November 19, 2018—During a recent conversation with a new clergy friend, he shared his experience of burnout. After five years at his previous church he’d not taken a vacation. Weariness led to seriousness, then a neglect of self-care, then a multitude of symptoms which eventually led to numbness and burnout. That led to him leaving ministry for a hiatus. Eventually, he returned to congregational ministry with “lesson learned,” as he said.
Burnout is a professional hazard for clergy and church staff. It likely occurs more often than most care to confess. Even as I write this a Facebook post from a pastor popped up. The pastor writes from the hospital, thanking well-wishers and describing how last Sunday, after the sermon, the pastor collapsed, was taken to the hospital, and diagnosed with exhaustion and dehydration (I’m not making this up). Learning to recognize burnout in yourself and others is critical to personal growth and professional survival. There is a variety of warning signs and schemas as to what may lead to burnout. The burnout cycle May include the following twelve phases:
1. Compulsion resulting from anxiety
2. Intensity, seriousness (a lack of playfulness)
3. Subtle personal deprivations (not taking vacations or days off)
4. Denial of interpersonal conflict and neglect of personal needs
5. Distortion and collapse of personal values
6. Heightened denial or disconnect from feelings
7. Disengagement from others and self (distancing)
8. Discernible behavior and life pattern changes (often first seen by others)
10. Feeling of emptiness
12. Total burnout characterized by exhaustion.
Being aware of these signs and behaviors, and having a trusted friend or partner who can alert you to them can help begin important interventions before things get to the point of burnout.
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers many opportunities for clergy to address and alleviate burnout and other ministry challenges and Crises through its Pastoral Excellence Program. Find one that fits your need!
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and Leadership in Ministry.
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.