By / Oct 31

Most pastors likely answer the call to ministry with great expectations of what the Lord will use them to do. And while pastoral ministry is rewarding, many pastors can often find themselves in seasons of burnout and discouragement. Pastor Mike Minter, author of Stay the Course: A Pastor’s Guide to Navigating the Restless Waters of Ministry, has had a long and faithful vocation in ministry and shares words of wisdom and encouragement to pastors walking through turbulent waters.

Elizabeth Bristow: In your experience, what happens to bring a pastor to the point of burnout?

Mike Minter: There are a number of contributing factors that conspire to bring down a pastor. Too much self reliance can be a major issue. The mentality of “I can do this by myself” or the belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness, when in fact, it is a sign of pride. It can be lonely when you’re at the top, and without strong accountability burnout occurs in a matter of time. Carrying internal secrets leads to heavy burdens, and if a pastor is struggling and has no one to turn to, he is on a path to emotional trauma.

EB: What role does accountability play in helpful discussions surrounding ministry burnout? 

MM: The Lord has made it clear that we are to bear one another’s burdens. (Gal. 6:2) We can’t do that unless we share in them. Forty-eight years ago, a pastor friend of mine came to me over lunch and said, “This ministry stuff is hard.” We had both planted churches at the same time. I thought little of his comment at the time until he had a nervous breakdown the next day and never returned to ministry. To this day, I wish I would’ve acted on his comment. Perhaps I could have helped prevent such a loss. I trust this illustration shows the need for pastoral accountability.

EB: In the book, you say the state of pastoral burnout can lead to the imploding in moral failure. What steps should be taken to prevent this from happening? At what point should pastors seek help?

MM: “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). A pastor needs to seek help every day through prayer and introspection to see if he is progressing in his sanctification. If he realizes he is slipping, it is time to get help. Most pastors see themselves as specialists in giving help but often struggle to receive help. It’s crucial for pastors to take a daily inventory of their hearts to help keep them refreshed in the Spirit and stay alert to signs of moral decay.

EB: After your long and faithful career in pastoral ministry, what advice would you give to someone just starting out? 

MM: My number one piece of advice is to put away all expectations. Dreaming of having thousands come to hear you preach is like believing you will win a gold medal at the Olympics. The difference between expectations and reality is disappointment. Give your expectations to the Lord since he is the One who said he would build his Church. Secondly, seek humility above personal ability.

EB: How does today’s cultural climate, with all its vitriol and expectations, contribute to ministry burnout? 

MM: I believe the internet [can be] the greatest tool of the enemy’s attack. Social media has put many pastors in depression by reading about others who started a church in their basement a month ago and are now renting a 2,000-seat auditorium. Vitriol is not at all pleasing to Christ. I have never been on social media, and suppose it can be used for good, but I know many who have suffered at its hands. 

By / Jan 5

With tears in her eyes, Janelle moaned: “I can’t do it anymore.” 

In her mid-30s and married with two kiddos of her own, Janelle has been working as the children’s ministry director of a midsized church in the Midwest. She was supposed to be part-time, but because there was so much to do, it was closer to full-time work many weeks. On most days, she loved her job, but the last year had been rough.

Like a battle-fatigued soldier, Janelle didn’t have anything left to give. Here’s what added up to her downfall: 

  • She was consistently short of volunteers. She was desperate for help and didn’t feel the congregation was supportive enough. They didn’t “get” how much need there was in children’s ministry. 
  • If something went wrong on a Sunday, like a volunteer got sick at the last minute, she stayed as a last-minute backup. She felt as if she was constantly plugging holes in an ever-leaking dam.  
  • She didn’t have anyone helping her oversee the children’s ministry on Sundays. It was pretty much the Janelle show. She called the shots, organized the volunteers, set up things in advance, and cleaned things afterward. 
  • All this added up to her rarely making it to church services to hear the sermon. She couldn’t remember the last time she was able to sit through the entire church service uninterrupted. 
  • The pastoral leadership rarely paid attention to children’s ministry or her work.  
  • She rarely took a vacation or a break. She was present and working 50 or 51 weeks per year. 
  • Her church involvement was reduced to just children’s ministry. While she was good at her work, that was all she did when it came to her interactions with the church. She was not a part of a small group. She didn’t join a reading group when offered. She rarely met up with other Christian women for fellowship or accountability. 

She was overworked and underappreciated. How long could she last without any encouragement? She was a walking time bomb, ready to implode at any moment. If this kept up, she’d be another in the long list of casualties in children’s ministry. 

Have you noticed high turnover in the children’s ministry director (CMD) position in your church? What kind of love, training, and support would make the Janelles of this world stick around for decades? Let me offer six suggestions for how to save your children’s ministry director from crashing and burning.  

1. The children’s ministry director must be generous in giving responsibility to the members. 

If your CMD does everything, tell him or her to stop. It should never be the Janelle show. She should hand over as much responsibility as possible to the members. It takes an entire community of believers to raise these children.  

Encourage the CMD to give away enough responsibility to the members so that her role shifts to more of an NFL commissioner. She’s coordinating and overseeing different “coaches” and “teams” rather than being the sole person running the entire show. She’s not shy, but she’s aggressive in giving out opportunities to the members to take charge of children’s ministry. 

2. Build a competent and talented team around your CMD. 

A more formal leadership team for children ministry can stabilize it over the long haul. For some churches, it might be hiring one or two part-time paid positions. In other churches, it means adding key volunteer roles into your system, like a nursery coordinator or teacher trainer for your Sunday school teachers. Build a team of competent people around the CMD who take ownership of the ministry.

You might think in terms of a sheriff who deputizes one or two people in his community to assist in fighting crime—he formally gives them the responsibility to work alongside him. He sticks stars on their shirts, hands over guns for their holsters, and takes them along on the next crime investigation. 

3. Shepherd the CMD’s soul, not just their job. 

Though a CMD needs to get her job done, the most vital thing about her life is not her job, it’s her soul. If the CMD’s job performance is an A+, but her soul is a D-, then you’re failing her. You can and must do better. You must care more about her relationship with Christ than her job performance. Who she is in Christ matters far more than what she does for him. Jesus cares about whether Janelle loves him. You should care enough to ask Janelle regularly, “How is your relationship with Christ?” or, “How are you growing in your love for Jesus?” Asking such things shows that her spiritual life really does matter.  

4. Make sure your CMD is an active and healthy member of her church. 

Make sure Janelle’s spiritual life doesn’t exclusively revolve her job as the children’s ministry director. That’s a quick way to suffocate her spiritually.  

If Janelle spends all of her time on the children’s ministry floors, but never makes it into the main worship services, she’ll never hear the sermon, she’ll never get to sing with the congregation, or pray along with the corporate prayers. God has established a weekly rhythm for Janelle’s life; attending a weekly worship service resets Janelle and prepares her to face the trials and tribulations of the coming week. So, make sure your CMD can regularly attend the church’s worship services.

Janelle needs friendship with other believers who know her life, keep her accountable, challenge her to confess her sin, to dig deep into the Word, and to trust her Savior when things get hard. But she can’t do that if her life revolves only around her job. So, make sure your CMD is growing in his or her relationship with other believers in the church.  

5. Lavish an abundance of encouragement on the CMD. 

Give constant encouragement. Be especially clear when Janelle does things well—give her affirmation for a job well done. But also find big and small ways to offer encouragement. 

My daughters discovered that our CMD, Gio, loves apple cinnamon flavored fig bars. The next time we were at a grocery store, they said, “Daddy, look!” They were pointing to pack of apple cinnamon fig bars. We bought a box, and once every other week, the girls stop by to give Gio a little two pack of fig bars. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s a small gesture of kindness, a simple way to say to her, “We love and appreciate you.” 

6. Make sure your CMD takes a break. 

Having no breaks, and all work, is not good for anyone’s soul, let alone a CMD. Do everything you can to make sure your CMD takes a break from the normal pressures of his or her job. Get your CMD to slow down on Mondays (since Sunday is such a busy workday). Encourage your CMD to also use up all of his or her vacation days.  

A healthy CMD makes for a better children’s ministry

While I don’t have a fool-proof answer for how to solve every church’s problems, the recipe for a healthy CMD is not that hard to figure out. Keep him or her grounded in Christ. Be sure to feed them spiritually. Build a solid team of people around them. Get him or her to give responsibility to the members. Then encourage, encourage, and encourage (yet again!) in whatever he or she is doing.  

To God be the glory. As you care well for your CMD, you serve the whole church, not just Janelle. 

By / Jul 8

It was a busy day of ministry. Five thousand people covered the hillside where Jesus taught, not including women and children. Evening was coming on fast, and the people were hungry. So Jesus fed them food from a boy’s lunch of two small fish and five loaves of bread. Scripture tells us that, “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matt. 14:23).

Ministry and burnout

The demands of ministry haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years. Ministry remains a 24/7 job.  That’s because crises don’t fit neatly into a 9 to 5 schedule. The needs of church members are constant. Indeed, many happen in the middle of the night or when the pastor is on vacation with his family. The life of ministry can be draining and demanding, leaving little time for rest and refreshment.  

In addition, there are high expectations that come with a life of ministry.  People expect ministry leaders to know the answer to every question, fix every marriage and engage every lost soul. And they want pastors to prepare a challenging, yet not too convicting sermon each and every week. The church budget is always stretched thin, and the needs only continue to grow. Someone is always dissatisfied with the songs chosen for worship and, of course, an announcement was left out of last week’s church bulletin. Don’t forget that there are never enough volunteers to serve in the nursery.

For those who work in full time ministry serving our local churches, such as pastors, leaders of church ministries, and counselors, burnout is a common problem. The pressures of ministry, combined with how many hours these leaders pour into their work, can lead many to feel hopeless, overwhelmed, discouraged, unmotivated, cynical, unproductive, and sometimes even depressed. Such burnout trickles over into their family life, creating tension and strife at home. Many statistics report high numbers of pastors leaving the ministry, some as high as 1,700 a month, and often because of burnout.

Burnout prevention

As church members, we need to help and encourage our ministry leaders. We can’t expect them to be superhuman. Here are a few things to consider about burnout prevention:

1.  Ministry leaders need rest (both physical and spiritual). As we saw in Matthew 14, even our Savior had physical limitations in his humanity. His body grew tired. He needed time away from his work to rest and pray. Just as our Lord took time away from the work of ministry, ministry leaders need to do the same. We need to provide ways for them to do so. In America, we call it vacation. Americans are known for neglecting to use their vacation time. Those who work in ministry are no exception. We need to encourage them to take regular breaks and even sabbaticals.  

2. Ministry leaders need friendships. It is hard for ministry leaders to have real, deep, authentic friendships within their own churches. After all, they are helping everyone else in the church with their problems.  But those who serve us in ministry need deep friendships of their own. It is important that we encourage our ministry leaders to invest in friendships where they have the freedom to share common experiences, voice their struggles and burdens, and receive accountability. It may mean that they have to seek such friendships in other churches in the community.

3. Ministry leaders need help. It is important that ministry leaders and we, as church members, realize that ministry leaders can’t do everything. They are not God. They are not all-knowing. They are not all-powerful. They can’t be everywhere at once and meet the needs of every person who asks for their help. They are finite and human with limited energy and resources. This means that church members need to step in and help. Ephesians 4:12 tell us that the job of the pastor is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. It is the church members, not the pastors alone, who are to do the work of ministry. If every church member did their part, the weight of ministry would not fall onto one person. Let us reach out to our ministry leaders and offer our help.

4. Ministry leaders need realistic expectations. Ministry leaders need realistic expectations of themselves, and church members need to have realistic expectations for them. Ministry leaders often work more hours than any of us would be willing to. We need to carefully consider the demands and expectations we place on our church leaders, remembering that they are only human. This brings us back to number three.

5. Remember the needs of their family. We often forget the needs of our church leader’s family. They usually receive what’s leftover at the end of the long day. They are the ones who suffer when the pastor works countless hours a week, is constantly criticized by church members, or when he is discouraged by conflict and tension in the church. Let us consider how we can help and encourage the family of our church leaders.

Church ministry is an important calling. We need our church leaders. But the demands of church ministry are high. As church members, let us not knowingly contribute to the pressure, unrealistic expectations, and demands of ministry. Instead, may we help and encourage them for we are all members of the same Body, that is, Christ our Lord.  

By / Apr 15

Have you noticed that a common claim among the millennial generation is that many of them are "burned out"? Blog posts are popping up everywhere voicing concerns over burnout and giving people various ways to avoid this feared state. While being burned out is certainly not something we should desire for ourselves or others, I'm confused by this generation’s serious focus on this subject.

I never, ever heard my dad or grandfather claim they were “burned out” by their jobs, responsibilities or commitments, which were numerous. I'm not even certain they would know what burnout means. They had families to support, bills to pay, a job that required they show up on time and leave at a certain time, and came home to have dinner with their families by 6:00 p.m. They had two weeks of vacation, 30 minutes to eat the lunch they brought from home, and expectations that were required to be met for their employment. They had the weekends off and spent them parenting during quality time with their family.

I am not trying to make this a generational comparison, but maybe I need to. We need to figure out exactly what is going on in our culture with a generation that has done less but claimed burnout more than any previous generation. What is going on?

Three primary factors in burnout

I think there are several realities, but overall, I think it stems from three primary factors:

1. Extended adolescence

Many millennials have never had to work a day in their life unless they wanted a little extra money to take backpacking in Europe. Getting extra money usually meant babysitting a little more or working for their dad’s friend without having to actually apply for the job.

These days, people go to graduate school for no real reason or plan—outside of the expectations of parents or the desire to stay a student rather than entering the real world. Mom and dad have usually paid for everything major, so a job is not even urgent in the eyes of many millennials. And even though they are making $30,000 a year, they are able to continue living a life at the standard of their parents’ income.

It is hard to take on adult responsibility when you have never had to possess it in any other area of life. When one has been treated as the center of the universe as a child and teen, the real world becomes a major adjustment, and the demands of a basic work schedule will seem extreme—and lead to rapid “burnout.”

The millennial generation is soft because many of them have been babied. Many Christian blog posts are focused on “slowing down” and are written and marketed to a generation that is not going as fast as they claim. They are at coffee shops and staring at their phones while having time to train for marathons. None of these are bad things, but they certainly don’t make the case for having no extra time.

2. The fear of missing out

The weather is nice outside, and your friends are spending a long weekend in New York City, shopping and Instagramming every moment, and you are frustrated that you have to work! Sure, it’s disappointing, but there are times when you have to work and not play. The millennial often convinces himself or herself that it is the employer’s or the job’s fault that he/she is missing out, when the reality is that a job is something he/she needs to provide the income for personal and family responsibilities. Millennials have vacation time available to do some playing too, but like 99% of working Americans, it is accumulated and earned. One won’t be able to travel whenever he/she wants, and that can be a hard realization.

The ever-present social media world reminds us there is always something more fun and glamorous to be doing, but those things are rarely doable unless we have income, which comes from jobs that expects us to work. Another fear prevalent among millennials is that they are not fulfilling their passions in their jobs. While it’s probably true, only a small percentage of people get to enjoy that privilege. And even fewer people get paid to do their hobbies—something millennials often expect.  

3. Misdiagnosis

I first became aware of these issues when our children's minister lost some volunteers because they claimed they were “burned out.” I was confused by these claims because the volunteers’ commitment consisted of one hour each Sunday. One hour! I hardly believe they were having issues with burnout. The diagnosis was most likely closer to simply not feeling like doing it anymore because they wanted to go to brunch with their friends. When responsibility is pressing, and the fear of missing out is at the forefront of your mind, WebMD might suggest burnout, but reality says the antidote is becoming an adult and claiming your responsibilities.

Overcoming “burnout”

So, how do we help millennials tone down the burnout talk? We must help them understand that they must live for two things: the glory and mission of God.

1. The glory of God

The glory of God is the reason those who have believed the gospel—by putting their faith in Jesus Christ—now exist. This understanding leads to a proper theology of vocation. Work existed in the pre-fallen state of man (prior to Genesis 3). Adam was given responsibility over the work of the land by God himself. It was following the entrance of sin into the world and the life of Adam that the toil and hardship of work became a reality.

While we live as redeemed people among the curse of work that still exists, our calling is to the renewal of vocation in which we seek the glory of God in our efforts. After all, the Christian should view our work as "something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that [we] will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord” (Col. 3:23-24). We serve the Lord Christ. Ultimately, the point of our work is not our passion, ambition, dreams or even income, but the glory of God.

2. The mission of God

The mission of God is also essential to understanding how the Christian is to relate to work. As believers who are called to let our light shine before others, distinction in the workplace will help point our unbelieving co-workers to a distinct God. No one has the opportunity to be around unbelievers like someone in the workplace. While many millennial Christians are quick to jump to a social cause or overseas mission trip in order to join the mission of God, we forget that this same mission exists right in front of us, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

You might not have the ideal job, but for the Christian, it is never "just a job." The glory and mission of God are on display for all to see as we work. In the power of the Spirit, hard and honest work done with a correct understanding of why we do what we do won't lead to burnout but to carrying out our responsibilities as ambassadors of Christ for the glory of God.