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6 Things ‘Indispensable’ Pastors Can Do to Avoid Burnout

I worked third shift on a factory assembly line years ago.

One night, the foreman on our end of the line was telling me how difficult the job was on him. He was under a lot of stress, couldn’t sleep and wasn’t sure what to do.

I explained to him that if he went down some night, someone would put him in a chair, shove the chair next to the wall and call the in-plant ambulance to take him to the hospital.

The assembly line would not stop running, no one would stop working and if he wasn’t able to return to work soon, he would be replaced within a week.

The next night that was exactly what happened to him. Everything I said occurred. Fortunately, there was nothing seriously wrong with him, and he returned to work the following evening.

Many pastors work as if they are indispensable. They put in too many hours each week. They seldom, if ever, take vacations. They have no hobbies, no outside interests.

They sacrifice their families and their health in a misguided belief that they are too important to the church – and to God – for them to do anything but their pastoral duties.

If you go to the cemetery, you will find many indispensable people buried there. Somehow, the world seems to manage just fine without them.

I once told a pastor that I felt he was probably dealing with clinical depression. I encouraged him to see his doctor for a checkup and diagnosis.

I asked him how often he went on vacation, and he just looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.

After talking to him for a few minutes and realizing I was getting nowhere, I asked if I could tell his wife what I just said to him. He agreed, and I called her into the conversation.

As I began to repeat myself, tears streamed down her face confirming everything I suspected. That was a few years ago, and I do not believe he had done anything I suggested.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I served a church for 20 years, but they had many pastors prior to my going there, and if the Lord tarries, they will have many more after me. I’m not indispensable to that church.

No pastor is called to sacrifice his or her family and health to serve in ministry. We are called to a place for a period of time to do the best job we can until the Lord moves us to another work.

If we burn ourselves out, we will be of no value to our ministries or the Lord.

Let me encourage you to do some things to help maintain balance in your life.

  1. Take your vacations. If you only get two weeks, begin to advocate for four weeks. You and your family need that time away.
  2. Take your days off. Let the church know what those days are and protect them.
  3. Develop interests outside the ministry. Start a hobby. Join a civic organization. Take a course at a community college. Try different things until you find something you like.
  4. Build relationships with people outside the church. This might be in conjunction with your hobby or it might not. Get outside the holy huddle.
  5. If your church doesn’t offer a sabbatical, begin to talk to them about doing so.
  6. Establish a date night with your spouse and do not let anything interfere.

I realize it might be difficult for you to advocate for these things yourself in your church.

If you belong to a denomination, ask your contact person in that denomination to speak to your leadership about some of these things.

Just remember: The ministry is not a sprint; it’s a long-distance event. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be better able to go the distance.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Bickers’ blog, Bivocational Ministry. It is used with permission.

Dennis Bickers

Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.