The first step in growing your church while preventing burnout is conducting a heart check. Now, I’m not referring to your physical heart. (Although if you’re already burned out that may not be a bad idea.) I’m talking about your emotional, spiritual heart.
What’s motivating you?
What’s motivating within the context of church can get complicated.
We’re working to serve God and people.
You’re preparing a sermon, leading a small group, running the lights and sound, or other tasks that contribute to telling people about Christ. Sometimes we can get so blinded by doing work for God that we neglect our relationship with God. That’s dangerous and can lead to the moral failures we’ve seen in the church or pastors/church staff burning out and leaving.
How do you conduct a heart check? Here are several areas to consider:
#1 – When did you last spend time in prayer and reading the Word that wasn’t for preparation of a sermon or other work-related activity?
We all need time with God that’s simply for the purpose of listening, learning, and enjoying his presence. It’s easy to try and justify not having personal time with God if you’ve already spent several hours preparing for a message. While I’m sure you benefitted personally from that time, it can’t fully replace time invested in focusing on your relationship with God.
#2 – Review your calendar for the last few weeks
What does that tell you about what’s most important? After all, what we schedule tends to be what gets done and therefore shows what’s most important to us. Does your calendar align with what you say is most important to you?
#3 – How many evenings are you working late each week?
Your relationship with your family plus your physical health will take a hit if you’re working late too often. There will be busy seasons, but those should be seasons, not every day. This is much easier to say than do, but it’s important to say “no” to work (even church work) so you can say “yes” to your family.
I like how Eric Geiger puts it in his post, Four Reasons Burnout Is More Prevalent in Ministry Leadership:
“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.”
#4 – Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Well, if I don’t get this done it won’t be done right”?
If so, that could indicate you’re not delegating well or you’re insistent a task be done exactly your way. Check out this post on developing trust with your team so you can feel confident in delegating more often.
#5 – What do you praise and reward with your team . . . working long hours or being productive and planning ahead so long hours aren’t necessary?
Remember: If you’re staying late and rewarding long hours, that’s what your team will think is required.
#6 – Do you have any time scheduled (as in a meeting on your calendar) with yourself to think, plan, dream?
This is time for you to consider the projects and tasks ahead in the light of the vision/mission of your church and considering whether you’re working on the right things that will help you achieve that vision.
It’s time to think about your staff and volunteers . . . to consider how you’re leading them and what to encourage or correct. This time looks like the opposite of productivity but this is where the magic happens. It’s where you realize you’re running in the wrong lane and need to make a course correction.
It’s hard to do this when you’re wired for accomplishment, but this will actually help you be more productive in the long run.
#7 – Why do you want to grow the church?
Are you secretly feeling competitive of the church across town or of the mega-church pastor who gets invited to all the speaking engagements? Are you looking for accolades from your pastor or other church leaders? Or are you truly focused on reaching hurting people and helping them come to Christ? Motivations matter.
#8 – Look at church finances
If you have any decision-making authority over spending decisions, this will tell what you really value.
Is the youth budget a mere fraction of what you spend on adult programs? Then you’re prioritizing adults over developing the next generation. That might be the best choice given your current situation, but have you considered the pros and cons of that decision?
Is your staff salary budget much less than other churches your size? This may indicate you’ve been able to develop incredible volunteers to allow for a smaller staff, your staff is working more hours to handle the workload, or perhaps you’re paying your team much less than others. Depending on which reason fits, you may need to make some adjustments.
Do you budget (and actually spend) any money on maintenance (building, equipment, technology)?
#9 – Do you have a church calendar of events?
If so, what’s on it? Are all events inward (congregation) focused or do you also have community outreaches or missions events on the calendar?
What you’ve chosen to invest time in is what you value.
#10 – Who can tell you “no”?
Especially if you’re the senior pastor, you need someone around who can protect you from yourself if needed. If you can’t be fired, if no one can tell you no, then you’ve set up a dangerous environment that’s not healthy for you or your congregation.
Surround yourself with people who know your strengths and weaknesses and who will tell you if you’re heading off course. Your staff members are concerned about their employment status plus there’s a weird dynamic that occurs when your boss is also your pastor. As a pastor, you’re seen as a spiritual leader and are put on a pedestal that’s really not fair to you or to others. You need friends, elders, and/or a board of directors who don’t report to you and who can hold you accountable when needed.
Regardless of how long we’ve been Christians, we all need the feedback and help of others. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 NIV).
#11 – Do you actively seek out feedback?
“Leaders who won’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” – Andy Stanley
Ask your team, staff and volunteers for feedback. Listen carefully and take action on their input. Sometimes the feedback will be to keep doing what you’re doing. Other times it’ll be that you should make some changes. Be humble, listen, and ask God for direction on how to proceed.
#12 – When was the last time you were wrong about something and admitted it (to others)?
“People would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right.” – Craig Groeschel
Even when you make a mistake, if you’ll admit it to those it impacted, apologize, and ask for forgiveness, people will respect you more than if you tried to brush it off.
Regardless of how long we’ve been Christians, the training we’ve received, or our spiritual maturity, it’s helpful to pause occasionally to take an inventory of our hearts. As leaders, your decisions impact those within your sphere of influence. Keep your heart healthy to ensure your actions and choices remain aligned with how God is leading you. Ask him to reveal any unhealthy motives and to help you make the necessary changes. He knows we’re all works-in-progress and is faithful to provide wisdom to those who seek it out.