During the Catalyst Conference, a group of pastors and ministry leaders shared their thoughts on avoiding burnout, how to protect one's soul and identity, and the importance of discipline in both rest and work.
The session, titled "How Do We Avoid Leadership Burnout?" featured Tyler Reagin, President of Catalyst, Jimmy Mellado, CEO of Compassion International, Andy Stanley, the Senior Pastor of North Point Ministries, and Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of Life.Church.
Mellado first pointed out that today, many pastors and faith leaders are expected to carry out the same roles and responsibilities as the CEO of a large company. Unfortunately, many seminaries haven't prepared pastors for these kinds of responsibilities.
"What we're finding is a lot of senior pastors are doing God's work in ways that are destroying God's work in them and leading them to make decisions that they wouldn't normally make, and it's hard to see," he said.
Stanley echoed Mellado's sentiment: "The extra pressure that a lot of pastors don't expect moving into ministry - they're overwhelmed, and seminary doesn't address any of it," he said. "It's a lot of extra weight and responsibility and stress, because with every layer of responsibility comes a layer of stress."
Groeschel pointed out that many pastors are both running an organization and teaching every single week: "Either one of those is a tremendous responsibility and pressure," he said, adding that things need to change or we'll see "more casualties in ministry."
"Every size of church is complicated," he said. "We really need to get this right to do it well over a long time."
Spiritual fatigue is all too real of an issue for the church. According to recent statistics, an overwhelming 70% of pastors have considered leaving their role due to stress, and 40% have actually left the pulpit in just five short years from beginning their ministry. Additionally, an overwhelming 82% of pastors felt like the ministry had "unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations" on them and on their family.
How, then, does one deal with the pressures associated with the ministry and get ahead of burnout?
Mellado warned against putting "cause before the Kingdom of Heaven," because that's when one "starts to cut corners."
"Your soul pays the price," he said. "When I look at Jesus when He came to earth, he didn't start with the Great Commission. He started with the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven. He was inviting people into a way of life; He was inviting people into the kingdom way and inviting them to live that life. Cause, then, came out of the way of life."
"The best movements throughout history that had the best staying power were the movements that came out of the way of life, the kingdom life, and the movement, and then cause," he continued, cautioning against sacrificing family, marriages, and children on the "altar of the cause."
Stanley recommended "finding that internal rhythm within the kingdom of God and doing all we can do within those parameters."
"It's sustainable and it models for other leaders how to live a sustainable life," he explained. "If I can multiply your effectiveness through other leaders who have sustainable paces who multiply their effectiveness through other leaders who have a sustainable pace, then I far outstrip my personal ability to get things done by working 80 a week and ignoring my family."
The pastor said he tells other leaders, "If at any level, or at any part of your leadership there's a sense of, 'If I don't it won't,' you're wrong, you'll never satisfy that itch...you're chasing a rabbit you'll never catch.'"
"If we begin to believe that so much depends on how many hours we work or how hard we work, we've forgotten something. It's an ego thing, it's a pride thing, it's an ignorant thing," he said.
Groeschel said that early in ministry, he found himself experiencing burnout: "In this season, I had to use the language 'protecting my soul' -- but it really is a goal," he said. "I don't want to get up and fake it, ever. So, to do that, I have to be preventative before we even get there. Which means I have to keep my relationship with God a priority, and that means a daily devotion isn't a ritual, it's necessity for me. It's not something I do out of habit, but it's something I've learned to really do out of devotion."
The pastor said he also works to keep his marriage strong and on occasion takes physical breaks from preaching and teaching.
"You need at least one 2-week break a year..to really come off the adrenaline and let your soul heal from all the pushing, pushing, pushing you do all year long."
Mellado said that often, stress isn't the problem -- it's our incompetent recovery strategies.
"The more intense my life becomes, in terms of the demands of leadership, I have to get as rigorous and as focused and as disciplined on my recovery strategies, my vacation time is the first thing that goes on the calendar on a daily basis," he said. "I know, when I leave my office, I have shut off - like I'm done with the day. I need a finish line...I put the rest around the intensity."
"My strategies of rest have to be as disciplined as my strategies in leadership," he added.