How to Beat Pastoral Burnout

By



Ministry is a marathon – not a 50-yard dash. It’s tough. You’re in an invisible war where all kinds of forces are conspiring to keep you from doing what God wants you to do.

A few years back I made a list of young pastors in America that I needed to be praying for – like others had prayed for me when I was young. Today, more than half of the young pastors on that list are no longer in ministry—either they had financial problems, marital problems, or just got tired and gave up.

Pastor, we need for you to last in ministry.

The story of Elijah’s ministry burnout in Kings 19 gives us some great insights into how the cause and cures of our own burnout.

No doubt you’re familiar with the story. Elijah had challenged the 400 prophets of Baal to prove who was real: Baal or God. And, of course, God won the contest! Everyone in the nation turned back to God.

You’d think Elijah would be on a high after that. But he wasn’t. Ministry successes can drain you just as fast as ministry failures. When Queen Jezebel heard about what happened, she threatened Elijah’s life. Rather than being emboldened by this great ministry success and the revival of the nation, Elijah got so scared he ran to the other side of the desert, hid in a cave and asked God to kill him.

Elijah’s story gives us four signs of ministry burnout.

1 – We depreciate our worth. “Take my life for I’m not better than my fathers.” (I Kings 19:4, HCSB) Like Elijah, when we start telling ourselves we have no value, it’s a sign we’re burned out. Notice how Elijah compares himself with others. When you start comparing your accomplishments, your talents, or even your pain or problems with others, you’re headed down the wrong road.

You are your own worst critic. If you talked to other people in the same way you talk to yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends.

2 – We underrate our ministry. “Lord God Almighty, I have always served you—you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me!” (1 Kings 19:10, NIV) Elijah starts berating himself for things that aren’t his fault. The nation of Israel was crumbling around him, and Elijah took it personally.

Trying to control everything – as if you’re holding your church together by yourself – will have disastrous results. Truth is, it’s not up to you to make the world work. God never intended for you to carry that kind of burden. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s response. You’re responsible for proclaiming the truth and leading people the best you can – but not the responses of others. You are only responsible for your own response. You’re responsible to teach God’s truth but not what they do with it.

3 – We exaggerate our problems. “I am the only one left—and they are trying to kill me!” 1 Kings 19:10. NIV) Elijah said he was the only one left trying to do what was right, but that just wasn’t true. The nation had just experienced a revival, but Elijah’s view was distorted.

Never make a major decision when you’re depressed, discouraged or tired. It’ll be the wrong decision! When you’re on empty, you inevitably don’t have a clear view of reality. Elijah was so drained from being in the midst of a spiritual high that he couldn’t see the situation clearly. The whole nation wasn’t against him. It was one woman who made an empty promise!

Dig into God’s Word. You can’t focus on your emotions. The Bible doesn’t say that your emotions will set you free. It says the Truth will set you free. The more you know the truth, the freer you will be.

4 – We abdicate our dreams. “’I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘ Take my life.’” (1 Kings 19:4) When you get depleted of energy, you start shrinking your dreams to the size of your remaining energy. You lose your vision and forfeit your goals. This is the most destructive sign of burnout because when you lose your dreams, you lose hope. You want to give up.

Don’t you dare give up. Don’t give up on your family, on your church, on your dream or on your life.

Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t just tell us the causes of burnout. It tells us the cures as well! To get out of burnout and back on the road to recovery, you need to do the four things that Elijah did in this story.

  • Recharge. (1 Kings 19:5-8) God’s first prescription for Elijah’s burnout isn’t a sermon, confession or a lecture. He lets him eat and sleep. You need this, too. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap. Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” You need a day off. In fact, if you’re not taking a day off every week, you’re breaking one of the 10 commandments.
  • Release your frustrations. (1 Kings 19: 9-19) God can handle your frustrations. When you take it to other people, that’s gossip. When you take it to God, that’s worship. Complaining to God can be an act of worship because you’re telling God you trust Him with your feelings. Twice during this passage God encourages Elijah to tell Him what’s on his heart. God isn’t shocked when you complain. If you’re feeling down and depressed, tell it to God. It also helps to tell at least one other person. You need a spiritual confidant or a small group where you can unload.
  • Refocus on God. (1 Kings 19:11) Get your eyes off of your problem and onto God. Get alone with Him. God loved Elijah so much he sent a multi-media presentation to Him. He sent a hurricane wind, an earthquake, and a firestorm – until God finally spoke through a soft whisper. God showed his power and lets him know that He is in control. You need to relax. The root of all of your burnout is trying to be God. Whenever I start getting burned out, I get alone with God and focus on Him instead of my problems.
  • Resume serving others. (1 Kings 19:15-16) God gave Elijah a new assignment. He wasn’t done with him. And He isn’t done with you either. You’ve got to start thinking of someone other than yourself. The quickest way to defeat depression is to get involved in helping other people.

Some days you may not feel like getting out of bed. If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, follow these steps. This is God’s recovery plan.


Share With Your Friends…

Clip to Evernote
Send to Kindle
Print Friendly and PDF


Rick Warren About Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

  • littletee

    I burned out 7 years ago. Got to the point I’d just walk away from anyone who approached me with a problem. I’d hide from people, not being able to face another ‘issue’. Our church was thriving. We had led it through some challenging changes, planted a daughter church, and all was good. But I bottomed out, bured out – could not cope with church, with people, with life. I took a month off and tried to recharge. After a few months of struggling, I took another month off and tried again. The downward spiral continued. Depression, self-doubt, guilt, thoughts of suicide.

    I left the ministry for 2 years, returning to my pre-clergy career, then suffered a heart attack – almost died. I was laid off, felt the Lord’s call to return to ministry and did so, thinking by now I should be okay. God blessed us with a lot of growth, many saved, a dying church re-envigorated. But I could not face/handle problems and challenges. The burnout resurfaced. Depression returned. Now, I’m back in a secular career, serving as a lay preacher. Still can’t face challenge, opposition, conflict. Still want to run and hide.

    I know it’s not about me. I know without Him I have nothing to offer. I know He fights my battles for me and that all good gifts come from Him. I know it’s His work, His flock, His problems. But I can’t seem to “un-burn”.

    Is there hope? Is there healing? Or shall I just graciously, thankfully accept the reality of ministerial “retirement”? The guilt is great.

  • Dare

    This came just at the right time. I’ve been battling with the feelings of not being good enough and not getting the results in my ministry. I was on the verge of giving up but thanks for this.

    God bless you Pastor Rick

  • dzidzonu elisée

    this is what i endure today,3 days l stay home to think about me and the ministry,l ask if God told me to foud a church? because of debt to pay by month the church local,l search for affilliation but nothing,and l am confuse but today l know that God send a menthor on my way to hold me up,edzidzonu@yahoo.fr

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603480502 Stephan Prégent

    A few years ago God put a mission on my
    heart… I argued with him on and off ”You’ve got the wrong guy, I’m too
    little, too dumb, without education, too poor, too fat, too anxious, I don’t
    know anyone in this city, I’m not enough of this and that or too this and too
    that”. Gods response:  Well, He then
    took all of those things and traits I was complaining about and worked them out
    of me in an instant flash of time… Then, I had no excuses left, and, the way
    He worked, chiseled and prepared me for what was to come just left me completely
    speechless, every day had its miracles and every miracle built my faith and
    confidence in Him as well as in myself.

     

    Then, the
    day came where enough was enough and I just had to get moving on this mission He
    set before me… I had no more excuses, what ifs or but I… The next step
    consisted in leaving all the stability and security I had finally built for
    myself (coming from a broken, single parent and poor background and spending
    most my younger days switched from one foster family to another, then alcohol
    came in the portrait, drugs, homelessness / living on the streets, etc…)
    Leaving that little security I had accomplished for myself was the biggest step
    of faith I had ever been confronted with in my life. God was asking me to leave
    my job (without a penny aside and to make it worst my rent was cared for by my
    employer) which meant that the day I would give them my resignation notice, I would
    end up on the street 2 weeks later… Everything I had lacked and longed for,
    cried for all of my life and that I finally at 30 years old had found and
    established for myself after a traumatic childhood and miserable start at my
    adulthood, He was asking me to leave it, to trust him, to dare walk the path of
    faith.

     

    After all
    God had showed me in my life and while building and chiseling me intensely… My trust
    and faith in him became and was hard as rock. I prayed and  I asked for a loan that for some reason was
    accepted… I bought a car not knowing how I would make my payments on the loan,
    I put the little I had in a storage unit, I gave my resignation notice letter
    to my employer and… I waited… I trustfully and joyfully waited for God’s next
    move. … Of course, most of everyone around me thought I was completely nuts and
    delusional and setting myself up for a major failure relapse… But hey, where I
    come from, as soon as you say you believe in God your considered delusional
    anyways, so that didn’t bother me one bit since I’m quite proud of my faith
    delusional mind and I wouldn’t change it for a million bucks.

     

    Of course, I
    was never offered a million dollar trade off but I know I would of rejected it
    if I had… A business man did offer me 250 000.00 to buy a house in another
    region where I could start my project… I prayed and Gods advice was very clear
    as He whispered to my heart that the offer had nothing to do with his plans and
     that it was in the present this city I
    was in, that He wanted me to stay and build the project he put on my heart. Of
    course, I then declined the offer while letting the man know exactly why… I
    surprised quite a few people with my fear free faith, without mentioning that I
    knew no one personally in this city and region. I remember at that time, I was
    just happy to refuse offers and be faithful, oh the so great thrill and rush of
    holy spirit filled adrenaline wa the best thing I had ever experienced in my
    life.

     

    Well, a
    little more than two years later… With God as my lead and working 70 to 100
    hours a week… A 700,000.00 dollar project was built, one miracle after another
    while all those who thought me delusional, were, and still are today, shocked
    and awed. I always have loved to brag to people, from the beginning to this day,
    that the success of the project is due to my father, who has international and intergalactic
    influence and power… And I just love their faces when they ask me who my father
    is and I answer: Well, God of course.  In
    this VERY atheist region, they all look at me like I’m completely nuts, but
    yet, all God has done for the project and the improbable circumstances and such
    leaves them quite confused, puzzled, curious and asking questions… Questions which
    allow me to share my personal story and testimonial of God’s love and care in
    my life and how He can do just as much for them and in their lives…

     

     

    But also, at
    some point, with all the responsibilities, the stress, the this and the that’s
    and what people would say to me like and even die hard Christians, things like,
    Oh common Steph get over it with God, okay he jeps you but you’re the one
    working your ass off not him, if this project is on its way you’re the reason
    why… Such comments coming from Christians quite hurt at first but then, with
    time and repetition I started to see the project a little more like my project…
    I started to lose focus on the fact that it was He’s project that He was letting
    me be a part of and not my project that He was just giving e a hand with… With
    that, came the brick of pressure, stress, insecurity and especially of primary responsibility
    towards the project… I started doubting myself, I began feeling physically and emotionally
    as well as mentally tired, I was exhausted from working those crazy hours every
    week and for so long… Then, I started thinking there was no time to rest since
    there was so much to do and I bought my own twisted nonsense that since God had
    put this project on my heart He would energize me and keep me from a burnout. Furthermore,
    I sold myself the idea that it was also okay if I didn’t have the time to read
    the word everyday anymore or praise and pray him constantly as I used to. Yup,  I sold myself the idea that working as hard as
    I did for the project, was more than sufficient praise and worship for my God
    and I decided that He and I would be pleased and well satisfied with that… I
    got a few warning signs, you know, those flags we choose to ignore because we
    choose to think that we are in control… So now, this evening, I realise that in
    other words, I selfishly decided that I had no time to spend with God and not
    only that, I also blamed and judged him as being the sole responsible for that,
    since He was the one that had me running around to make this project happen
    which well justified the fact that I wasn’t spending time in my relationship
    with Him anymore…

     

     

    I knew I was
    wrong, I knew I was dead wrong… But I kept on, lost in the most incredible whirlwind
    of responsibilities, expectations from others and stress I had ever experienced
    in my life, it felt worse than all the abuse and repeated abandonments I had suffered
    as a child… Everyone now had very high expectations of me at this point… I
    was now Stephan the genius, the young David, the machine, the unstoppable, the
    blessed one… The more people praised me, the more I felt like crying… If they
    only knew how tired and exhausted I am right now… And how I feel like I have
    been sinking myself from the day my focus went from Christ to the moving and influential
    waters of this world…  I stopped lifting
    my eyes up to my heavenly father, losing that constant up to date heart contact
    which directly affected my relationship with Christ. I very well acknowledge
    now that I was the one that decided that I just had no time anymore to be in
    relationship with Christ as I made the project the relationship.

     

    Now… I’m
    tired, I’m exhausted… I feel quite lonely and five month of unexpected delays
    came about which kept us from opening the doors of our project, all though
    monthly charges keep pouring in which have now caused  a 55 000.00 $ deficit which  puts the whole project in a very critical
    state… I don’t know if we’ll get through anymore and it’s the first time in
    three years that that thought crosses my mind, and that, that is what breaks my
    heart the most and gets me mad, to lack faith at this point, I think I’m just to tired right now. Three years of hard work, going from facing homelessness, to,
    building a 700 000.00 project (755 000.00 now) in a city where I knew barely
    anyone one, having only elementary school education, coming from a poor
    background, witnessing God’s grace, mercy, miracles, love, care, abundance,
    patience and  much more everyday since the beginning… And now, now I have
    a faith crisis ? 

     

    Mostly, I
    feel very humiliated and disappointed in myself when I realise that I probably
    needed this not so good phase as to
    woe me back to Christ, to show me what is truly missing and most important and also to remind me who is in charge, I should have it down by now…  I miss Him and
    I know that He also misses me and has never went anywhere all along, but it is
    only I who didn’t take the time… Kind of like my ”dad” who loves me very much but very rarely has time for me… It just hurts.

     

    The big difference
    between the initial huge step of faith I took at the beginning of the project and
    the one I am now facing is this, then I had energy and focus because I found rest
    in him by talking with him, praying, praising and reading He’s word every single
    day… Now, I am exhausted for I have put aside the importance of resting in Him,
    and resting all together.

     

    Thank you
    pastor Rick… I decided that I will rest this whole week-end… Then, on Monday, I will evacuate
    my frustrations to then shape-up and refocus by getting back in the project, my God-given mission… A
    project which is all about serving and helping others…

     

  • http://www.SmallGroupChurches.com/ Mason

    Great insight Pastor Rick!

  • Edmundo sanchez

    thanks God for this mesage thanks Rick i realy neded it

  • MJ

    Pastor Rick: I just printed out your article for my husband.  I see the signs of burn-out in him. I sense he is standing in front of a fork in the road, either going back to work full time or weathering the storm until his breakthrough comes.  I believe in my heart that your article is the beginning of his breakthrough.  God used you to provide a plan for pastors, like my husband, that is simple yet rich with gold nuggests!  Our church is doing great, but at a price, and that is what he is experiencing.  Like you wrote, “Ministry sucess can drain you as fast as failures.”  I know he will come out of this, especially now that we have a plan. Gracias!

  • John Forbes

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom and practical application Pastor Rick . . . you continue to bless so many in the ministry!

  • C.M.

    Unfortunately, I am not as confident as you when you state that we are needed.  It seems there are so many others who don’t seem to value our calling nor our committment to the call as much as you.  Thanks for your support.

  • Msheffi883

    As a Pastor to pastors here in South America, I have translated this article and shared with our pastors.  It is one of the best articles that I have read on the subject.  Thanks. 

  • Ted

    Thanks Pastor Rick. What you shared really helped me personally

    Ted

  • Fernandez_Raul

    Wow, just in the right moment.
    Thank you!

  • Francina_p

    this is powerful

  • Jim

    Thanks Rick for reminding us of this.  Years ago, at a Small Groups Conference at Saddleback, Lance Witt quoted from Gal 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  With tears in my eyes, I decided that God was not finished with me yet.  I eventually left that church position and moved on to an even more fruitful assignment.  Ministry can definitely wear you out, unless you are able to keep a divine perspective.  Thank God for His constant reminder that we are on the right track! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/mbaissa Marilyn Hall Baissa

    Thank you Rick.  I’m hardly young.  But I really needed that today!

  • Pastor C Bradshaw

    Thank You Pastor Rick for allowing the Holy Spirit to use you, You have saved my ministry, and myself as well, I will pray that you continue encouraging the young Pastors like myself we do need Pastor’s like you who cares and watching for us, thanks again and May God Bless you. Pastor Bradshaw

  • Drdavog

    “Second Wind” is an excellent offering we provide at Green Lake Conference Center http://www.sw.glcc.org Let me know if I may be of help. Dave Gallagher

  • Dane

    Our ministry, our problems, our dreams….If it’s our ministry, then it’s our problem. If it is God’s baby, then the weight is on His shoulders.

    Elijah started out his ministry saying, “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand….”

    He was focused on the God of Israel.  God’s will and honor was THE issue.  Somewhere along the way Elijah listened to the people and became “the issue” in his own eyes.

    People will try to make you the issue.  “Is that you Elijah, you troubler of Israel?” 

    Just don’t allow you to become the issue in your own mind!  God is the issue.  Christ is the gospel.  We have received this ministry as we recieved grace….it is not merited and it is not ours.  It is a stewardship lent to us, but belonging to our Master.

    • Paulmd1234

      WOW I wish i had it as together as you sound you do brother… 

      • http://brodane.wordpress.com/ Dane Gressett

        I appreciate the encouragement.  I’ve spent a few years with Elijah in the cave of unrealized expectations.  To come out of there and finish your God-ordained assignment requires getting your eyes off of the results or lack of results and getting back to doing exactly what God tells you.  Nothing more.  Nothing less!

        • Paulmd1234

          Thanks for sharing brotherman… I’m always wanting to learn and grow as a pastor. But, sometimes it is hard for me to know exactly what to do… Yes i have His Word, His Spirit, His Calling, but there are times i don’t know what to do but something needs to be done… and i don’t see what the nothing more is and nothing less is… and when that happens I can just do one thing and that is love, love and love so more and when i hit that wall… I get up, shake my head and brush my self off, ask God to forgive me for not seing the nothing mores and the nothing less’s and get back to what God has called me to do… inspite of me feeling sorry for myself… I wish I knew exactly what God was telling me to do… all the time… You are in my prayers, loved and appreciated… Thanks for letting me share..

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=603480502 Stephan Prégent

      Sooo true !

  • Mike

    Hi Pastor Rick – thank you so much for this excellent, and timely, advice.

  • pastor kingsley diala

    thank you so much,these are perfect restoration plan for us ministers who are always in the process of burning out and yet no one cares to tell when to slow down and recharged, i am glad i ran into this material now, and i want to subscribe to this materials so that i will be on the list ,thank you again so much pastor Rick, you have added spices to my day
    pastor kingsley  diala

  • Mthalal

    Hi pastor Rick. Thank you so much for praying for us as the young pastors. I would like to also thank you for the outlined steps to overcome discouragement. God bless you and your family always.

  • John Ma

    thank you pastor rick. it’s very practical when written out.

Receive Rick Warren's Weekly Toolbox Newsletter for FREE!

Like the content you see at pastors.com? Why not receive it weekly in your inbox, plus bonus material too. It's free!

  • Weekly wisdom from Pastor Rick Warren.
  • Helpful articles on every aspect of church leadership.
  • Practical insights to move you forward.
  • Occasional subscriber-only freebies.
Close This!


BONUS! Subscribe now and receive the free eBook, 7 Keys to An Effective Ministry, by Rick Warren.

We hate spam too, and will never sell your email or send you unwanted stuff.