Four Big Mistakes that Lead to Ministry Burnout   by 


One of the issues that we sometimes address here at pastors.com is the issue of ministry burnout. And when we do address it, the responses are overwhelming. It’s a big issue. Why do so many Pastors burn out in ministry? It’s because of faulty thinking. Our thinking controls our emotions and our emotions control the way we act.

The problem is, when we’re at an emotional low, we typically make four common mistakes. Next week I want to talk about how to overcome these emotions and prevent burnout, but today I want you to become aware of four of the most threatening internal causes of burnout in ministry.

Mistake #1: We focus on our feelings rather than the facts.

Emotional reasoning is dangerous. Emotional reasoning says, “If I feel it, it must be so.” If I feel like a failure, I am a failure. If I don’t feel close to God, I must not be close to God. If I feel like a lousy pastor, I must be a lousy pastor. The fact is, feelings are not always facts. Your feelings will tell you that you’re helpless and hopeless, but those feelings aren’t rooted in truth.

Mistake #2: We compare ourselves to others.

When we are emotionally drained, we start comparing ourselves. The Bible warns against this over and over again. When you start comparing yourself to other people you are setting yourself up for depression. Everybody’s different. Everybody’s unique. Only you can be you. When you get to heaven, God is not going to say, “How come you weren’t more like Billy Graham?” or “How come you weren’t more like Moses?” or “How come you weren’t more like…?”

He’s really going to say, “How come you weren’t more like you?” We get emotionally burnt out because we start comparing ourselves. When we compare ourselves we compare our weaknesses with other people’s strengths. We ignore the fact that they have weaknesses that we may be strong in. We make comparisons that get us into all kinds of trouble.

Mistake #3: We blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault.

We tend to blame ourselves and when we’re feeling emotionally low we tend to blame all of the world’s problems on ourselves. If you get in a helping profession like counseling or pastoring or social work, you’re going to discover that the people don’t always respond the way you’d like them to respond. You can influence people but you cannot control them. Yet we tend to blame ourselves when others make choices we don’t approve of or don’t understand.

Mistake #4: We exaggerate the negative.

Have you noticed the fact that when you’re discouraged, everything seems to be wrong? When your life becomes filled with fear and resentment and low self-esteem and anger and loneliness and worry, you’re headed for burnout. Then, if you focus on your feelings, and you compare yourself to others, and you accept responsibility for everybody else, and you exaggerate the negative, you’re only going to make matters worse.

Four Steps to Reversing Ministry Burnout  by 

If you are discouraged and on the verge of burnout, you’re depressed, or you’ve got the “blah’s”, and you want to be like Elijah and just run away from the responsibilities in your life, then you need to do these four things.

Step #1: Rest your body.

Relax. Take care of your physical needs. That’s the first thing you do when you’re getting emotionally burned out. When Elijah was at the point of burnout, the Bible says, “Then Elijah lay down under the tree and he fell asleep. All at once after a while the angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat’ and he looked around and by his head there was a cake of bread baked and hot coals and a jar of water and he ate it and drank it and he lay down again. Then the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank again. And strengthened by that food he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mount of God.” (1 Kings 19:5-8)

It’s interesting to me that when Elijah started having a pity party and started contemplating suicide and started saying, “God, I just want to die!” that God did not scold Elijah. He did not add to his guilt. God’s remedy, step one, was to have Elijah to eat, then sleep, then eat and sleep some more. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is go to bed. It’s amazing how a good night’s rest will do wonders for your attitude. Weariness and fatigue promotes depression and getting in shape is an excellent preventative to emotional burnout. You will be a lot stronger spiritually if you’re physically strong. Relax. Rest your body.

Step #2: Release your frustrations.

Pray about it. Tell it to God. Get it off your chest. Complain to the Lord. Confess it to God. Spill your guts. Share with God what you don’t like.

God said to Elijah in v. 9, “What’s bugging you?  What are you bothered about?” Elijah let him have it, “Then he went into a cave and spent the night and the word of the Lord came to him, ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’ Elijah replied, ‘I’ve been very zealous for the Lord … “  and he tells God how he feels.

God let him complain until he was out of words. God did not interrupt him. God did not criticize him. God is not shocked when you complain, when you say, “God, I think my job stinks!” or “God, I don’t like the fact that I’ve had poor health.” God is listening. God was letting him get it off his chest. There’s a spiritual catharsis, a cleansing. And it always helps to have a Christian friend to talk to.

Step #3: Refocus on God.

Take your eyes off the problem and get a fresh awareness of what God wants to do in your life. God took Elijah outside. “Come outside the cave, Elijah. I’ve got something I want you to see.” And God put on a production. It was unbelievable. Verse 11 says, “God said, ‘Go out and stand in the mountain in the presence of the Lord for I’m about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” God put on one fantastic light show. There’s thunder and lightening, earthquakes, and rocks are splitting apart. It’s unbelievable, but God spoke to him in a whisper.

Isn’t that typical? God rarely speaks to us in the dramatic ways as when all of a sudden you feel the Lord’s presence and get a word from God. No, most of the time God speaks to us is in the quietness, sitting still, praying, reading the Bible, sitting out by a quiet lake and just being quiet before the Lord. It is then that He’ll plant an idea, an inspiration. God reminded Elijah that he was right there, that He hadn’t gone away, that He was there beside him, and He said, “Just be quiet. Realize I’m here with you.”

Step #4: Recommit your life to God.

Recommit your life to God’s purpose. Let God give you a new direction, a new purpose, a new job, a new career if need be, a new ministry. The Bible says in verse 15, “Then the Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go back the way you came.’” He said, “Get back to work Elijah, go to this city and anoint this man to be the king.” He gave him a project, a job.

The quickest way to defeat your depression is to get involved in the needs of other people. Start a ministry. Find a place to give yourself away. As you give yourself away, God gives to you and you become a channel. The happiest people in the world are those who help other people. God gave Elijah a new job to do which would help other people.

Some of you are struggling with depression. You look like you’ve got iron poor blood. Maybe you didn’t feel like getting up and out of bed this morning. Maybe some of you are having a hard time making decisions. You just don’t know what to do. That’s a symptom of burnout when you can’t make decisions anymore — you’re not decisive. Maybe you feel like everybody’s against you and you’re gloomy and it seems like the world is falling apart. Maybe you’re trapped — trapped in a job you don’t like or trapped in a relationship you can’t stand and you don’t know what to do. You’re constantly tired. You have no energy. Maybe you feel like running away like Elijah did.

I have good news for you. Jesus Christ says there is hope. There is a way out. You don’t have to stay depressed. God can help you through it if you’ll take these steps. You’re not alone. God cares about you and so do the people in your church. You can change with God’s help.

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