Advice on Avoiding Pastoral Burnout

Men in the ministry must be willing to realize and admit their limitations.They can’t try to force themselves to be like other men; they must be who the Lord has made them to be.

James: Have you ever struggled with being burned out as a pastor? If so, why? And what helped you to get out of that season?

Kevin: Yeah, I’ve certainly been burned out as a pastor in the past. And the cause of it and the remedy if you like was not trying to be someone else; realizing my limitations. It’s very easy because early on, I’d read about other Christians, and especially listen to sermons saying you must do this as a pastor. So I’d be up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. reading and praying. And I’d be a total zombie. I just can’t do that. Now, other people can. If someone can, that’s great. I’m not saying to someone else don’t to that if it works for them. But for me, my mind doesn’t work at that time. I find it better to be later in the day; well, not later in the day, but when I’m up and around, if you like, and ready. I mean I read Scripture a lot and think about it. But yeah, it would just wipe me out. And I’d read also, you have people like Spurgeon. I once heard he could preach 12 sermons a week or something like that. Again, it’s realizing, I can’t do that. At the moment, I’m doing two fresh sermons a week. A Wednesday service we have and a Sunday. I can preach more when I’m repeating things I’ve taught in the past. That’s easy enough. But as far as coming up with fresh sermons and properly studying, it used to be three. But there’s always a compromise there. I used to go and do street evangelism on a Saturday before finishing preparing Saturday evening for the next morning. I would be mentally wiped out after the street evangelism. So there’s a compromise there. It’s not wearing Saul’s armor; realizing what you can and can’t do. People demanding your time all the time. Of course, you want to be helping and so forth. But it’s prioritizing things. Learning to say no sometimes. Because otherwise you can just get wiped out there. And you’ve got to learn as well the things you can’t change or deal with, to just trust the Lord with them. Pray for those problems and things like that; things from the outside. When I go to sleep at night, the world still revolves perfectly well. So, God can handle that on His own. So, yeah, and you know even things that have helped me: making sure I’m eating right. Not being obsessed with health, but someone can just eat really bad and it can affect how tired they are. Getting some exercise really helped me. It might only be 20 minutes one day or 30 minutes or sometimes I might get a good bike ride of a couple hours, but that’s kind of rare (the latter). Making sure I get enough sleep. Again, I would starve myself of sleep at one point. There are people who can do that, but I can’t. I need an 8 hours. Saturday morning to Sunday it might be hours, but I have to have a catch-up. Because I used to think it was more holy the less sleep you had, and things like that. Which was a big mistake, but I remember listening to John Piper, who once said a woman was saying, I’ve cut down my sleep and I’m always tired. I’m just always exhausted. What’s God trying to tell me though this? And John Piper said, “Go to bed.” You know, it can be obvious sometimes. Again, we’ve got to realize we’re not someone else. But of course, the other things that are essential is to always be in the Word and prayer, which is very difficult not to be if you’re a pastor anyway. But the other thing I would have – a mistake if you like – one time, I would be preparing the sermons going through various books, and also I’d be doing personal reading as well which again, everyone’s different. But I was told never just read what’s in your sermons, as in your preparation for your reading, because – I can’t remember how it was phrased, but after awhile I began to see it’s not right because – the point is, you need to be feeding; you need to be fed yourself. But then I realized that’s not right, because the idea was, for instance, at the moment we’re going through Matthew’s Gospel and we’re going through Exodus. Okay, so, the idea of that statement is don’t just use my preparation in Exodus and Matthew, because I need feeding myself. But the problem with that statement is I should be feeding myself through Matthew and Exodus. Otherwise, I shouldn’t be teaching it to anyone else. Often, this is what it is. As I’m preparing, and of course, I’m doing this all week, I’m thinking about the Scriptures and I’m thinking this is so helpful. I can’t wait to share with the brethren. I can’t wait because I know it’s going to help them the same. That’s how it should be. But my point here is I was picking up other stuff as well, and I can only take so much. And that’s the way, I think I heard MacArthur – that’s the way he reads the Bible, mastering one book at a time. Well, I’m trying to do it with two at a time, but that’s the way that works for me at the moment.

James: So the big thing was we should imitate other men, but you got too much in bondage to that? And that was what was burning you out, wearing Saul’s armor; having expectations that just weren’t really the Lord’s will for you personally?

Kevin: Yeah, as I said, the things that didn’t work for me, I don’t want anyone to listen to this and think well, I shouldn’t do that then. It may work for them. And if it works for them – great. It’s a bit like sometimes a Christian mother, for instance. She’ll hear about getting up at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to pray and read the Bible. And she’s trying to do it with a little toddler who is screaming or getting ready, and sometimes it can be better to just get the children ready to whatever, and then sit down with a cup of coffee. And have your devotion then. Rather than a time when it’s impossible. Everybody’s different. There should be a time though. But as a pastor, as I said, as far as reading the Word, it’s harder not to do because you’ve just got so much preparation anyway.