Pastor Burnout Prevention: 6 Ideas to help you find rest.

(Please note: What you are about to read is more than a pastoral issue.  It plagues far too many homes so please read in the context of your vocation.)

Something has been burning in my heart a lot lately.  Between conversations with pastors and parishioners, and speaking on this subject yesterday at Northpoint Bible College, I felt the need to blog about something so essential that it’s being missed by our pastors…

…and that something is destroying their lives, marriages, families, and churches.


I’ve been told that when you are thirsty, it’s a sign you are presently dehydrated. So, in essence, when you feel you need a drink, it’s not to prevent dehydration.  It’s because you are already at the place of depletion. For some reason, we treat rest the same way.  We don’t take it till we feel the “need” for it.  Perhaps it’s the same concept. Maybe, just maybe, the feeling of needing rest isn’t the sign our bodies are ready for it.  Perhaps it the sign it is already at the place of depletion.

Whenever I talk with pastors about it, I often hear them say, “Ha. Rest? What’s that?” It makes me cringe every time. We don’t model rest and it’s no wonder why we don’t see it in our congregations. Rest is seen as such a non-essential yet it’s becoming the slow death people don’t see coming.  I’ve heard leaders challenge pastors about “burning out for Jesus.”  I think (hope) they’re message is trying to challenge us to be passionate, innovative, and hard-working.  But I’ve seen burnt out pastors.  I’ve seen congregations burnt out from volunteering.   Ministry burn out doesn’t shine with the glory of God.  It illuminates the fading glow of our pride.  It leaves broken men/women, fractured marriages, wayward children, and unhealthy churches.

Ladies and gentlemen, something needs to change.

I believe EVERYTHING we receive from God we are called to be stewards of.  In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is dealing with the church on the issue of being a steward of our lives.  In the context of sexuality, he makes the statement, “for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” The message surpasses the context. You are a steward of the gift you have been given: your body/life.  Honor God with.  Please note: Using “rest” as an excuse to be lazy isn’t being a steward is just as egregious as burnout. If things are not getting done, either that’s lack of planning or you’ve taken on too much. Also, using “rest” as an excuse to procrastinate is manipulation. Be a better planner and organizer. Stewardship is about properly using a gift.  And squandering ministry with laziness or burning it out doesn’t honor God.

I even have mixed feelings about Sabbaticals.  I’m not against them.  But I often wonder: would the frequency of them and/or the length of them be needed if ministers knew how to rest properly?  And when they are taken, is time on them being wasted trying to rest because we were not a steward before them?

You need some margin built-in.  You need some rest. Pastors (and parishioners for that matter), I’ve got a few ideas for you to consider:

  1. Get a healthy inputs. Not saying you need to live off of quinoa and kale, but eating properly and getting appropriate sleep can go a long way. This was transformational for me and has aided me to better rest and recoup because I got healthier.  It’s not about being a certain size/shape.  It’s about inputting health into your life. My story of getting healthy can be read here.
  2. Get healthy activities.  You don’t need to be a runner. But you do need to get out of the office.  I start work early mornings and, frequently, have evening appointments.  It cannot be an excuse for not getting in some type of healthy activity.  Walk run, bike, or whatever.  Running has been the best time for me to pray as well as to get into some podcasts I really enjoy.   NOTE: Anne and I walk most evenings for a couple of miles.  It’s good exercise and we get to talk through our days/weeks.
  3. Date your spouse.  You wanna suck the fun out of your marriage, don’t date your spouse.  You’re not married to your ministry; you’re married to your spouse. And he/she shouldn’t feel like they’re second place to your ministry.  Anne and I, almost weekly, have a date.  It’s transformed us and brought us closer.
  4. Have fun…guilt free. I’ve met too many pastors and missionaries who feel guilty having fun/leisure.  First of all, we should be passionate about our calling and the place God has us (I have fun being a Lead Pastor). Secondly, we need to get out of our heads that fun is a waste of time or that fun isn’t a Godly thing to do (obviously there are ungodly activities).  Recover your joy by having fun and rediscovering the joy of ministry. PREACHING NOTE: Do you know why most  of your illustrations come from a book, it’s because you don’t have any fun and/or you take life too serious.  Lighten up and enjoy what God has given!
  5. Realize that the Kingdom solely doesn’t rise and fall upon your shoulders.  The church was here before you.  If it failed because you disengaged with it, then you are doing far too much. Delegate and empower leaders.  Mentor people.  Let go of frivolous ministries that are not productive. Pride is keeping you juggling. Humility releases the superfluous and embraces the necessary.  Build ministry that will outlast you and outshine your pride.
  6. Get a proper schedule. I understand busy seasons. For example, Christmas is pretty hectic in the ministry world. But it shouldn’t be an excuse to not strive to balance our schedules.  A little thing that I do is built into my schedule exercise, dates, family time, rest, etc. and title them appointments. Why? It protects me from my natural workaholic tendencies.  To leave things “open” is to leave them optional to get more “work” done with little to no regard for getting proper down time and recreation.

If you’ve burnt out, this blog isn’t written to guilt you.  It’s meant to steer you toward health. This article is the alarm clock to wake you up and realize that life does not have to be like this.

But…If you’re hearing “I miss you” from your spouse…your kids feel less of a priority than meetings…if you’ve lost your passion for your calling…

…then it’s time to get refreshed in the presence of Holy Spirit and invest in rest.

I believe in what Jesus has called you into.  I believe greater things are in store for you.  Marriages and families can be healed in Jesus’ name. Joy in ministry can be found.  Schedules can be fixed. Callings can be rediscovered.

It just takes a bit of humility and trust.  You are not your own.  Honor God.

…thanks for letting me ramble.



4 responses to “Pastor Burnout Prevention: 6 Ideas to help you find rest.”

  1. Boom! I especially love the part about sabbaticals, as this is what I’ve been saying for years. A proper lifestyle of work/rest virtually eliminates the need for a sabbatical. Well said!

    1. Totally agree. I think they’re good (in proper balanced doses), but would they even be necessary if we had that proper lifestyle?

  2. […] friend, Pastor Dave Barringer, has some good thoughts on rest and burn-out. Pastors especially should take the time to read this […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: