“I feel so distant from God,” Rev. Howard-John Wesley admitted recently. “One of the greatest mistakes of pastoring is to think that because you work for God, you’re close to God.”
If you’re a pastor or ministry leader I’m especially writing to you. But whatever your work is and however you serve God, you too could be vulnerable to spiritual burnout.
Most people think over-working is the cause of burnout, but that is normally not the case. In our “Re-Soul” series of podcasts and blogs, we’re unpacking five hidden causes of burnout. This week we’re focusing on the first cause of burnout: Becoming emotionally distant from God.
Everyone has times of not feeling God’s presence, but for D.C. area pastor Wesley it’s more than a passing emotion or spiritual season: He’s burned out on ministry. As he put it, “I am tired in my soul . . . and a nap won’t fix it.”
Why did this pastor burn out? Preaching 5,000 sermons? Being on call 24-hours a day? Extending compassion to people in crisis? Leading a church of nearly 5,000 people? Being a public personality with a reach of over 50,000 online? These things do take a toll.
But the real culprit to burnout is when working for God crowds out personal intimacy with God.
It’s an easy mistake for any of us to make. That’s because your ministry is urgently needed by the people around you. Whether you’re a pastor or a small group leader, serving God in the marketplace or at home caring for your children, the people around you need your loving presence, practical help, and encouragement. “Love your neighbor,” Jesus commands (Mark 12:30). How do we say no to that??
Actually, we need to regularly say no to the urgent demands of our work in order to say yes to enjoying “the Father and Son intimacies and knowledge” (Matthew 11:28, MSG). Jesus’ teaching is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30).
True self-love is like soaking your soul in God’s beauty and lovingkindness. When you’re finding soul satisfaction in Christ you’re not likely to burn out.
The best time to re-soul is before you burn out or go flat (2 Samuel 16:14).
Here are four little but surprisingly powerful ways to renew your intimacy with God (because it’s the daily soul care activities that keep us fresh):
- Share your real emotions and struggles with someone you trust to give you empathy.
- Get outside to run, hike, walk, or sit and breathe in the beauty.
- Make a healthy meal and savor it.
- Sleep or lay in bed for eight hours.
Probably you’re wondering, How are those activities intimacy with God? It’s in how you do them. Let’s go back through the list:
- In your soul talk, look to the presence of Christ in your friend.
- In the beauty of nature, pray a favorite Scripture.
- While you eat, give thanks to God.
- On your bed, be like the Jesus Farmer and entrust all your work to God (Mark 4:26-29).
Offering resources to prevent burnout and strengthen the souls of pastors and other servants of the Lord is a Soul Shepherding specialty.
Pastor Wesley is wise to be taking a Sabbatical. You may need one too. Check our “Sabbatical Guide for Pastors.”
A retreat can renew your intimacy with Jesus, especially if it’s long enough and you receive guidance in soul care. Check out our Soul Shepherding Institute.
Do you need a soul friend? A great first step is to join our “Soul Talks” podcast community and share it with a friend.
Has reading the Bible become flat for you? Our Scripture Meditation Guides will rejuvenate your devotions. Check out our popular “Lectio Divina Guides,” “Ignatian Meditation Guides,” and “Breath Prayer Guides.”
Does your small group need rejuvenation? Our top-selling book on “Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke” has encouraged thousands of people. Also, check out our new Visual Devotion Guides which foster vulnerability and prayer.
Listen to this week’s SoulTalk: Burnout from working and serving is all too common among pastors, but there is hope. Bill and Kristi offer deep personal and biblical insight and practical tools to help you step into life with Jesus, where his love and delight restores your soul.