4 Pastoral Mistakes That May Be Leading to Burnout

During the holiday season, it’s easy to make mistakes that cost you in the long run. One of the major consequences of over-programming and neglecting your own needs over the holidays is burnout. As you enter into this Christmas season and the chaos that it entails, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout and attack it at its roots, so that you can go into 2022 invigorated and ready for a new year. 

It might be easy to make the excuse of, “my church really needs me in this season, so I am just going to bear through it and I’ll rest later.” But this mindset sets bad habits that will be persistent into the future and keeps your organization reliant on your leadership, rather than being self-sufficient. It’s critical that you learn how to fight burnout and when to take steps away from ministry when needed. And though burnout tends to apply particularly during the holiday season for those in ministry, it can apply any time of year, so learn the signs well and keep them in mind year-round. 

Causes of burnout

There are a multitude of potential causes for burnout, but for senior pastors, executive pastors, lead pastors, and all other pastoral leadership, there are a few specific things to keep an eye on that may lead you to exhaustion.  According to Vanderbloemen Executive Search Recruiter Eric Albert, who has 20+ years of pastoral experience, the primary causes of burnout amongst ministry leaders include:

  • Feeling like everyone needs YOUR help
  • Lack of support in what is expected of you
  • An overwhelming workload
  • An imbalance of work and personal time

Symptoms of burnout

While you look for these things in yourself, be sure to watch for them in your team members as well. When you are tempted to get frustrated with yourself or others in this busy season, keep in mind that any outbursts, “laziness,” annoyance, or hostility may be the culmination of burnout symptoms that have gone unaddressed. Be aware of these specific symptoms to watch for:

  • Inability to properly regulate your emotions
  • Constant fatigue
  • Difficulty finding motivation other than “I just have to do this”
  • High blood pressure
  • Alcohol/substance abuse
  • Excessive stress, anxiety, and/or depression

How to address burnout

Like we said earlier, it’s critical that you recognize and address burnout in yourself and in your team members, and that you do it quickly. The longer you allow burnout to persist, the more overwhelming and difficult to offset it becomes. Here are some ways to address burnout at its roots: 

  •  Unplug. Step away from all devices for an allotted amount of time- whether that is 20 minutes or 2 hours, set limits for yourself regularly to fight the compulsion to always know everything that is happening.
  • Control your calendar, rather than letting it control you. Set limits for how many meetings you will allow, and push what you can back to the new year. Be strategic in where and when you schedule things, to ensure that you aren’t doing too much, and recognize your own limits. We would advise you to have a close friend take a look at your calendar and tell you honestly where you have overcommitted and what things you can take a step back from. 
  • Say no. Don’t let this become a season where you say yes to everything, and end up not getting to relish in the goodness of Christ’s coming. Christmas is a critical time for believers to reflect on the abundant mercy and kindness of our savior, and if you’re working 80 hour weeks throughout the entire month of December, you won’t be able to do that well. Choose to prioritize your relationship with Christ over your obligation to your church or ministry. 
  • Use that PTO. You earn paid time off for a reason. It’s important to spend quality time with your family and friends during Christmas and New Years, so if you have PTO that you haven’t fulfilled yet, now is the time. Especially if you racked up PTO over the course of the pandemic, use that time now and use it well. 

As we get closer and closer to celebrating Christmas with friends and family, ensure that you keep an eye out for these signs of burnout, and respond accordingly. We here at Vanderbloemen believe that Christmas is a unique time to draw near to Christ, and we want to equip and encourage you to actually feel the presence of Emmanuel this Christmas. And though burnout tends to apply particularly during the holiday season for those in ministry, burnout can rear its head any time of the year, so learn the signs well and keep them in mind year round.