Burnout – it’s such a visual word. To burnout a candle or a fire really means that the light goes out and there is only ash or melted wax left behind. If you sit and resonate with that image for a while it can be a little startling, especially when we begin to apply that image to people.

Burnout happens everywhere, in every job. It’s not just us in the church who need to be aware of burnout. However, our position in the church, serving people, does at times put us in a unique position for burnout. As youth workers we are always “on.” Always available for those who may need to talk, are hurting, or maybe just need the doors at church unlocked.

A light can’t always burn, a fire cannot always stay lit. It needs to be fed to burn. That is exactly what we need to do for ourselves….EAT! Not always with food but with daily bread, time with others, with God’s Word, time to just be you.

I grew up in a pastor’s house, and yes that does make me a PK (pastor’s kid). And I often speak pretty candidly of this experience, so get ready. From my view as a child, being a pastor, or someone who worked in the church, was pretty awful. You were always viewed in a specific light, always criticized for not living within walking distance of the church, and always expected to behave in a certain way. This wasn’t just true for the employee of the church; no that extended to the whole family. As an adolescent I was so frustrated by this, I just wanted to be Megan…not the PK. I appreciate that my parents recognized this need for me to form my identity outside of being a PK. They chose to let me attend another church during my adolescent years, because who wants to hear your Dad preach when you are a teenager? This encouragement from my parents to form my own identity is probably one of the reasons that I am in ministry today.

I think this same need and desire is true in all church workers. We need to be defined by who God made us to be, not by the position we serve in. See, burnout happens when we loose sight of who we are, when we become the job so much so that we no longer have any boundaries on our time or even on how we view ourselves.

I currently serve as the Associate Director at Lutheran Counseling Services, where I do full-time counseling. One of the biggest things that I had to learn is that I am more effective in my work when I take the time for myself. So often early on in my work I would feel guilty about putting boundaries on my time, guilty for not being available to people. What if someone needed me and I wasn’t there? That is a slippery slope that we can get pulled into…. “people need me,” as if they can’t figure things out without you. I have actually come to find that when I am not available people figure it out! It’s like my unavailability forces them to handle a situation that they didn’t think they were capable of without me, it truly empowers them. I want to be a person that empowers people, not a crutch that they lean on when they don’t feel capable.

So if you find yourself burning the candle at both ends then it is time to do a gut check! Ask yourself:

  • What is that I enjoy?
  • When am I spending time just for myself?
  • Who have I connected to recently for my own personal growth?
  • What groups am I connected to outside of work?
  • When was the last time I was completely off?
  • What am I afraid will happen if I make myself unavailable?

Sometimes in order to be a healthy church worker we will have to make hard decisions that cause others to react negatively. Not everyone that you work with or that attends your church will support the boundaries that you set for yourself, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it. The Bible often references how Jesus left the crowd to go and pray. I can imagine this upset so many people who wanted to be in His presence. If we keep the long-term goal in mind, to keep the candle burning, then upsetting someone focused on short term goals will make sense. God wants you to be healthy, set boundaries and serve Him for years to come. So take time for YOU and you will be more effective in ministry.

Here are some other tips for guarding yourself against burnout:

  • Say “No” more often
  • Exercise
  • Spend time in prayer and meditation
  • Meet your basic needs
  • Engage in relaxation activities
  • Surround yourself with positive people
  • Journal
  • Set long-term goals for the future