Ever since before I went into ministry I received warnings about "ministry burnout." I am aware of it's causes it's symptoms and I even have some clues as to how to avoid it, but I never really prepared myself to actually experience it and recover from it. When you're in the midst of something, everything is easier said than done. I tell myself to slow down, to take better advantage of the few leaders that I do have, to get more volunteer support, to take one step at a time, but all that's tough when your too burnt out to work on getting leadership or feeling too under appreciated to slow down. So how do you recover from burn out?
If you're in ministry and you're not feeling burnt out yet, lemme tell you that the best way to recover from burn out is to stop it before it starts. There are at least three components to think about. One is boundaries and priorities, the second is simplicity and process in the programming, and the third is building support. I can speak on all three of these components out of experience in failure.
If you don't have solid boundaries between your family life, your social life, and your ministry, then all three are bound to suffer for it. And the priorities should pretty much fall in that order--family, friends, ministry. Putting family first may seem like a no brained but it involves some sacrifice and it involves some major discipline, especially in a small church setting. In small churches, everyone expects your family to do ministry with you. Folks in the congregation are rarely as sensitive as they should be to the importance of spouses having space away from their husband or wife's ministry. There needs to be distinction in their identity. Even if your wife loves doing ministry with you, you've got to take the burden of of them. This requires recruitment. If you make the habit of using your spouse as your leadership team, you'll create the pattern of dependence, you begin relying on them, placing the burden of responsibility on them, and you simply won't put the kind of energy into recruiting and relying on volunteers that you should. In so doing, you create a culture in your church where volunteer leadership just isn't expected in youth ministry because the Youth Pastor just uses their spouse for all that. Once you've created that culture, it's difficult un-create it. Also, your spouse will end up feeling like they are more of a workhorse than a wife or husband. If you feel like you're beginning to head in this direction, STOP. Turn around. Get some volunteers and make your spouse stay home from youth group. It may seem even less natural to put your social life first but if you don't have real, intentional relationships, not only will you likely lose your sanity, you'll also find yourself without real accountability and without real support. You'll actually be a bad example to your students. How can you talk to them about being intentional in relationships when you can't do it yourself?
I will have more to say on programming and building volunteer support in future posts. I offer these suggestions because I don't wish the feeling of burnout on anyone or any ministry. It is tough. It makes it nearly impossible to celebrate the good things in your ministry. And I must say I am open to suggestions about how to recover.