Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Guarding From Pastoral Burnout

I once had a high school chemistry teacher who insisted on never taking work home. He arrived early and left after the final bell and left the stress of being a teacher until the next day. The reason he gave was simple and has stuck with me ever since: to prevent burnout. Teachers who grade papers and work at their kitchen table rather than spend time with their family or waste a weekend planning the next week's lessons will quickly burnout. His philosophy was simple but wise and practice. While he was at work he would work hard and do all he could to get everything done and do it to the best of his ability. Doing so allowed him to go home, put work behind him, and genuinely rest.

The same should apply to pastors.

In a blog post regarding ten secrets of long-tenure pastorships, Dr. Chuck Lawless raises this issue. His fourth point reads:
They leave work at the church as much as possible. Ministry is not an 8-5 job, of course, but these pastors have learned how to let their burdens go as much as possible when they come home.
Although Lawless applies this principle to serving a single church, it better applies for finishing the race of ministry. One cannot fulfill their calling while burned out. One of the main causes of burnout is simply never leaving work and resting.

One of the most common causes of this regards the sermon. Most pastors preach at least three times a week. A single sermon, if done right, is like researching and writing a college paper requiring much attention and work. The pressure of the next sermon is a constant weight on every pastor regardless of how much he enjoys preaching. Add to that the need to visit, administer, shepherd, and the endless distractions he faces during the week, it is difficult to be ready by Sunday morning. As a result, many pastors find themselves staying up late on Saturday's or sacrificing essential family time.

Don't do this. Do all you can to leave work for the week with both Sunday sermons finished and prepared. This requires discipline and focus but it can be done. It must be done.

The key strategy I utilize is planning my preaching and taking advantage of office hours. Every morning until lunch I am in my office. During that time I focus on all administrative and sermon responsibilities. Planning my preaching means that I already know what I am going to preach weeks in advance. By the time sermon preparation begins, I have already assembled the necessary commentaries and resources and have already considered a number of illustrations, applications, and directions I want to go. All I have to do then is study the text. I do all of this during office hours.

I also utilize technology. Tools like Bible apps and Evernote are helpful in jotting down notes and reviewing the text while I am waiting for an appointment or in the waiting room. If I have a lunch meeting at noon, I make an effort to arrive at least ten minutes early out of respect to the other person's time and in order to take advantage of the extra time to prepare.

Beyond the strain of sermon preparation is constant contact. From the time I get home to the time I go to bed my Inbox is filled. Then there is the constant texts, phone calls, requests, etc. As a general rule, if a reply can wait until the morning I wait until the morning. If it is an emergency, I respond. If I am sharing a meal with my family or watching my kids play soccer, the phone is ignored. There must be a limit. My family must be a priority.

Whatever strategy you use, I strongly encourage every pastor guard against burnout. Your church needs you to. Work hard, but do all you can to work hard at work.

* I am well aware that pastoral ministry is not a 9-5 job. I work well over 40 hours a week on top of other responsibilities I have. Then there are phone calls, emails, and texts I receive after I get home plus the occasional emergency that requires my attention.
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