9 Healthy Ways to Respond to Criticism

5 Ways to Avoid Spiritual Burnout

By Clint Ellis

Many parts of our nation are recovering from some pretty severe winter storms. Several of my friends posted pictures of winter landscapes and roaring fireplaces. We don’t have much need for fires here in the Sunshine State, but it does call to mind the era of my life when my family had a fireplace in our home.

My dad would cut down a few trees, and then, using an ax, he would “bust” the wood into smaller pieces suitable as fuel. When the time came to keep the fire going, he would feed the flames. If he didn’t mind the fire, we’d eventually open the grates of the fireplace to a pile of cold, dirty ash.

In 2 Timothy 1:6, the apostle Paul reminds Timothy, his young protege in the ministry, “to rekindle the gift of God in his life.” The young minister needed to be reminded to fan the flames of his calling. These days, it is more and more common to hear of ministers who are experiencing burnout. Families, ministries and mental health are the casualties of the minister whose flames go out.

How does one prevent burnout? Let me propose several suggestions.

1. Feed your souls

Perhaps it seems unnecessary to tell a bunch of pastors to care for their souls. After all, we spend each week poring over the Bible to teach others, preparing two or three messages and sometimes a Sunday school lesson as well. The running joke is that we get paid to study the Scriptures. While that may be true, consider your life like a gallon of sweet tea (to my friends outside the South, please indulge the analogy). If you pour out a little here and there, you will soon find yourself at the bottom of the pitcher, completely dry. You must take time to refill the pitcher. It’s the same way with your soul. Set aside time, even if it’s 10 to 15 minutes a day, to take in the Bible for your own personal devotion. Study something you have not studied often or something God wants you to learn. Take time also to discipline yourself to memorize Scripture. Not only will this revolutionize your walk with the Lord, but it also will positively impact your preaching as God draws a verse or two from the well of your filled soul to slake the thirsty souls of your congregation.

2. Follow through with your time off

Pastors often are big-picture visionaries. They know all that a church can be, but they also know there is much work to be done. It can be overwhelming, and the urgency inside will push you to throw yourself entirely into the job, trying to fix everything all at once. This is a recipe for disaster. This improper perspective will often cause ministers to blow right past holidays, days off and vacations. This does not constitute proper soul care. Work will always be there, but you must live in such a way that you have the strength to get to the next step of the journey. Do this by taking your time off. If you feel you are so important that the ministry cannot go on without you, please remember that it is God’s church, and He is the very one who can make the rocks cry out His praise. He doesn’t need you, but He has invited you alongside Him in your ministry. Take your time off.

3. Fortify your family

I have watched ministries implode here. Being a good family man is a pastoral qualification for a reason. Prioritize and protect your wife and children. Carve out intentional time to spend with them. Do your best not to take the difficulties of the job and interpersonal issues with church members home with you. Purposely, through the years, my wife and I have shielded our kids from any hard stuff we have faced in the churches we have served. As a pastor, you will see the best and worst of people, but there is no reason your kids should be exposed to that, if it is possible to prevent it.  Make every effort to let go of stress before you walk through the door of your home, so you can be fully present and engaged. It helps to put your phone away for a while when you arrive.

4. Find hobbies

A fourth step to prevent burnout is to find hobbies. Discover activities that fill your emotional tank – preferably things that stop you from dwelling on the work you feel always needs to be done. I enjoy reading, writing, disc golf, fishing and running. Of course, my personal list is not exhaustive. The key is to find something you enjoy doing that isn’t job-related and then make time for it.

5. Focus on the future

Ministry is difficult. You are reading this article on a website devoted to revitalization and replanting, so many of you may find yourself in the crucible. You are experiencing resistance and spiritual warfare at every turn. Stress, anxiety and fear of failure are your constant companions. It might be easy to throw up your hands and quit. If your focus is on the present, that is a likely outcome. Let me propose a focus shift. 1 Peter reminds us that we have received a “new birth into a living hope and an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading which is reserved in heaven for us” (1 Pet. 1:3-4). Keep your mind set on what lies ahead, and you will be able to endure the present.

If you take these steps, you are less likely to face burnout and more likely to finish the race well.

Published February 15, 2024

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Clint Ellis

Clint Ellis is the senior pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida. He and his wife, Kristen, have been married 19 years and have three amazing kids. You can follow Clint on Twitter @clintellis and visit his blog at clintellis.com