I experienced burnout in my first year of ministry. I talk about it here on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership podcast. The scariest thing I experienced while burning out was what I can only describe as a flat heart. I wasn’t motivated or passionate about the work I was doing. My heart didn’t feel alive with the mission and vision of God. It’s a scary and humbling thing to admit.
Pastors and leaders are burning out at record pace. I’m increasingly convinced it’s because we focus on what to do and not how to be as pastors and leaders.
The most telling question I can be asked is not, “What have you done lately?”
but, “How is your heart?”
If you’re burning out as a leader or feeling like your heart is flat, here are five things you can do right now. They’ve helped me get at how my heart is really doing. My hope is they help you too!
1. Get some distance
Getting away is hard for many leaders. Leaders are often high drive personalities that have a hard time stepping away from any given project or task—let alone the task of leading.
Pastors are often no different.
So, if you feel your heart starting to get flat, schedule some time away. It often takes distance to bring perspective and allow you to properly assess how healthy you are.
It often takes distance and perspective in order to properly see how healthy you are.
2. Talk to Someone
Far too often ministry is isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. If you feel your heart flattening, your passion disappearing or your anxiety rising, talk to someone.
In fact even if you feel healthy right now, talk to someone. It is probably the single greatest thing you can do to get yourself back to a place of passionate leadership.
Simply processing through what is going on with someone else can help you better understand what happening and give you concrete steps to get better.
For some reason this can be hard. When you’re burning out it can be hard to trust God. Eventually, through prayer, I realized that
Just take a look at the Israelites in the Old Testament. No matter what the Israelites seemed to get themselves into, God was faithful and He continued to lead them. They were never discarded.
The same is true for you, God continues to lead and guide you.
This one might seem too simple, but it is huge. You need rest. One of the things that can quickly lead to burnout is lack of sleep and lack of rest. If that’s the case, let me suggest two ways forward here.
First, get some sleep and let your body rest. Take some time off to take care of your health.
Second, find something to do that gives you energy again. For me it was slowly beginning to run, cycle and workout. Find something that will allow you to rest and enjoy life. It took me a few months to feel like myself again, it might take you longer, but don’t worry. Let your body get the rest it needs.
5. Lean into Jesus and Trust that He is Lord
The good news is this – God does sustain us through ministry, even in those moments when we feel our weakest and most vulnerable.
Trust that He is Lord.
Psalm 91 has always had a special place in my family’s story. There the Psalmist writes, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” Trust in Jesus, He is your refuge and your fortress.