It can go by names like burnout, discouragement or exhaustion. So it’s no wonder that self awareness, self care and self management are hot topics these days. How are you doing with that? The old saying is true that if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for others for very long.

There can be a tendency to overwork or over function by doing more than was intended for our role. Sure, we want to demonstrate our value and justify our calling or service. If you are a pastor or in ministry, much of what people see is only one day a week. People don’t really see what you do the other days and they may even make comments based upon their false assumptions. This may lead us to become self conscious and want to show people we are not lazy. So we may start to do a bit more, and then even more. We feel we are doing the right thing and rationalize our reasons. So the suggestion that we step back sounds nearly impossible. Some days we know we did too much. It cheated our family to get something done. But most days we brush it off.

Yet this is not even the worst part. There is another side of it often not even talked about when this subject comes up. While the pastor(s) (and often key volunteers) are over functioning, there are a ton of people who are under functioning. What might be the unintended effect?

Unintended effect #1

Since many are not serving they may be tempted to a) diminish the importance of serving the Lord and b) miss the opportunity to grow from the experience. Instead they may focus more on self and what self and the old nature wants. We know what happens next. Unreasonable requests or even demands, score keeping and worse can result. Have you ever heard of a church with unhappy people who often blame the shepherd? Sure you have. This unintended effect may be part of the cause.

Unintended Effect #2

What is even worse is that the pastor, while they may feel good about all the work they do, may not see much in the way of progress in the church. Rationalization can explain away this insight too. Yet there is only so much one or a couple people can do. Those who overwork in effect hold back or become the “lid” to the ministry of the many. This lack of progress can lead to a sense of discouragement and burnout. The rationalization goes like this: “I work so many hours and we’re getting nowhere as a church.” Hard work + few results = discouragement and burnout.

The Antidote 

On the other hand, what happens with those who are engaged in service to others? Exactly the opposite result. They are more likely to consider others first and seek the strength from God’s Word and worship. Spiritual growth will take place. The “church culture” will begin to shift. Serving and selflessness will be modeled and others engaged and this “others-centeredness” will begin to catch on. The practical effect will be that more are touched by God’s love and more are brought closer to Jesus. There is life and joy and something to celebrate.

But if that life and joy and celebration aren’t happening, the only other option is to get tired, burnt out and discouraged. When there are few “signs of life” it becomes hard to be the cheerleader and source of inspiration. When one is tired and weary from the long hours and seemingly endless people who have a complaint or  need a pastoral “touch” it is even more discouraging. So when we are in that dark place, with unhappy people, it is nearly impossible to imagine any other options or actions. We feel stuck. No wonder pastors want to leave the ministry or change churches.

Furthermore, how creative and energetic would one be to engage the community in that depressed state? What burned out pastor would put in the time consuming and emotional work of seeking the lost? If I’m already tired, I’ll confess I’m not that motivated! I don’t want more people, more critics and more problems! 


Sure there’s lots of reasons (or excuses) for getting ourselves stuck in this funk: no one else will do it, people will complain if I don’t, it’s faster if I just make the phone call or visit, go to the post office, take out the trash, call the contractor. Besides, I’ll feel guilty if I don’t.

Instead, take seriously the task of developing people and giving them meaningful things to do - not just at church but in their life. Then keep in touch with them along the way, providing support and encouragement and celebrating and sharing the results. Growing people in Christ is not just a Sunday morning event. It is a regular walking beside them and guiding them process. It is encouraging them to take on responsibilities and grow through that struggle. It will take some time for you (and your key leaders) to begin to try on and live into new behaviors. It will likely occur one person at a time. It will also mean allowing yourself not to do everything. Yet it can happen, especially with a coach to walk beside you.

The result? You will become someone who can’t wait to get to work (ministry) and can’t wait to see what God is up to! The gifts are in the people. That includes you.

Rev. Scott Gress is believes in Growing People for Ministry by focussing on leadership, discipleship and teamwork. Contact Scott if you are interested in him working with you or your church. A free 30 minutes sample session is available to explore how you might work best together. The Coaching Leader Podcast is also available on iTunes and his YouTube page. You can contact Scott through email or his blog page or at 561-542-4472


"Growing People for Ministry" Leadership + Discipleship + Teamwork

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Burnout: An Overlooked Cause & Solution

One thought on “Burnout: An Overlooked Cause & Solution

  • October 1, 2022 at 11:18 am

    Scott, I desperately needed these words 30 years ago. Still, I am thankful that you have put your finger on one of the key ministry problems that plague us all. Lead on.


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