Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Veterans, Life Expectancy, and Burnout

In nine days, I will officially be a one year old youth minister. I know that seems like nothing, and comparatively, it's not. 

This weekend, I got the opportunity to talk to and get to know a ministry veteran named Don Engram. 
Don Engram has been involved in every form of ministry that a church can offer from bible smuggling to youth ministry.
Don was spreading the gospel behind the Iron Curtain and rescuing pastors in unfriendly countries before it was cool. 
He's been over the Atlantic Ocean almost eighty times all in the name of ministry and spreading the gospel.

Don is the type of man who, when he begins talking, everyone stops and listens because whatever he has to say, it is valuable and worth taking note of. 
I would go as far to say that they don't make men like Don anymore. He is a front-line ministry veteran who has more miles and experience in ministry than a twenty year old church van. 

Part of me was very intimidated by Don as he talked while the other part of me marveled and drooled over his wisdom and ministry insight. It was like sitting next to and listening to Batman talk about being Batman!

PJ, family, Don, and I all went to dinner, and PJ and Don talked about ministry and missions and church structure and theology, and I sat there, ate chips, and listened. I didn't have a lot to say in general. I mean, c'mon, what could I add to this conversation? That'd be like Luke telling Yoda how to be a jedi. Occasionally, Don would turn and look at me and ask me a question, and I would mini-panic and hope I gave a good answer.

After I got home, I kicked myself. I might have been slightly overreacting. I look at these older ministers and I'm so blown away by their humility and experience and knowledge. I look at them and think when I grow up, I want to be just like them except taller. 

When I was but an intern, PJ had me read all kinds of books on youth ministry. All of them had facts and statistics about students and leaders and churches and what to expect and blah blah blah. They all had different opinions and facts that usually contradicted each other, but one statistic I found scared me.

It didn't just scare me, it worried me.

Not just because it was a bad statistic, but because most of the books had the exact same statistic:

The average life expectancy of a youth minister is eight months.


That's insane! At first I didn't believe it, but once I read it several times in several different books, I started to think about it.

It gave different reasons: under-funding, doctrinal differences, parental conflicts, promotion to head pastor, burnout--
What's burnout?

Burnout is a term often used by church leaders to describe an emotional and mental exhaustion caused by overexertion. 

A dictionary would describe burnout as burning "until the fuel is exhausted, and the fire ceases."

It is the crippling and debilitating state of stress and exhaustion that robs an effective minister of their passion for the mission and love for people. 

This isn't just for church leaders either! Burnout can overtake anyone who is mentally and emotionally invested in the church in any way.

And that's what got me thinking! How can Don Engram serve for so so long, and still be burning brighter than ever?? 

So I sought out my go-to resource that has led me out of many a jam in the past: google.com

I did hours of research on burnout; what it looks like, what causes it, how to avoid it, what to do about it, etc.
In my research, I found a list on how to avoid burnout that I want to share with you guys.

1. “Take heed to yourself” in accordance with Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:16). Paul was first concerned with Timothy the person before he was concerned for Timothy the pastor. Many pastors are reluctant to take an honest look at their own lives. Paul understood the wounds, discouragement, and fears that besieged Timothy and afflicts many pastors. Accordingly, pastors should heed Paul’s wise command to pay careful attention to yourself. This includes remembering your calling and the redemptive story of God’s hand in your life, taking an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and wisely providing care for yourself and your family.

2. Cultivate dependence on God for the strength and power needed in your ministry. Remember, your ministry is not yours – it is God’s. He has called you, and He must accomplish His work in you. Therefore, stop trying to control what you can’t control and manage what you have no business managing. This includes managing other’s opinions of you and their reactions to you.

3. Lower your expectations (and those of your congregation). Learn to say no and to delegate by asking others to employ their gifts. Biblically speaking, being a pastor is not a one-man show. Have you turned it into one?

4. Learn to balance your life and pace yourself. Ministry is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Take the long view and realize that sometimes slowing down will make you more effective. Create margins of time so that you are not always rushed. Take frequent breaks. Give yourself permission to take a nap and to rest.

5. Create time away to get refreshed. When I coach pastors, they often look at me incredulously when I tell them to include time spent in solitude, recreation, and refreshment as part of their working hours. Why? Because your “job” requires you to be spiritually fit, and you can’t be in good spiritual condition by always being on the go. Jesus often “withdrew to a quiet place” and effectively said “no” to ministry opportunities. You should do no less. A practical way to actually implement this suggestion is to regularly schedule your times of refreshment on your calendar and treat them as “real” appointments. If you are asked for a meeting at that time, your honest response will be, “I have an appointment.” Protecting these “appointments” is not being selfish, it is exercising good stewardship, will increase your effectiveness, and will protect you from burnout.

6. Cultivate interests that are not directly related to your work as a pastor. It is refreshing to engage in activities where you are not the one in charge, the one in the know, and the one who must make it happen! Sports, gardening, fishing, carpentry, reading, biking, camping, hang gliding, kayaking, bird watching, and stamp collecting are just some activities that offer healthy distractions from ministry that will refresh you. An added bonus will be the metaphors and illustrations that will later aid you in sermon prep and counseling.

7. Develop a sense of humor so that you can laugh at yourself and difficult situations. Laughter is an antidote to cynicism and sarcasm.

8. Pay careful attention to your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. Don’t underestimate the importance of staying physically healthy and daily exercise. Endorphins are God’s natural high achieved by sweat and hard work!

9. Seek intimate fellowship with pastors and others with whom you can share your burdens. A common theme I see in counseling pastors is their sense of isolation and loneliness. There are likely many other pastors in your city or town who endure similar struggles. Seek them out and cultivate deep relationships with them. Share your successes, challenges, and struggles. Don’t buy into the lie that you “have to keep up appearances” and “protect your turf.” Protecting your reputation is often used as an excuse to stay entrenched in isolation. By developing peer relationships, you give God an opportunity to create friendships, alliances, and ministry opportunities that may surprise you.

10. Get help if you need it. I know that you are used to being the one in control, doing the counseling, being there for those who are hurting, and keeping everyone else all together. I also know that some pastors don’t believe in being too “introspective” and see counseling as something that “other people” need. Those who are in the helping profession are most at risk for burnout. Recognizing that you’re getting burned out shouldn’t require anything as dramatic as almost getting hit by a bus. In his provocative article “Death by Ministry,” Pastor Mark Driscoll stated that it might be wise and appropriate to “meet with a Biblical counselor to get insight on your own life and tendencies.” One of the best things you can do for your ministry, yourself, and your family may be to visit with a trusted counselor who can be there for you, provide insight and feedback, and help you along the way.

Burnout is to ministry as the boogie man is to a six year old boy: you know that it's really not going to get you, but it's good to check under the bed just in case. 

I know this entry is not as entertaining as some of the past ones, but this has been something on my heart and mind for the past few weeks. 

Personally, I don't see myself in danger of burnout in the near future, but I think this is valuable information to know and apply in to your own personal ministry. 

Heavenly father, most high God, I pray that we as a united body of Christ would rely on you for our strength. I pray that we would trust in your faithfulness and lean on you because you are always faithful. I pray that you would give us the wisdom we need to be the leaders you designed us to be. I pray that you would give us the humility we need to be the servants you designed us to be. I pray that would project and reflect your glory in all that we do, on stage, at home, at work, surrounded by Christians, or alone. I pray that our thoughts and words and actions would magnify your character, and we would emulate Christ in all that we do. I pray that our lives would be worship to you, that we would present ourselves as living sacrifices to you. You alone are worthy to be praised. I pray that we would praise you and look to you in all circumstances. Thank you for the countless ways you have blessed us and for your innumerable graces.

Nate T B