Am I Burnt Out? 30 Useful Questions
There are both internal and external forces that cause pastoral burnout. One’s temperament, convictions, and preferences (internal) can cause excess stress leading to burnout. One’s circumstances—like church size, growth rate, leadership, and support structure (external)—can also weigh heavily on a pastor’s joy and longevity. Here are 30 questions—15 internal and 15 external—to ask yourself to discover whether or not you’re on the road to burnout.
1. Do I believe all things? In a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of way, do you “believe all things”—including believing the best about a fellow leader or congregant? Or am I more naturally suspicious?
2. Am I disciplined? Some of the strongest pastors I know are disciplined in their thought life, use of time, habits, and practices.
3. Do I take the long view? Do I have the ability either internally or with the help of friends to look beyond immediate trials? In other words, ask yourself if it’s possible that things could be different five years from now.
4. Am I focused on the “Wildly Important”? In Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, he challenges his readers to focus on the “Wildly Important” as opposed to the trivial and passing. Focusing on the most important work will lend itself to a deeper satisfaction in your ministry. Trying to keep up with social media and the happenings of your denomination will more likely gut you of energy and contribute to a distracted state of mind. Flee the pursuit of the trivial!
5. Do I experience the victory that I preach? Secret sins—even the so-called small ones—rob us of joy.
6. Do my convictions run deep? The book of James has much to say about the man who doubts.
7. Do I live with that “Great Day” in view? If a pastor does, it will constantly remind him of the “greater judgment” that is coming and the great reward for the faithful.
8. Am I growing weary of doing good? It’s an odd question but a real possibility according to Galatians 6:9.
9. Am I living on the force and strength of activities? This is tied to #8. In other words, are you sowing to the flesh or the Spirit? Do you find joy in the Lord and being his son—or do you find joy in all the activity and seeming fruitfulness born from your work in the church?
10. Am I an over-exposed introvert? If so, I need to know my limits and acknowledge my frailties. Rest before you’re tired. You oversee a 52-week operation; you can’t afford to falter.
11. Am I praying? Through prayer, am I acknowledging God as the sovereign mover in the lives of the sheep I’m called to shepherd?
12. Am I a procrastinator? Putting hard things off adds stress. Satan is a big enough foe; don’t unnecessarily contribute to his advantage.
13. Do I delegate well? Trust Christ’s design of the body; you don’t have all the gifts.
14. Am I humble? Pride doesn’t mix well with being the head of an all-volunteer organization.
15. Do I fear man or God more? Fear of man will rob you of your ability to say no, something every pastor needs to be able to do. God has ordained but a few things for his church. Fear God and do those things he has ordered.
1. Do I have friends? I mean real friends! A pastor can have 1,000 acquaintances and care for a multitude of sheep and have no friends. A friend will walk with you over a long period of time and know when to correct and when to encourage. He will hold your confidence and laugh with you.
2. How are my home finances? Having problems at church coupled with financial problems at home is almost unbearable and has driven more than one good man out of ministry.
3. Am I bogged down in administration? This is a real problem both for small and big church pastors, just in different ways. A pastor cannot avoid all administration as he “oversees” the church, but it cannot dominate his work.
4. Am I physically fit for the task at hand? Fall short on sleep, exercise, or good food and you physically wear down which can naturally lead to a challenged emotional and mental state. You don’t need to be a CrossFit maven, but you can’t ignore your body and think it won’t contribute to burnout.
5. Am I working on my days off? A bow that is chronically pulled taut will lose its ability to launch arrows. Likewise, a minister who fails to rest will quickly run out of energy and quit. God prescribed rest in Genesis—at the beginning!—and he was wise to do so.
6. Do I take all my vacation days? Even if you don’t think you need to take the days off, your family does. Lose your family and you lose your ministry.
7. Do I have young children? A man with a house full of small children will no doubt lack sleep, which can lead to burnout. Pace yourself and know that the season will not last forever.
8. Do I have a supportive wife? A difficult marriage or an even slightly unsupportive wife will gut a minister. Prioritizing one’s marriage will add boatloads of good to your overall ministry.
9. Am I pressed on every side? Trials can ground a ministry and cause a man to want to mine for coal rather than souls. It’s absolutely essential to develop a theology of suffering, to realize there is purpose amid trials, and to cultivate a prayer life that “casts all my cares” on God.
10. Do I have real and historical mentors? Are there men in your life whom you can imitate and seek counsel from? Are you reading biographies of historical figures that can provide a fresh perspective as you read about full lives of faithfulness in just a few hundred pages?
11. Am I doing all I can to repair broken or difficult relationships? It’s draining to preach week after week in front of people—even just a few—who believe an unflattering narrative about you. Peacemaking is every Christian’s calling, and it will also ease your conscience the next time you preach.
12. Is the routine of my work a problem? Is the weekly rhythm of sermon preparation and preaching a sought-after joy or a predictable grind? Does your very private preparation for a very public act energize or drain you? Some can’t wait to “get in the study” while others feel like they have to go into recovery mode following the delivery of a sermon. Knowing and coping for your leanings will lead to longevity.
13. Is my happiness in ministry dependent on seeing evident fruit? Every ministry and minister goes through dry periods. Having a “Big God” theology coupled with developing a patient posture will lend itself to a long run.
14. Is my conscience wound tighter than God’s? Shepherding a group of sinners and holding a very tight (weak) conscience is potentially a dangerous combination. Paul warns about the temptation to judge in Romans 14.
15. Do my ambitions match the Lord’s? To put it a different way, would your personal ambitions be any different if you were the head of a company instead of the pastor of a church?
If after taking this little survey you conclude you are near burnout, consider asking your church for a sabbatical to rest and reflect. You may conclude you just don’t have the makeup (internal) to be in the ministry. Or you may conclude there are some things that could be adapted (external) to ensure a long run. Either way, our lives should be marked by joy, not burnout.