Three Clear Ways to Get out of Burnout and Start Learning Again
One of the most important truths I ever learned that was not in the Bible is this: It is YOUR job to learn, not your teachers job for you to learn. We live in an information culture where it’s possible to find out anything about just about everything instantaneously. Yet, a lot of us seem to be waiting for someone to fill us up with what we need, rather than going after it. Another danger is that if we went to college for youth ministry, or seminary to be a pastor, we can assume that after we’ve graduated we’re the expert and we don’t need to learn anything else from classes or books. Add to that the often grueling schedule we face and it’s a formula for getting into the rut of not learning AND burnout.
One of my early mentors taught me that a rut differs from a grave only in its depth and length. When we stop learning we start dying. That sounds ominous. It sounds extreme. It’s the truth. Having served in ministry since I was nineteen (I’m now a month and a half away from being 59), I’ve seen pretty much everything that has come and gone in both youth ministry and church leadership in general. What I’ve seen a lot of is leaders who have come and gone, because they thought they had already learned everything they needed to know in college or seminary, put their noses to the grindstone and started working. In time, they kept giving, giving and giving of their time, their energy, their knowledge, and sooner or later they ran out of all three. They didn’t get a grip on their schedules. They burned the candle at both ends, and they thought they had a lifetime supply of information, and it turned out only to be a year and half worth. The sad thing is just about all of us start out as youth pastors, volunteers, or church leaders who are enthusiastic about the task before us, and about the time we’ve invested in preparation.
The best way to avoid burnout and to ensure that we not only survive in the ministry but thrive in it is to take responsibility for our own lives starting with our schedules and our learning plan. “What Schedule? What learning plan?” you ask. That’s the response I’ve heard from most of the people I’ve ever asked, “How do you plan your time and how do you make sure you keep learning? Let me see your schedule and your learning plan?” You’re thinking. This guy’s a bit OCD. Not at all. In fact, if you know anything about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m and ENFP. That means schedules are NOT my friend. I like spontaneity. I like to take life as it comes, but having been in the ministry for nearly forty years as a volunteer or “professional” I have learned, usually the hard way that the less disciplined I am, the more I NEED a schedule. If I don’t plan my life, lots of other people will. The challenge doesn’t go away as we get older, but what does go away as we get older is the illusion that we have a 100 years to get this thing done. When I was 25 it seemed that my whole life was in front of me, that my energy would never run out and that I had enough knowledge to last a lifetime. The truth is it took me about two years in full-time ministry before I realized that even someone who loves Jesus and loves serving Him WILL burnout without a plan to harness time. That plan must include the following:
1) Time to rest.
Rick Warren has said the person who burns the candle at both ends isn’t as bright as he thinks he is! God commanded that we rest one day a week. It’s also a good idea to sleep on a daily basis.
2) Time to pray.
We work for God! That means we need to take time to listen to what He has for us. (If you’re wondering, “Does this guy think God talks to him?” The answer is, “No. He doesn’t think it. He knows it.” I’ve also learned that if my prayer time is just me talking, God tends to talk to me less. Make sure your prayer time includes listening time.
3) Time to learn.
A learning plan can be as simple as creating a list of pod casts, seminars/webinars, and books you’re planning to read, and then scheduling time in your calendar to listen, attend and read. A great book that addresses all of these is Living Forward. It just came out in March, and it’s the best book this ENFP has ever read AND put into practice when it comes to life management, another name for planning your time and learning so you won’t burn out!
If you have a spouse and/or children remember that burnout can also come when you have a bad ratio of time at work and time at home. God called me to be a husband before he called me to be a youth pastor, then a pastor. I didn’t always remember that early on. I’m grateful for a loving wife, who put up with a lot of crap for the first handful of years, and now 37+ years into our marriage we understand what love really is, and how important it is to invest in each other. I haven’t experience an episode of burnout since I was in my late 20’s. Not surprisingly, it was during a time when I wasn’t resting, wasn’t learning, and thought my work equaled my commitment to Jesus. My work is one, important aspect of my commitment to Jesus, but without a plan for investing time in rest, prayer and learning AND family if you have one, work will end up just being a contributing factor in the train wreck that is sure to come. Ministry IS sustainable, and enjoyable over the long haul, when you have a plan, and you live it in cooperation with Jesus.
Contributed by Chris Marshall, Lead Pastor, New Life.