It was sudden. Very sudden. So what was the reason for his abrupt departure?
In his words, he had been leading on empty for quite sometime. He said, "I'm not okay. I'm tired. I'm broken, and I just need some rest."
I got online and watched a video of his announcement. He looked tired, his body language and eyes expressing on an even deeper level the realities of his words. My heart sunk as I watched this incredible, respected leader vulnerably crumble in front of his church.
I've had the privilege of interacting with him a handful of times at pastor gatherings, and he was formerly an associate pastor at a church I had also served in. So while I don't know him very well, I have had just enough closeness to make this one personal, and when I heard of his resignation, I wept. I wept for the thousands of people who are feeling this loss, and for his family who is walking beside their broken son, father, husband, and brother. And I wept because, well, it didn't really have to happen. Not really.
The thing about burnout is that it's always preventable.
There are warning signs and ways to deal with it. People are constantly warning you of the dangers of burnout, how people are leaving the pastorate in droves because of the weight of ministry. So people say to take vacations regularly, guard your sabbath almost legalistically, and most of all to spend regular time communing with the Father.
And I can imagine how many people are looking at this good man and thinking, "Where did he go wrong?" or "Why couldn't he remain faithful?" But the difficult thing about this situation is that I think he was being faithful, at least as much as he knew how.
I haven't heard anyone close to this pastor suggest that he was going off the rails or that he was losing it or anything like that. As far as anyone knows, he's been faithfully leading to the best of his ability.
So if that's the case--if a pastor can be totally faithful and still reach empty--then is it even possible to prevent? Is burnout simply an inevitable reality? Do pastors simply need to resign to the fact that one day they just won't have anything left to give and they'll probably end up throwing in the towel? And is it just pastors, or does this include anyone doing anything for the Church? If so, does this mean I'm destined to burnout? Does this mean you are destined to burnout?
The good news is, no. Not necessarily. And, well, yes. You probably will burnout: IF nothing changes.
The truth is that you can choose a different way. Burnout happens when you stop living out of the overflow of God's work in you, when the mission of God becomes nothing but action without the spiritual vitality that fills your cup. You simply can't do Kingdom work without stopping to rest in the arms of grace. Doing flows out of being. After all, you are a human being, not a human doing.
Look at Jesus. He simply never seemed to be in a big hurry. In fact, he frustrated his disciples at his seeming lack of urgency at times. And he was disciplined in his time with the Father because he knew that this was precisely where he drew his power.
You have to choose rest. Rick Warren suggests you need to:
- Divert Daily: Spend time in prayer, silence, solitude at least once per day with zero distractions.
- Withdraw weekly: Have a consistent, restful Sabbath day (not Sunday, that's the Lord's Day!)
- Abandon Annually: Take an extended time (i.e. a week) that's not vacation to rest, reflect, pray, and set goals.
And look for warning signs. If you recently slept in because your body simply wouldn't keep going, you're headed for a physical crash. If you feel cramps throughout your body or can't manage your weight, you might be under too much stress. If your mind feels cloudy or you forget things easily, you're consuming too much information. And if you find yourself being easily irritated, cynical, and frustrated, you're headed down a dark path.
Burnout is avoidable. But you won't prevent it accidentally. You have to choose the ways of Jesus. You have to fight for it. You have to say No to things in order to say Yes to God's design for living.
What is one thing you can do RIGHT NOW to prevent burnout in your own life?