I recently recorded another 5 Leadership Questions podcast on the subject of burnout. We talked about leadership, burnout, and caring for yourself. One of the questions was “Is burnout more prevalent in ministry leadership?” I believe burnout is more common in ministry leadership for multiple reasons:
1. The burden of ministry
Serving others in ministry is a blessed burden. It is a blessing because you are honored to steward the grace of God and serve people, but it is a burden because the responsibility is so incredibly massive.
In 2 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul lists the persecutions and sufferings he has endured. The list is brutal and includes being beaten with rods, scourged, and shipwrecked. He chronicles how he has faced dangers from rivers, robbers, his own people, false brothers, and Gentiles. He recounts sleepless nights, hunger, and thirst. Yet with such a staggering list, his ending statement is:
Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:28-29)
In other words, there is a sense that his biggest burden was the daily pressure he felt for the people he served. The burden of ministry is that ministry is never over. Those in ministry leadership never punch a clock. Caring for people is never done. Shepherding others is never done because their sanctification is never done.
2. The work (even the overwork) can feel holy
In most roles, overwork feels sinful and neglectful. In ministry, overwork can wrongly feel holy. After all, you are “doing all these things for the Lord and for people.” Some leaders struggle to say no because doing so would feel like denying ministry to people. Leaders can justify all the hours in their minds, the neglect of their own souls, and the neglect of their families. Ministry can attract workaholics and give them a reason to justify their addiction.
3. Unhealthy expectations
Ministry leaders are often on different schedules from the people they serve. Those they serve typically work fulltime jobs and are mostly available in the evenings “after work.” Unreasonable expectations abound on how much ministry leaders can do when everyone else is “off work.”
4. Unhealthy need for affirmation
Ministry leaders who need approval can often find it by simply working more. Sadly, the affirmation can fuel the fire for more work in leaders who, in their unhealthy souls, crave it more and more. Too few people in churches warn ministry leaders of “working too much.” Those who express care for ministry leaders by encouraging them to care for themselves are, in turn, caring for the whole body.
Ministry leadership is extremely challenging. The burden alone makes ministry leaders more susceptible to burnout. Combine this with a view that overwork is a holy reality and leaders can easily move toward burnout. That is even further exacerbated by unhealthy expectations from people or an unhealthy need for affirmation from ministry leaders.
While the burden will be great, ministry leaders must care for themselves so that they can care for others over the long haul. When a ministry leader burns out, the whole body suffers.