|Jax, our son Josh's cat|
From Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
Many pastors suffer from burnout. Leading an all-volunteer army is not easy. Pastoring a church is the job that never ends.
Signs that spiritual and emotional burnout is at hand include:
- Irritability or hypersensitivity. Reactions are out of proportion to events.
- Restlessness. The "vague sense that something is not quite right, or an even stronger feeling of wanting to bolt from life." (104)
- Compulsive overworking. Overwork is today's cocaine; workaholism is "an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an overindulgence in work - to the exclusion of most other life activities." (104) The compulsive leader has no boundaries on work.
- Emotional numbness. "When we are pushing our limit, we may notice that we can't feel anything - good or bad." (Ib.)
- Escapist behaviors. Compulsive eating, drinking or other substance abuse, pornography, surfing the Internet; lacking the energy to choose life-giving activities (exercising, going for a walk or bike ride, connecting meaningfully with friends and family; etc.).
- Disconnected from our identity and calling. Catering to the expectations and demands of people rather than living out of who we are in Christ.
- Not able to attend to human needs. We don't have time to take care of basic human physical, spiritual, and emotional needs. "Even such simple things as getting the car washed, picking up the dry cleaning or staying organized seem impossible to accomplish, indicating that we're pushing the limits of being human." (105)
- Hoarding energy. "When we are running on empty, we can have the inner experience of always feeling threatened, as though exposing ourselves to additional people or situations would drain the last of our energy or the energy we are trying to conserve for what we think is important." (106)
- Slippage in our spiritual practices. "Practices that are normally life-giving (solitude and silence, prayer, personal reflection on Scripture, journaling, self-examination, caring for the body) become burdensome, and we don’t have energy for them even though we know they are good for us. We might even find that we are so accustomed to using God and Scripture for ministry purposes that we no longer know how to be with God for ourselves personally. We know that there are things we need to attend to in God’s presence, but we truly do not have the energy or the will. Over time, this becomes a symptom and also a source of our depletion." (Ib.)
Barton writes: "If even a few of these symptoms are true for you, chances are you are pushing up against human limitations and you, too, might need to consider that “what you are doing is not good” for you or for the people you are serving." (Ib.)