Burnout is a dangerous ditch on the path of pastoral ministry; it should be avoided at all costs. Entire books have been written on burnout, but for the sake of brevity, we will just say that burnout is a mental and/or physical collapse caused by overwork, stress, and self-sufficiency. Burnout is often a result of pastors who give too much while taking too little. They are, as Rick Warren once described, like “poor photographs: overexposed and underdeveloped.”
Burnout is bad, but burnout is not the same thing as weariness. Burnout does not have to be a part of your pastoral biography. Weariness, on the other hand, is part of the job and calling of a pastor. Weariness is the price we pay for faithful ministry. Pastors, if you are weary, take heart. You are not alone. Terry Linhart reminds us that even Jesus grew weary.
Ministry done right is hard, soul-stirring, heart-wrenching work. Preparing sermons requires toil and mental struggle as well as spiritual battle. Ministering to hurting couples can be devastating. Serving grieving families never gets easy. And, to make matters worse, there are almost always more needs than we can meet. If you don’t grow weary in ministry, you aren’t doing it right.
But, weariness should never drive us to despair, instead it should drive us to our knees. Jesus is not only the author and finisher of our faith, he is also the model for us to follow after. When Jesus was weary, he didn’t despair, he turned to his Father for rest and refreshment. He stole away to solitary places so that he could meet alone with his Father and be refreshed and restored. It doesn’t appear that Jesus considered weariness an evil to be avoided, but a necessary result of his incarnational ministry to people.
Here are three steps to addressing weariness in ministry.
1. Acknowledge your weakness.
You grow weary because you are human. God created in such a way that we would get tired. The Sabbath was a directive from God from the beginning. We rest because he rested, but unlike him we need rest. Always running and never resting is the path to burnout, not faithfulness.
2. Turn to the Lord.
Several times in the gospel accounts, when Jesus was tired he was found alone with his Father. Jesus knew that the source of his strength and the power for his ministry was to be found in communion with the Father. So too, your power for ministry is found in communion with your Heavenly Father. When the burdens of ministry weigh you down and the waves of weariness seem to overwhelm you, get alone with the Lord and allow him to reshape your soul.
3. Get back to work.
Weariness can be remedied with good rest and refreshment from the Lord. The purpose of our times of rest and refreshment are not to keep us sidelined, but to get us back into the game. When you find yourself tired and weary, get the help you need, spend time with the Lord, but don’t check out. Always rest with a plan to re-engage.
Are you tired today? Do you feel worn-out? That’s OK. It is normal. Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t give up. Ministry is supposed to make you weary, but you can make it. Don’t quit. Press on. The work is worth the weariness and our God is of far greater worth than the cost of serving him.