Burnout recovery is not a simple or quick process. It took months or even years to get burned out. It will take months to overcome burnout.
While burnout recovery is not simple, there are straightforward actions that can help you journey toward overcoming burnout.
- Prepare for the journey: You need to assess the damage – how bad is your burnout? A good way to do this is to do a self-assessment. This will give you a good idea of where you are right now.
- Know your competition: What are you up against? Burnout is not a benign foe. It is aggressive and brutal. It is elusive and subtle. When you decide that you need burnout recovery, you are deciding to face something that will fight back. Burnout does not go quietly. In order to conquer it, you need to first understand burnout. Toward that end, learn what burnout is and what causes it.
- Make time for pit stops: If burnout recovery is your goal, you must make a practice of three types of pit stops. First, you need to rest. This seems obvious, but I am amazed at the number of pastors who take very little time off. You need daily rest, weekly rest, an extra monthly break, and annual breaks. Daily – work eight or nine hours and then be done. If you are going to have a meeting at night, leave the office early or come into the office late the following day. Weekly – take at least one day off, and it would be nice to take two days off. I think that pastors should at least take one and a half days off each week. Monthly – take an extra two or three days to get away for rest and reflection. You don’t need to spend the night anywhere. Just get out of the office and away from daily ministry. Use the time to pray, reflect, plan, and rest. Annually – Take at least three weeks of vacation each year. Three weeks is the minimum. You are working a high-stress job and working 45 to 60 hours a week. You need a significant break so you can unwind and relax. My preference is that pastors take four weeks of vacation each year and attend two overnight retreats each year as well.
The second pit stop you need to make is exercise. Exercise has a number of benefits that will help you overcome burnout. First, it relieves tension. Second, it helps reduce excess body fat, third, it releases endorphins into the body that help you feel good, and finally, it helps you feel like you are accomplishing something instead of just spinning your wheels.
The final pit stop you need to make is perhaps the hardest: eating right. A sluggish body is often the result of overeating things like pasta, red meat, sweets, and fats. Eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables and light on other things will give you energy, help you focus, and make you feel good.
- Travel light: Burnout is usually associated with a host of tangled emotions, sins, and struggles. It may include faltering faith, guilt over sin or perceived failure, fear of what will happen, financial struggles, pornography, etc. When I say that you should travel light, I mean that you should figure out how to untangle the mess in your mind and heart and deal directly with each issue. If you are involved in sin, confess it, get free from it, and forget it.
If you are dealing with guilt, most of the time it is associated with a sense of failure. Burnout recovery requires you to face your past and realistically appraise your actions. If there is true failure, deal with it. Most of the time, however, our sense of failure is unfounded. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has errors in judgment. But that shouldn’t rule your life.
Another part of your tangled mess is often fear. Fear will inhibit burnout recovery. Do you fear the future? Are you afraid of where your finances are leading you? In my experience the most dominant fear is that people are going to find out who we really are. We think that if people really know what kind of person we really are, they won’t like us, respect us, or follow us. The reality, however, is that everyone struggles with sin, with fears, with faltering faith, and guilt. People often respect pastors more when they humble themselves and open up their lives.
Another thing we need to address when talking about traveling light is pornography. Perhaps more than anything else, pornography is a driving force preventing burnout recovery. Pornography is an addictive drug that entangles a person in a cycle of guilt, feeling bad, using the escape of pornography to feel good, then enters guilt, and the cycle continues. If you are to recover from burnout, you must address pornography
- Focus on your call, delegate everything else: Ok, I can hear you laughing at this one. I know it’s nearly impossible to delegate everything else. But there are things you can delegate. Some of which you haven’t even considered because you’ve been doing them for so long. Think long and hard about your regular schedule. What can you give away? Start small. I guarantee that there are some things that you can delegate. Do you have to teach that Sunday School Class? Do you have to speak every Wednesday night? Give others the opportunity to develop their teaching skills. Do you have to visit everyone in the hospital; or do you have to visit them every day? Give others the opportunity to develop their servant mindset. What else can you delegate? What small, seemingly insignificant tasks do you do that you can let others do? Don’t think of it as passing off your jobs. Think of it as giving people the opportunity to serve.
- Travel in a group: You can’t do this alone. You need to involve your spouse. You can’t find burnout recovery without the support of your spouse. Then, I suggest that you share with some friends about your struggle. Ask them to pray for you. You should also include your accountability partner if you have one. Once you are comfortable with sharing your burnout story, bring your church leaders into the loop. Share with them how you are burned out . Tell them that you are committed to the ministry but you need some help to get back to 100%. Then, when you are comfortable about sharing with your leaders, do something scary. Share your burnout story with your congregation right from the pulpit. I’ll be the first to admit that you will get mixed results. But the congregation will overwhelmingly support you, encourage you, and show their love for you. It’s very hard to do. You are exposing your frailty to the people you are trying to lead. But I have found that people are even more willing to follow when they sense that the leader understands where they are coming from. Your congregation can identify with your struggle.
In addition to this page, burnout recovery, you should also read this page on overcoming burnout.