“I feel so distant from God,” Rev. Howard-John Wesley admitted in 2020. “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. A hidden cause of burnout is 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 Pastor Wesley 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. That’s what Pastor Wesley experienced. He says he knew better, but in the press of ministry his devotional life and soul care slowly eroded.
It’s an easy mistake for any of us to make. That’s because your ministry is urgently needed by the people around you. That’s especially true for pastors and missionaries, but however you serve God, 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 ministry and 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 was wise to take a Sabbatical. You may need one too. Check our “Sabbatical Guide for Pastors.” We also offer a Sabbatical Guide coaching experience. This online program with short videos, practical help, and live coaching is your “all-in-one Sabbatical toolkit.” It includes everything you need to experience true rest and renewal on your Sabbatical.
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.
Has reading the Bible become flat for you? Do you need spiritual renewal? Our Scripture Meditation Guides will rejuvenate your devotions. Check out our popular “Lectio Divina Guides,” “Ignatian Meditation Guides,” and “Breath Prayer Guides.”
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.