The Hardest Part of Kidmin
Thoughts on Ministry Burnout
I was recently reminded of the staggeringly high drop out rates of those in ministry… and my heart broke a little bit. My heart didn’t break because I had never heard the figures before. (Check out these statistics to see what I’m talking about) I was deeply saddened because, often, I think that burning out in ministry can be avoided with a basic understanding of why ministry is hard.
If you’d add anything to my list (or suggest that I take something away), share your thoughts in the comments section. This post is not meant to be THE answer… it’s meant to start a conversation.
Ministry Can Disconnect Us
The problem: The next time you have a chance to attend a conference, watch the people who work in children’s ministry. They sing their hearts out. And here’s why: I’d be willing to bet that only 20% of those of us who work in children’s ministry regularly attend worship services with our congregation. When we don’t worship with our congregation, we become disconnected in a handful of ways (spiritually, relationally, emotionally and physically) – all of which begin to wear away at your soul. It’s easy to lose your passion when you feel as though you’re on an island. Ministry, at times, can be exhausting and you need to know that you’re a part of a larger body and that you’re surrounded by others who are living out the faith alongside you. If you’re not in your church, it’s hard to feel like you’re a part of your church.
The fix: Serve at a church that you would choose to attend and then actually be a part of a full worship service a minimum of 3 out of every 5 Sundays. I’ve seen people take positions at churches where they would not choose to attend. If you do that, you’ll wear yourself out. I’ve heard of children’s ministry workers who haven’t attended a worship service at their church in over a year. If that’s you, your wearing yourself out. Listening to the podcast is not the same as being a part of a worshipping community. If you want to last in ministry – go to church!
Our Systems are Broken
The problem: Many who are in ministry are underprepared for the expectations of ministry and the work that it takes to care for a congregation. Before seminaries existed, those who were called into ministry received Theological training and then spent years serving under someone as an apprentice before taking their own position in a church.
The pieces of paper that students are earning in ministry programs across the country are not preparing the next generation of church leaders for the struggles and hard work of ministry. We’ve lost our apprenticeship model within the church and are sending too many young leaders to the front lines of ministry ill-prepared. And they’re dying out there.
The fix: If you can do anything other than ministry, do anything other than ministry. That is to say – you’re going to get burned out in ministry if you don’t feel a deep sense of call to the position that you’re in. Don’t go into ministry because it’s always sounded fun (it isn’t always), or because you think Jesus will love you more (he won’t) – go into ministry because you can’t do anything else. Then, once you go down the path of seeking out a career in ministry, start small and build from there.
Find a ministry you love and volunteer with intentions of interning under those in charge of that ministry. From there, take a mid-level or assistant position in the field of ministry you want to be in and commit a few years to being in that role. Churches who are looking to hire full-time staff usually look for someone who has served at the same church for multiple years. They’re not just looking out for themselves, they want to know that you’ve put in the work that it takes to learn the balance of life and ministry. Start out small and take on roles that you feel overqualified for – because you aren’t overqualified and you’ll learn a lot about yourself in the process.
Satan is Real
The problem: As church leaders, we don’t talk about sin enough. I mean, we talk about the sin of others… but many of us don’t have a place to talk about our own sin. And I have something to tell you about that: Satan is real and he is delighted when people burn out in ministry because of the weight of unconfessed sin.
We’ve lost the art of confession in the protestant church and have especially lost our way when it comes to allowing our ministers and church staff members to admit their shortcomings. If this were a battle (and it is) and we were sending people to the front lines without an understanding of how the enemy operates (which is what we do), we’d be sacrificing our best and our brightest future leaders simple because we don’t want to talk about sin.
The fix: Church leaders need accountability. I’m not calling us to sinless lives – that’s an impossible bar to get over. I’m calling us to surround ourselves with people who we can be real around. And, I want you to know, it’s good to know yourself. I know that, as someone who loves to tell a good story, I face a constant temptation to tell a “better” story than what actually happened. I deal with that sin by (1) being very open about it and letting others know that it’s a struggle of mine and (2) giving people in my life the ability to call me out when they see this sin surfacing.
Sin has more power over us when it’s unspoken. Every week, church leaders leave their ministry because of some sort of moral failure. It’s an ugly truth that exists because those leaders lacked accountability in their lives. So – can you name 3 people in your life that you can be honest with? I believe in a God who, through the power of Christ’s resurrection, has freed us from sin’s grasp. Are you living a life where you can confess the sin that holds you down so that you can experience that freedom? If you don’t, you’re going to burn out. It’s just a matter of time.