by Angie Mabry-Nauta
“Look around the room, and get a good glance at your classmates.”
Two short months stood between our group of thirty-seven and the future for which we had been preparing while in seminary. Yes, we had much to accomplish before our official duties began. No matter. We were bright lights and even the most tightly woven bushel would have been challenged to dim us.
We obeyed our pastoral care professor and looked around the room.
“Most of the faces that you see here today will not be in ministry within seven years,” he continued. “The statistics for burnout are well documented, and the causes for it plentiful and unique to each person. Care well for yourselves. It is more likely to happen to you than not.”
Our lights faded.
Ministry is both a rewarding and demanding vocation. It crosses over into every aspect of our lives and encompasses all of who we are, whether we’re a religious professional or a church volunteer. Each person has her own unique gifts. Regardless of who or where we serve, all who answer God’s call give . . . and give . . . and give. It’s the Christian way, after all. And usually we are all too happy to sacrifice ourselves for others.
Six years into congregational ministry, I had an epiphany. What I believed would happen to my classmates—not me—occurred. I burned out. My top three telltale signs were:
- That which used to inspire me drained much of my energy. Preaching, and creating and leading worship services were the lifeblood of my ministry. Each filled me with great joy. . . until producing sermons and worship services came to feel like pulling my own teeth.
- I came to loath the parts of ministry that challenged me. Leadership development, administration and mediating conflict were my constant “growth opportunities.” At one time I willingly offered myself to refinement in these areas but burnout kidnapped my pliable spirit.
- I lost my compassion and patience with people. The core of my ministry was sharing God’s heart. I mulled my words to accurately and passionately communicate God’s unending love. I had a large capacity to forgive when people hurt me, even love them more through the difficult times. Not so with burnout—grace became hard.
Does any of this strike a chord with you? If you’re feeling “not like yourself” in your service to God and others, take notice. You may be burning out. Take action now and care well for yourself.
Spend quality time with God in silence, prayer and journaling. Engage a spiritual director or work with a counselor. You may even need to negotiate a sabbatical or temporary leave. These steps may just be the best gifts you give not only to yourself, but to your ministry and the people you serve.