healthiest things you can do is to learn to set proper boundaries for yourself. This includes saying no to extra demands that stretch you beyond what you are able to do with passion. If you are spread too thin, then you won’t be the well-balanced leader you need to be. So learn to delegate and mentor others to help with the work.
- Talk through your feelings with someone you trust. Also be open to hearing what those around you have to say about your increasing stress level. Usually the first people to see the cracks form in your armor are members of your family. God instructs us to place Him first in our lives, then our families should follow, and work after that. There are always those times when work and ministry will seem to win out but if we set proper boundaries and priorities, God will keep us focused on the right order. We may work a little late one evening but we also make sure our loved ones have our affection and care.
- Take time to step away and recharge. More and more today, people are realizing the fallacy of the need to become enslaved by work and the cheers of others. When the people wanted to make Jesus a King, He immediately pulled away and went to a place where He could be alone. He understood that the greatest call on His life was the call to be in total devotion with the Father. He was not interested in hero status. He was only interested in doing the Father’s will and being in total devotion to Him.
What is the primary focus of your life and ministry? Is it set on Jesus first or do you struggle to find time to be alone in devotion to Him. Burnout can be avoided but it must begin with you and your decision to walk in step with Him and not to run in pace with the world.