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How to recognize and treat ministry burnout

What is your preacher’s state of mind? Does he have enough time to study and plan what he will be preaching in 2017?

Bailey McBride | Insight

Bailey McBride | Insight

The preacher for my home congregation is very young. Visitors sometimes ask if he is a teenager. (He’s actually in his early 30s.) He came to the pulpit after working as a youth minister for the church.

He has always been a thinker, someone who seriously seeks a relationship with God. He is open to conversations with anyone, and his preaching invites people to further study. He is creative and dedicated to helping people draw closer to God. He, like so many of his colleagues, will serve the church with many years of service — if he doesn’t burn out.

Creative people rarely acknowledge that they are overloaded. They work late into the night, studying and preparing lessons, and meet with a troubled member of their congregation at 6:30 the next morning for breakfast and prayer. They spend their days encouraging other staff members and helping craft new programs to serve effectively.

I was blessed to learn about the power of great preaching when I moved to Tulsa, Okla., at age 13. There, I had the chance to hear an energetic evangelist who taught so creatively and thoughtfully that he forever changed my thinking about ministry. He preached for the same church for 25 years, yet he constantly reinvented himself to be better at helping people hold the mirror of the Word up to their lives. Through his example, I became more aware of the need for churches to care for and encourage their ministers.

I have seen the effects of burnout on at least one great communicator, and I dearly love the people who now preach, teach and direct programs for my congregation.

So I’m back on my soapbox, asking churches and elders to be wise and thoughtful in caring for their staffs.
‘We need plans of action to serve our ministry staffs, and these plans must begin with awareness of the fatigue that follows service to others.’
Effective preaching is more rigorous than most of us realize. Preparation can average from 10 to 20 hours for a single lesson. Planning a multi-part series requires weeks of exploring and planning before work begins on a single lesson. The larger the church, the more psychologically demanding the preaching.

We expect our ministers to deliver compelling, relevant sermons every week. We also expect them to dream and develop dynamic plans to help churches grow.

Staff members who don’t preach also are under much pressure. Those responsible for children’s education carry an almost impossible load — selecting or developing curricula for students from cradle to college and recruiting and training teachers.

Those who teach and minister to the church’s youths have never-ending jobs. Developing meaningful, life-transforming relationships with teens requires countless hours of coaching and encouraging.
We need plans of action to serve our ministry staffs, and these plans must begin with awareness of the fatigue that follows service to others. Churches should encourage and fund continuing education experiences for their ministry leaders — and provide substitutes to cover their assignments while these workers recharge.

The plan is the easy part. Elders and church leaders must cultivate a relationship of trust and patience with ministry workers that allows them to recognize the signs of burnout.
‘Effective preaching is more rigorous than most of us realize.’
Ideally, the person responsible for preaching should have a paid, six-week leave of absence every five years. The elders and the preacher should work together on a plan so that the preacher is not tempted to go hold a meeting or something else that will keep him from renewal.

Every year, a preacher should take a week away from all duties to plan preaching strategies for the year.

I urge elders and church leaders to be proactive in looking out for their ministerial staff.

Contact: [email protected]

Filed under: burnout good preaching Insight Insight ministers preaching

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