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9 Signs You're Burning Out in Leadership

9 Signs You're Burning Out

Burnout. 

Been there?

Seven years ago, I entered into the darkest period of my life.

People had always warned me I would burn out. I thought I could prove them wrong.

And usually I did. I would get tired – out of balance – but when I saw the edge, I could always pull myself back.

Until seven years ago.

I found the edge, and as I was falling, I knew this time I realized I couldn’t pull myself back. 

Although I’m not a person who suffers from depression, I’m sure I would have gone to the doctor and received a diagnosis of clinical depression that summer seven years ago.

It wasn’t your stereotypical depression.

I could get out of bed every day, and I did.

I kept praying and reading my bible.

But my speed decreased to a snail’s pace.

And hope felt like it had died.

My motivation and passion dropped to zero. (Make that zero Kelvin).

I had never been there before. 

I knew many in ministry had gone down this road before me, and what scared me is that some of them never made it back.

For them, ministry was done. And sometimes, tragically, they were done – hope never fully returned and they didn’t ever become the person they were before.

That was the last thing I wanted to happen to me.

Looking back, the diagnosis is still a little elusive and mysterious.

Who really knows what corrodes the soul to the point where it deflates?

But I’d say the most likely candidate for what derailed me is what I’d call emotional burnout. 

In caring for others I had not adequately cared for my heart or soul, or let others who wanted to care for it do so.

I spiralled down for about 3 months before I hit bottom.

Then with the love and assistance of a great wife, board, leadership team, close friends, a counselor, and a very gracious God, I slowly began to recover.

It took, honestly, a few years to really feel full stride again, but I recovered to 80-90% of full strength in the first year. The last 10% took two or three more years.

The good new is, there is life after burnout (my next post will be on ways to recover from burnout).

I’m writing this because burnout seems to be an epidemic in ministry leadership.

In fact, there are more than a few of you who know you are right on the edge of the cliff you could so easily fall of of.

And probably a few of you who are in free fall right now.

Why is that?

More than most environments, ministry combines what you do (your work) with what you believe (your faith) and  your community (your congregation/friends). Without skillful navigation, that can creates a roller coaster of emotions that push leaders toward burnout (I’ve written about the emotional roller coaster of ministry here).

So how do you know if you’re heading for burnout? 

Here are 9 things I personally experienced as I burned out.

I hope they can help you see the edge before you careen past it:

1. Your motivation has faded. The passion that fueled you is gone, and your motivation has either vapourized or become self-centered.

2. Your main emotion is ‘numbness’ – you no longer feel the highs or the lows. This was actually one of the earliest signs for me that the edge was near. I wrote more about emotional numbness here.

3. People drain you. Of course there are draining people on the best of days. But not everybody, every time. Burnout often means few to no people energize you anymore.

4. Little things make you disproportionately angry. When you start losing your cool over small things, it’s a sign something deeper is very wrong.

5. You’re becoming cynical. Many leaders fight this one, but cynicism rarely finds a home in a healthy heart.

6. Your productivity is dropping. You might be working long hours, but you’re producing little of value. Or what used to take you 5 minutes just took you 45. That’s a warning bell.

7.  You’re self-medicating.  Your coping mechanism has gone underground or dark. Whether that’s overeating, overworking, drinking, impulsive spending or even drugs, you’ve chosen a path of self-medication over self-care. Ironically, my self-medication was actually more work, which just spirals things downward.

8. You don’t laugh anymore. Nothing seems fun or funny, and, at its worst, you begin to resent people who enjoy life.

9. Sleep and time off no longer refuel you. Sometimes you’re not burnt out; you’re just tired. A good night’s sleep or a week or two off will help most healthy people bounce back with fresh energy. But you could have a month off when you’re burnt out and not feel any difference. I took three weeks off during my summer of burn out, and I felt worse at the end than when I started. Not being refueled when you take time off is a major warning sign you’re burning out.

Identifying with just a few of these signs might just be a sign that you’re tired.

If you identify with half, you might be close to the edge.

If you identify with most or all, well, you might be in the same place I found myself–burnout.

If you are burnt out, I would encourage you to seek immediate professional help – a medical doctor and a trained Christian counselor.  I would also encourage you to talk to a close circle of friends (again, my next post will be on recovery from burnout).

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from many of you on your stories around burn out?

What did you learn? How can we help each other?

Did you find this post helpful?

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  • Kevin Bordeaux

    Carey, thanks again for addressing this issue. I planted my first church in 2011 in FL (with 20,000.00 and 3 people), moved to VA and launched my second in 2012 (re-birth launch), lost my mom to cancer in 2012, my grandmother in 2013 and my Dad to liver failure in 2014. We launched our first campus in 2014 as well. I had my first child in 2015 and now are mothering a local church plant. I burned out in 2011. I am still on the road to recovery. It’s been a super slow pace but I can feel things changing. I’ve learned to be super sensitive to my gauges. I respond quicker and set up more guard rails. This is a real epidemic among lead pastors. Never let anyone sway you from talking about this. My friend Rich Birch turned me on to your podcast. You are my “mow the yard” mentor.
    Thank you for all you do man. You are a gift from God!! Praying for you and Connexus!

  • Kolya Lynne Smith

    I’m not in the ministry, but I am burned out and I run a medical advocacy non-profit (volunteer based), with very little help. This was a great article. Thank you for writing about your experiences.

  • thunder250

    Great article. Please allow me to add a couple of signs that are not in the article (though others may have stated them in the comments). These are more “spiritual” in nature: 1) You find it difficult or impossible to hear the voice of God. Doctrine, theology and scripture remain but they doesn’t seem to “speak” to you in a personal way. Prayer seems like a one way conversation. 2) You are filled with self condemnation and find it difficult to experience the grace of God other than as an obscure theological concept. Your failures seem larger, your accomplishments smaller. 3) Temptations of the flesh have more appeal as your brain seeks alternative ways of easing the pain. They are, however, temporary and increasingly destructive.

    • Mohammed Abutaleb

      Interesting, yeah they are indeed signs of that

  • Mari

    Some of you might have read my post in the past of severe burnout, after overwork, which led to sickness, massive ministry plant, dissapointments in relationships that really hurt, a surgery and then boom, in severe depression and burnout – the doctors called it moderate adrenal fatigue, but I felt it like 24/7 total weakness, like close to dead. The darkness that came with it was huge! After 5 months, someone prayed for me to deal with the root of dissapointment, and once I fully dealt with it, she prayed for healing and I went from 10% energy (I was put on the hormone that sustains life – Cortisol, as nothing else worked) to 80% energy within 24 hours! I then continued at that level, but push hard again, even though I learned the lessons in my mind but did not fully apply them in practice to recover. I pushed myself to support my husband and to do more ministry, because I had a need to feel valuable, important through what I did, which is a form of stealing from God’s glory, as God put it to me. I had to learn that obedience is better than sacrifice, especially when the sacrifice has mixed motives in it – yes, for God and for others, but also so I felt good about myself and important in people’s eyes. Within 6 months, I had another mini burnout when I woke up one morning utterly exhausted and with my body fully shaking on the inside, as well as feeling extremely anxious that I cannot carry the load I have taken upon myself. I could hardly even think straight. I had to drop some things that were too much for me and now I am making a plan of health on how to get better. God told me that I am made out of 3 parts and ignoring the body will eventually pull me down to a standstill and steal a lot of recovery time. So the time I think I gain by ignoring my body’s needs I pay double or triple in sickness, weakness and long recovery times. We cannot let our zeal to be as spiritual and as productive as possible take us into intense exhaustion that takes months and years to recover from. Also, we become a burden to our loved ones and it affects our children and our husband/wife with a huge workload, to look after us and everyone else. Don’t think you are invincible and it won’t happen to you because God will sustain you, the testimonies below are a proof that God will let you go into self-destruction when you choose to be over zealous, but without wisdom. He’s got no favourites and all of us have done big things for God and achieved a lot in the past, so it’s not just because we are weak we got here, it’s because we were too strong on ourselves and pushed ourselves like slaves to the pit.

  • Jen

    I am in burnout. I’ve done a lot for the kingdom since getting saved… but more recently I co-wrote an amazing devotional last year, as well as start a ministry for people hurt by the church in my community. While that was a vision the Lord called me to create, sitting through 3 groups for 10 weeks each in the last year has tipped the scale in brokenheartedness and numbness, in addition to a husband who was not pursuing God for 9 of our 10 years of marriage (who was a pastor, which led to the inspiration to our this ministry Hope After Hurt). Anyways, 6 months ago I warned my partner in ministry that I needed to skip the upcoming group… And she tenaciously talked me out of it. She is a Christian counselor and friend, but gave me the whole “overcomer” speech. Now, months later. I am ready to possibly quit altogether. After hearing all the pains that Christians and Christian Leaders have put people through, I am embarrassed to call myself a Christian. I am so sad at where I am… 15 years old in the Lord and sold out to Him, nevertheless. Like this article said, it’s emotional burnout. I can’t take it anymore…. Yet I’m not saying this is a definite thing of not doing anything for the Lord… Clearly I need rest and a break from hearing the burdens resting on others’ shoulders. It saddens me it’s come to this, but my identity is NOT in ministry titles or duties… My identity is in Christ. And if I am emotionally unfit to carry on productively and full of faith for the ministry for the Lord, than I should do the humble and respectful thing and bow out for now.

  • Honorable Gentleman

    I am currently recovering from burn out and Carey’s account sound very similar to mine. I chose to cut stresses out of my life, the church I was pastoring being one of them. Actually, I hung on for two years longer than I should o trying to work myself out of it. This resulted in my wife following suit with burn out of her own. She medicated on “an old friend” who took advantage of her.
    In all, the healing process is ongoing, I’m blessed to have salvaged what strength and will I had to rescue my wife and children from the grip of sin. The best thing I ever did was leave the church as pastor and focus on my family. Things are only going to get better!

  • Thank you for sharing.

  • Love this. It would be interesting to turn some of these into questions… Like.. 1-2.) What are you most excited about accomplishing today? 2.) Who did you help this week that encouraged you? 3.) In what areas of your life did you experience unmerited irritation? 4.) What did you accomplish before noon today? You get the point. Would love to see you turn these into BURN OUT questions. Thanks! As always, keep writing!

    • thunder250

      Great thought.

  • myrvl

    I agree to it all except the ‘talk to friends’. My experience is you loose them. No one can keep up with a perpetually tired deflated person. And that means there is no one to come back to when you feel better. And in the long run once you are seen as weak and whiny (which is what you are seen of when you admit to how you feel for longer than a week or so) you will keep that mark on you. So take care there: confide in some, pretend to be well to most. You need a life to return to.

  • Mira

    I think I’ve reached this point lately, although I can’t afford a councellor. Is there anyone I could ask for help for free?

  • Mar

    Hello! Thanks for this article … I discovered it, when was I in the horrendous other land… That I experienced in my time of depression and burnout! Excellent article and I could relate to it totally! I’m On the road to recovery now… I can’t believe that I made it out of there…. But I did! And for anyone, who is suffering now… The best advice is KEEP GOING… things will get better… And YOU CAN RECOVER… There is HOPE

  • Mols

    Seems I accidentally cut part of my comment on my previous post as I was about to post it. My husband burnout nearly 5 years ago. He was a church leader. Before his burn out he just managed to cope with what had to be done in church. I could sense that he was not himself & was withdrawn. As I worked & supported people with mental health issues I could tell something was wrong. I tried talking to him & he fobbed me off. ( think you can carry on reading from previous post)

  • Mols

    counsellor.going on as I work with people who suffer from various mental health issues. It probably affected me as well as I had to sit in the pews listening to him every Sunday. He almost seemed to have multiple personalities as he was one man in church & another at home. He became more withdrawn at home & we just seemed to start living separate lives as he was inclined to do his own thing Monday to Saturday & we seemed the perfect couple on Sunday’s. During this period I was studying & had my own pressures of college work & assignments & I worked as well. I told my tutor at college as I just broke down one day whilst having a tutorial. She arranged for me to see the college counsellor. Meanwhile I wasn’t too motivated to go to church as I felt like a hypocrite painting this picture to everyone else. I tried talking to my husband, but because I was persisting in having these conversations I became the bad guy. As everything that seemed to be going wrong in his life wasn’t fault. He shut me out of his life & I agree most men don’t have a lot of friends & the ones that they may have they may not always tell them the whole truth of what’s going on. ( Open up more guys). I had told a few of my praying partners & we kept praying about the whole situation. We eventually separated as my husband felt that all of a sudden I was the wrong person for him & we were not compatible. I suggested marriage counselling, but he didn’t think some one could help us work through what we were going through. After his burnout he did see his Doctor & was told he was suffering from depression. He started medication & also started seeing a counsellor. When he suddenly resigned from the church some of the leadership & congregation members felt betrayed & others were really angry at us. My husband did tell the leadership that he was burnout & needed time out to deal with personal issues. It’s sad as most of the leaders did not really support us as looking back now I’m sure they didn’t know how. During our separation he did do drastic things & made irrational decision. I kept believing in him & praying for him. Initially he cut off all communication & eventually we started chatting 8 months after separation. We reconciled a year later after working through things. He seems his normal self now & has been looking at churches to join, but it appears when he mentions about why his been out of ministry for this long some churches/ leadership teams where his applied to don’t get it. They almost see it as a weakness & maybe at the back of their minds think it might occur again. I feel sorry for my husband as he has been doing work he doesn’t really enjoy. It’s helped to pay the bills & keep the roof above our heads. When his been invited to preach I have seen him come alive, or when he casually counsels someone it comes naturally. I’m praying Hod will open the right door for him. I also hope that leaders out their will be more open about such issues & may be aware of the burn out signs & take action.

    • Wow. That’s quite a story. I pray you both continue to find healing and your true callings and grace in each other and Christ.

  • Damian

    Hi Carey, your struggle is a common one these days, its sad to say. I am in the middle of burnout myself which has led to anxiety and clinical depression. I’m an Engineer and was laid off 4 months ago after leading a very stressful project. I don’t now if i’ll ever be able to return to my profession, which scares me. I find it hard to concentrate for long periods and i’m on anti-depressants. I’ve had to turn down some great opportunities and probably won’t be able to take any job for a year. I see no future whatsoever and if it wasn’t for my family i’d have ended my life months ago. I have sacrificed so much for my profession and for what?? How will I get through this? Any advice would be great

    • Damian…so sorry to have waited a week to get back to you. Was at a conference all week last week. You will make it…you can make it. The first step was you left a comment. I would get a counsellor this week (a good, trained Christian counsellor) and start unpacking what’s going on. See your doctor and circle in a close friend or two who can walk with you through this. That will get you started!

  • Sarita…thanks for this. And thanks for helping other leaders. So glad you’re doing better!

  • Monica

    Thank you for talking about the symptoms of burnout and not talking about the cause. I have read many posts on burnout and they imply that you must be in a certain situation to become burnt out, because my situation never paralleled these people’s situations, I never knew if I should label myself as burnt out or not. I can say that at one point I could check off every single item on your list and this list has brought me better clarity. I feel that I am doing better because the situation has changed and it has taken time to move out of this difficult time, but I never saw a counsellor. (The minister I worked with was emotionally and spiritually abusive and was eventually let go, but I am not allowed to talk about the situation and many people have no idea why he was let go). Even when your situation has improved, (We have a new and good pastor now) would you recommend still seeing a counsellor? How high is the chance of burnout recurrence with or without a counsellors guidance?

    • Monica…thanks for this! And thanks for leaving a comment and ‘reaching out’. For sure, I would recommend seeing a counsellor at any stage. We all have ‘junk’ (I do!) and it’s always good to go to a trained Christian counsellor and prayerfully work through our issues. Even if it’s just a tune up at this point, it’s a good practice. And for sure, you don’t need to be in a particular set of circumstances to burnout. If you show the signs, you’re burnt out!

      • Monica

        Thanks for your advice. I’ve just started seeing a Good Christian counselor and hope it helps me be the best I can be in my ministry.

  • Anonymous

    Carey – I have been having some ups and downs in my life for the past 1.5 years. I am working as a scientist and am all set to be amongst the creme-de-la-creme of my field. Everything about me looks great from the outside. But, the truth is I have been going through lot of internal struggles. I have worked really hard for the past 7 – 8 years professionally. I also come from a lower middle class background and undertook a very intense journey to get to where I am today. I did not realize then, but today I see it took a toll on me. I wanted to fully commit myself to getting ahead professionally and in the process ignored personal relationships. However, over the past 1.5 years, I have been seeing somebody. Things were decent between us, though I felt that this person was sometimes not so nice to me and we have had our share of issues. Over the past 6 months, this person proposed to me multiple times. I finally agreed to this and now this person says he has second thoughts. This has left me feeling completely drained. Over the past few weeks, I have been feeling that I am giving a lot to life but I am not at ease or I am not feeling good about life anymore. I am completely burnt out. Its hard to focus and all I want to do is talk to my mom and hug her and cry. Any suggestions to me ?

    • Wow. That’s a tough one, but not at all uncommon. My advice? Go see a trained Christian counsellor and talk to some close, wise, Christian friends. Ask them to help you see what’s going on. Pray about it, and do what you need to do get well. Marriage is not about what you get, but about what you give. So is life. The healthier we are on the inside, the more we have to give. Counsellors and great Christian friends helped me immensely in my burnout.

  • Justin Meier

    Carey- I’ve been serving in denominational ministry for the past 5 years and burned out. It has caused me to lose my job. I had identified the problem 7 months prior to being asked for my resignation. None of the issues I was asked to resign were moral failures, but were issues that I have read generally are evidence of burnout. I also was asked to continue my job for two a half months after my release. My final day is April 30th. I know I need to heal and get better, can you point me to any resources that can help in that process?

  • Marcus A. Cylar

    I experienced burnout and departed from pastoral ministry a year and a half ago. I wish I would have seen a post like this back in 2012 when my burnout first started. As one who is dedicating the rest of my life and ministry to helping pastors recover from or prevent burnout, this and your 12-steps post greatly resonated with me, so much so that I allowed my excitement about it to cloud my better judgment and previously post something way too self-promotional. I apologize deeply for that. My only point was to communicate to you just how much this material has meant to me and to thank you for it. God bless you and your ministry.

    • Marcus. Thanks for sharing your story. So glad to hear it. If your comment had a link, it might have been automatically caught by my spam filter. I’ll check. So glad you’re feeling better and helping others. Amazing!

  • ErinErin

    Thought you might appreciate this quote from the book “Changing the Conversation” Anthony B. Robinson, p. 99

    Ministry is certainly demanding, and congregational life is
    at times taxing. But I have come to believe that the word and phenomenon known
    as “burnout” are more symptomatic than accurately descriptive of what
    is going on for church leaders and congregations who use the term. It is not simply a matter of being overworked; it is often a lack of clarity about the nature of
    the work we are engaged in. “Burnout”, the word and the lament is
    symptomatic of the absence of a reasonably clear and compelling purpose.
    Lacking clear and compelling purpose, congregations (and clergy) tend to become reactive: they try to respond to every need, itch, hurt, and crisis that comes along. And that is a recipe for burnout, because people’s needs, itches, and hurts are limitless and endless. Moreover, when there is a lack of share purpose, congregations and clergy tend to become too focused on keeping everyone happy and together. Instead of being captain and crew n the Mayflower, a vessel bound for the new world, the church begins to look more like the Love Boat, which goes nowhere but promises fun and entertainment for all!…in a Christian congregation, losing a member of even a group of members is not, in truth the end of the world; indeed it may be a consequence, albeit a painful one, of reaching clarity about missional purpose.

    Erin
    I certainly related to the mention of “being reactive”

    • Erin…I agree with much of what he said. Very helpful. Thanks!

  • Jim Williams

    Hi Carey,
    I’ve been there and still working my way back. Connection with those who truly care has been a big help. I truly appreciate your posts in this.

    • Thanks Jim. Pulling for you and praying for you. Keep going!

  • ErinErin

    >>People
    had always warned me I would burn out. I thought I could prove them wrong.<<

    Ouch. That hurts. My colleague here, who was a master of balancing his life, told me this early on in our ministry together (6 years ago). And I think he may be right.

  • ErinErin

    12. Take full responsibility for the health of your soul. Nobody else is responsible for your health. You are. Pray, read your bible, seek life giving friendships, replenish your energy, eat right, work out, love deeply. These things nourish your soul. If you don’t do them, nobody will.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a single female minister (and someone who loves my work) it is easy to make work your life. I did it when I was in a corporate career and I can feel I am doing it again here. These are fabulous and much appreciate. Love your honesty.

    • Thanks Erin. Love your passion for ministry and appreciate your input. So true!

  • Liz

    Thank you for sharing these blogs of burnout. I relate to most of the 12 points in recovering from burn out. I am not sure if I’ve come to the place of burn out, but definitely needed to step down from my place within ministry and missions. It came to a time that every area I served in or even mentioning ministry would be like bricks on my shoulders. After a good three months of resting I feel somewhat refreshed, though still stressed and frustrated at many things. How do you know when you are able to take on more after a season of burnout?

    • Liz. Thanks for this note and I’m so glad you’re feeling better. You ask a great question. For me, it was a question of trying things and seeing what you can bear or stand. I know for me sleep is now something I can’t cheat anymore. So I always try to stay rested, and then I know how much I can do. I was probably always wired this way but ignored it for years, hence the burnout. So my answer would be to push yourself a bit to test limits and then ensure you get enough sleep to refuel and rest.

  • Charles

    Thank you for sharing your recovery story, and the 9 signs you describe here.

    I fell in burn out after 7 years of hard work building a company and being betrayed personally and professionally by the cofounder and a coworker. Then I had to put up with making the company work with bits and pieces, finally succumbing to pressure and fatigue. I think now it could have been the end of me. I stopped just in time.

    I’m in my third month of forced rest, and I’m slowly understanding what I went through. Reading your article “How I Recovered From Burn Out” gave me good hint on what I could do to improve my situation. Trusting again will be the hardest thing.

    • So glad you’re recovering. Thanks so much Charles. Keep resting. Keep going. 🙂

  • Lost lamb

    Hi, Carey! I found your site while searching for help about recovering from burnout. Your article was very helpful. Being hurt by people I trusted led to my burnout. I had been discontent for many years in my job, but that betrayal was the final straw. I quit a few months ago. I understand that for me to move on, I would have to forgive but I really cannot find it in my heart right now. I am not a member of any church and feel like I have lost touch with God although I was raised Catholic. I’ve also realized that because for many years, I put my job first, I cannot count any meaningful relationship outside my husband and kids. I am also struggling with the fact that I am constantly worried about not being able to find another job. I am not a member of any church and feel like I have lost touch with God although I was raised Catholic. I would appreciate any advice you could give me.

    • Hey lost lamb…thanks for this! Sorry I missed your comment a few weeks ago. I love the questions you’re asking. I’m glad you want to connect. As far as personal connection, I would suggest prayer and reading scripture. Get a good translation of the Bible (I use the New Living Translation) and start reading maybe Matthew or Romans.

      Second, I suggest getting into Christian community. Find a good local church with excellent teaching and great relationships….often facilitated through small groups.

      Finally, I’m starting a series today at my church about how to connect with God and why people don’t connect with God. The series is called You Are Here and you can watch it for free online at connexuchurch.com/watch or download the Connexus Church audio or video podcast. First message will be live on those platforms within 24 hours.

  • David

    Wow, that’s me. I think I wouldn’t be as burned out if I had the support of church leadership. What can I do if they are more of a hindrance than a help and that’s what’s making me want to quit?

    • Shonn

      Hi David,

      Speaking from personal experience, you have two options:
      1. Explain to the leadership that you’re burned out and ask for their support.
      2. Evaluate whether “making me want to quit” is really your spirit giving you a sign that you and the leadership/environment, are not a good fit.

      In either case, prepare to relocate if your needs – an environment which supports your healing and recovery – are not being met.

      Although I didn’t want to leave the church I was attending, I found that their views, attitudes, kept me from finding the peace and support I needed to remain in the environment.

  • Patricia

    Your testimony is encouraging to me. What did you do in those 3 years of “desert”? Sometimes I feel like I’m done. I just want to sit in church like the other 90% and receive, instead of doing what I know is right and that is to give.

  • Patricia

    Carey, I’m thankful to have found this post. I am struggling right now with a diminishing desire to commit to nearly anything. My husband and I have been in ministry for quite some time. He served as an associate pastor for 9 years, basically full-time though unpaid, working an outside full-time job. He wore many hats. I realize this is the story of many pastors in ministry so not looking for sympathy. He is mentally tough, loves serving the Lord and justified many responsibilities that were laid on him. I served alongside him or in different ministries in multiple capacities. We were both go-getters and the demand was heavy. Then, the burn-out came on. Mainly for me; he plugged along. Then we left our church, for select reasons. In our new church, we have “rested” somewhat for a year; now, we are back serving in a larger capacity but our church is small and the demand is less. I find myself holding back in many areas in my life now, though. I find it hard to commit to my daughters’ schools (our first year in public school after homeschooling for 10 years), to extra-curricular things, to other ministry opportunities that is certainly on my heart but I can’t get myself to move. I want to just sit and rest. I don’t know if all of the ultra-commitment from before has scared me off (I am currently dealing with anxiety issues… never had them before… ugh) or if I have just become lethargic. I plan to read more from your blog on this subject but also willing to hear from you or any of your readers that may have experienced this on my plight. –Patricia

    • john

      Patricia, you mention that you just want to sit and rest. My 2 cents:
      We pay off the tiredness of the soul either in installments, or in a lump sum. It sounds like your soul is telling you that you have yet to finish paying off the lump sum. I pray you find time an space to finish doing that.

    • Sandy

      Patricia I know exactly how you feel. My husband and I just resigned a year and a half ago from full time ministry. We were full force for years – no kids – day and night night and day 60 hours or more a week. It finally caging up with us – and we are in our late 30’s. We both had major fatigue and almost had to go in the hospital. We moved out of state and have hardly done anything in a year and a half. I want to join the worship team so bad, but have nothing to give. I feel after a year and a half my energy is slowly coming back, but I can’t handle doing anything at the church, but going once or twice a week and once a month for prayer. I do the same thing I work all day and come home and sit all night. We have been able to be back with family that we haven’t been with in 12 years so I have been with them a lot on the weekends. I’ve lost two babies and my mom along this process. My relationship with Christ has held me through. Eventually my husband and I would like to pastor again someday. Until then we are resting and drawing closer to the Lord.

  • Kari Wilhite

    My husband and I appreciate your words very much. We are at a frustrating time where I (as the pastor’s wife) feel burn-out is close at hand and he does not. We need to seek counsel on this.

    • Kari that’s a tough one. Others close to me saw it before I did. Pray and be gently persistent. That’s what my wife did. And maybe there’s someone else he might listen to that could help him see what’s going on.

  • Stepahnie

    I have a friend who is in experiencing this kind of burnout right now. Can you give any advice how to be the best help to them.

  • Richard

    I have recently become aware of displaying some of these symptoms of burn out after years in ministry. I haven’t been over-worked or incredibly busy at all times; but rather, feeling like the work is not producing what I hope for and is what I like to do. Is it possible to be burnt out without extreme busyness?

    • I think that’s very possible Richard. I would make sure you talk to some people you trust, a counsellor and a doctor to see if you’re in fact burning out. Hope that helps.

  • Brendon Watson Vealey

    This is where I’m at now. I’m working a full time retail job, going to school to become a pastor, and running a middle school ministry and I feel deflated. I feel like God said to me today, “you can’t do all this. You need to focus on one side or the other.” The sad thing is that’s the first thing I’ve felt from Him in months. I’m not really sure where to go from here.

    • Brendon…this is a tough one. I’m so sorry. The best thing I can suggest is for you to tell someone you know. Sit down with a counselor, a best friend, a doctor or all of the above. And maybe this will help. Perry Noble and I talk all about burnout in Episode 2 of my leadership podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/carey-nieuwhof-leadership/id912753163?mt=2

      • Brendon Watson Vealey

        I know in the midst of this God called me to change, and I am in the midst of asking how to do that and where to go. But I want to thank you for being honest, and showing me where I am and where I need to go.

        • I believe that Brendon. I just hope you find some margin in the journey. Take care!

  • Susan

    Thank you for these articles Carey, they certainly hit the nail on the head as it were. One thing I did not see you name is intentional physical exercise (other than walking). A membership at a gym with an understanding personal trainer can make a world of difference also (in addition to the other wonderful things you name) Blessing on your ministry. Susan

    • Such a good point. We were designed to be active…God never intended a sedentary life. 🙂 Thanks Susan!

  • MGH

    Hi, thanks for writing this. I’m an American pastor’s wife married to a Welshman, and we’ve been working among Welsh speakers in Wales for last 10 years. Our chapel is about 25 people, nearly all over the age of 70. I’ve spent all of my 30’s and now in my 40’s around people twice my age! Hearts here are very hard and closed to the Lord…in 10 years of ministry, we’ve not seen a single Welsh speaking person come to the Lord, almost no church growth, and an immediate return to the old traditions the minute we are not there to spearhead the change. We do most the work ourselves as there is simply no one else to do it. Our hearts are not just to pastor the elderly remnant (although of course important!), but really is to reach the two generations the Welsh church has lost – but we spend most of our time doing the former. I’ve grown so tired of getting my hopes up with a new event or outreach that we work hard to prayerfully arrange, only to be bitterly disappointed by the lack of turnout or response. I’m shocked by the lack of articles I can find on the Web about this topic, so really appreciated reading your thoughts, thank you.

    • MGH…wow. You are plowing in hard soil. I can understand that, being from Canada. Be encouraged. God sees your heart and effort.

  • Aaron

    I have several of these, but not all. My issue is that I am Bipolar. It’s been hard to find the balance of keeping ministry going in a good direction when I am on my low cycle. I don’t want my church to have to be on the swings that I am on. Medication helps, but I still have a much more pronounced cycle than the “general populace” as the psychiatrists say. I have tried to get my core team as involved as possible, but they take their cues from me, as we are a small church. I’ve been praying a lot about this as I want to lead well and care for my church well, despite the chemical deficiencies in my brain. Just so you know, the call to ministry has been extremely clear and continues to be. This is not an issue of being in the wrong spot. I just want to find the right approach.

    • Aaron…thanks for your comment. Man, I empathize. I am not Bipolar but I feel for you and those who are. I trust you are under great care and I completely agree that medication is a real help. Pulling for you Aaron!

      • Aaron

        Thanks Carey! I really appreciate your posts. Great thought provokers.

  • Cori

    I read “How I recovered” and finally felt like I am not alone, and I can step away from shame and admit what I am struggling with. I think I still have the calling of a counselor because when I read the comments listed below, my heart just broke for all those suffering with burnout. We can’t let the enemy get this victory over us! God is greater than anything that comes at us. I truly am grateful for Carey and this blog, I will be following it and believing that “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Thank you Carey for your work and God bless all those who are involved in this blog and your families

    • Cori…you are not alone at all. Thank you so much for the comment and I’m SO glad you’re seeing some hope. We need more people who can minister to those who are burnt out. That would be an awesome calling.

  • Lt. Brannigan

    Thank you for these posts.

  • Brooke

    Thank you so much for sharing this and the tips for recovering. I so need this as this moment. I want to blame my own weakness but I know that there is so much more to this moment than failure. Thank you.

  • Trazaria

    This has been so helpful. Thank you so much. May God bless you always, for helping so many. I am so grateful to have found your articles.

  • Mike

    Hi Carey, thank you for writing this article. I recently quit my job/relationship/country I was working in and returned home without a plan. Crazy I know but I felt I was heading for a breakdown. I was living a very long way from family and the isolation coupled with a heavy workload broke me. I would be ill for months on end due to stress, mostly emotional stress. Now I’m back at home and not all my family are pleased with what I have done. Although they are glad to see me more they worry I have thrown my career away – I feel like a black sheep (!). I think it was some kind of mid-life crisis thing too. I feel bad for leaving now but on the other hand I was always so ill, so perhaps I made a good decision to leave.

    I’m not sure if I have the energy to get back into my career (university prof), as it demands so much… I also left a girlfriend behind, but at the time I didn’t want to stay in that job and was not in a position to take her with me.

    I’m contemplating getting back into writing research papers with the aim of applying for academic jobs again, but I’m worried I’ve lost the motivation and energy; and maybe my burnout is a big wake-up call to do something else. But I’m not sure what, all career paths have their stresses.

    I really need some inspiration right now, it is a dark night of the soul, I hope to find some light.

    • How are you doing Mike? It was two months ago you checked in. Praying for you this morning!

      • Mike

        Hi Carey, thanks for your message. I’m feeling a bit better now since I’ve started seeing a counsellor and this has led me to accept my decision to leave. I feel a bit slower than I used to be (It’s been nearly a year since I quit my job) and hope I will recover to my former self soon. I have started applying to jobs related to my field although I’ve also considered retraining as a nurse. Thanks for your prayer, it means a lot!

        • Mike…so encouraged to hear this. Keep going Mike.

          • Mike

            Carey, I’ve recently been offered a job but it’s abroad in a university again (!). If I take it then I would have to do things differently as I still feel a bit slow and a bit tender. In some ways I would like to take the job to stay in my profession although could be isolating myself again. I was impressed to see you carried on as a pastor although it looks like you had a lot of support. How important do you think it is to stay in one’s profession, and when to say enough is enough? Cheers

          • Mike thanks for this. Man, that’s really hard to say. I kept going because I loved my community and thought I could get back. I think if you had a few local people who know your situation and could speak into it that would be ideal. i think it might be different for everyone. Praying for you right now!

          • Mike

            Thanks for that Carey. I think I would be abroad with little support so it’s probably not the best situation to put myself in. I probably have to close the door on my academic career, and accept it, as much as it hurts to say it. I need something to focus on to help pull myself through this. Thanks again for the prayer.

          • Hey Mike…man that’s a tough one. Praying for you. I hope you have great people around you locally.

          • Mike

            I think I’m gonna go for the job abroad, and my old job was advertised too so I’m tempted with that. I just hope I can re-find the motivation. I think it was a loss of motivation that in part led me to burnout. I have my identity tied up in my career so it’s hard to let it go really… Well I think I’m gonna give it one more go.

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  • Displaced pastor

    Hi, Carey. Just read both entries – burned out and recovering from burn out.
    I feel so ripped off. My elder team had no capacity to discuss emotional health. Argh! I resigned at their request. Now we are def in the wilderness w the Spirit of The Lord but I want a new normal.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your story. You’re not the only one who’s discovered that many people need to develop understanding for emotional health. So sorry to hear about your situation.

      I hope you have some great people around you (friends, mentors and maybe a counselor) who can walk with you. You’re not alone.

      *Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor *
      *Connexus Church*
      *546 Bryne Drive, Unit E Barrie Ontario L4N 9P6* *connexuscommunity.com * *careynieuwhof.com *
      *facebook & twitter cnieuwhof*
      *instagram careynieuwhof*

      *Sent from my personal email account. **If adding others, please use cnieuwhof@gmail.com to include me in the conversation. Thank you!*

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  • Kerry

    Hi Carey. I am in your position right now. I have switched jobs about 6 times in the last 18 months, cared for a partner who had anxiety and depression, and struggled with debt. This has led me to completely burn out. No one would know, but I am physically and mentally exhausted. I cant give anything at work. I can’t give anything to other people. All I want to do, is just BE. I just want to sit in the sun, by the ocean, and recharge. But I have debts, and am living out of my grandmas in a suitcase. I know it will get easier. But right now I’m spent. Thank goodness I have the comfort of my grandma’s home to relax in. There is a great lesson in this experience!

  • Odette

    As I am reading this I realise that there are consistencies: all people here are not caregivers by title, they really care. Here’s the thing: we all care more for others than ourselves. It doesn’t mean we don’t care for ourselves we just care more about others. And its not that we do this because we can, its because we get our energy and self worth from making a change in people’s lives. We feel good when knowing we made a difference. It’s not wrong, it is just exhausting. Most of us like alone time to internalize, but the process is also neglected because people want more and we want more. It makes us exceptional people because we give something away which is priceless. Now I am not a pastor, I own my own business and I employ people with potential. My greatest reward is to know I made a difference in someones life by teaching them life rules and just christian principles. Believe me there are days I want to give up, get out and run. Im sure Im burnt out already. But responsibility keeps me going. Even if I can make a single persons life better that would be reward enough. It doesnt make it easier at all. Someone said to me… If you stop running so fast you will get time to climb on the bike and drive where you are going. Stop. That’s all it takes.

    easier said than done but thats what im doing now and its still easier to run so Im still using training wheels and thats ok because Im helping someone and my energy will return from the output of helping myself not someone and making a difference in a life.
    just my thoughts.

  • SMerc

    I am currently in a sad and dark place that I find somewhat frightening. I am a very level-headed person that can take change and life’s blows fairly well. But these past two years have hit me deep. I have experienced all nine of the signs you shared and sadly, a few months ago I stepped out of a ministry I adored and have worked at for 5 1/2 years. I am so wounded, alone, and I feel very detached. I know God loves me but He seems so silent. Or am I just too sad to hear Him? It’s so hard to explain to others how devastating it is when there are trust breaches, and painful words spoken by leaders you have loved and served. I still attend the church, but it causes me anxiety every time I drive up. Leaving a ministry feels like I failed God or that He no longer wants me. I have no doubt experienced total burnout and I feel as though I am close to a breakdown. I don’t recognize myself like this. Reading your words are helping me see that I am not only alone but that I am not crazy for hurting this much.

  • TBH616 .

    Oh and by the way, when it all kicked off at work( a Nursing helpline in the UK) and they started their Brainwashing, God was right there beside me giving me support and strength, and He sent me a hymn which I have never found anywhere: the Lord is my rock and my Salvation, the Lord is my hiding place. I will not be afraid because the Lord is my rock etc. That was the one sure thing in a world which was collapsing in on me, and I was greatly reassured and strengthened by this.

    As for Counselors, I have only ever had a non christian one and she pushed Hinduism on me the whole time, so so much for them being “open minded”. But I am well grounded in my faith and unshaken by her disbelief in my conviction that I needed to forgive my bullies and pray for their well-being. It helps so much to free one and help one move on.

  • TBH616 .

    Thanks Carey, its good to know that it takes a long time to recover. It’s taking me forever… well, I hope not quite forever, but 2 years on and not much better feels like forever. I wonder when my Zest for life will return.

    I didn’t work in the Church, but Nursing was my mission field. I had several jobs which burned me out over my career but not as completely as the last one which stripped the life out of me and where management bullied us endlessly ;ending in some brain washing specially put on for me because I was harder to crack, I left 2 years ago. I guess I would say to anyone reading this, don’t stay in a job which burns you out, it just isn’t what God intended for you spend your days doing.

  • Lynn

    Hi Carey, I work full time in Children’s Ministry. Sometime in the near future I am going to be taking a full week off work for a “Sabbatical”. Usually when I take vacations I visit churches, bring work with me, look for ideas in shops, etc. I want this week to be different. Do you have any ideas for things I should be doing intentionally to make sure when I come back to work I am refreshed? It scares me to think that this week off could be a “waste”. Thanks

    • Hi Lynn. So glad you are having a mini-Sabbatical. Even a week can replenish. I would recommend Craig and Mary Jutila’s book, Hectic to Healthy. It’s a powerful personal story of burnout, a troubled marriage and the path back to health.

  • Derek

    I’m there. I’m almost at the bottom… I honestly cannot take it any more.

    • Ryan Allison

      Have faith in God. He is faithful and loves you. Even when it’s hard to see Him , He is there. And Christ’s words are trustworthy.

      I’m pretty close to being there too with grad school.

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  • shelly

    LOVE this, so open and real. Man, keep shareing more stuff. so many leaders need to hear this! going through burn out right now too:( please please please pray. thinking about walking away form ministry. I’m pretty young so this sucks because there could be so much good things ahead. Ive had God tell me some pretty cool things about how my generation could change and I’ve heard him tell me sweet things about the future but now since going through all this I’m feeling not that much hope and I want to give up. (tear)

    • cnieuwhof

      Don’t give up Shelly. We’re with you, but more importantly so is Christ.

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  • I’m about half way there. Prayer would be a blessing. Thanks Carey, great post as always.

    • cnieuwhof

      Praying for you.

  • Tom Sopwith

    Yep, I’m a Youthworker and Christian leader who can recently testify to all 9. Until I experienced burn-out in all its ugliness, I always assumed the key factor in descending into it was overwork, and over-stretch. Not necessarily. Honestly I DON’T think I was overworking, but my God-given vision was pretty much destroyed, and I was certainly giving more than receiving. Disappointment and hopelessness are pretty effective snowballs given a slope full of sticky snow.

    To all those hoping for a pithy 12 step recovery plan tomorrow that you can implement in 12 days, you will likely be disappointed. I’m excited to read tomorrow’s post for sure, and I know there will be helpful insight. The reality is that burn-out and depression appear not to have clear causes, clear effects, nor clear steps for healing. By their definition they are dark, cloudy and mysterious.

    However I type this filled with hope, and very much restored. For someone that has experienced the depth of hopelessness, I am super grateful to God that I can FEEL that God given hope.

    Thank you for the gift of this post.

    • cnieuwhof

      Tom. So glad to see that hope is back and that your feelings ‘work’ again. It’s terrible when they’re broken, isn’t it? And I agree with your comment about 12 steps. There is no one size fits all for recovery. I offered my 12 keys (that’s the language I picked in the end) as my personal path, but I completely realize they are no guarantee for anyone else. But hopefully as we work through this together we can all help each other. Thanks for posting Tom.

  • From my experience with burnout, I learned that I needed to step back from some activities. I couldn’t be the Energizer bunny.

    • cnieuwhof

      Yep. Yep. Yep. Thank you Joe.

  • carch

    I am really concerned about emotional numbness. I haven’t cried for over a year. I feel so lukewarm, professionally and personally. I long for deep relationships that have been distanced because of having to move on in ministry and allow other pastors to care for the congregation as I get appointed elsewhere. No bad experiences anywhere. Been blessed each time. Just keep starting over. Just thank you for sharing these warning signs & more.

    • cnieuwhof

      Praying for you tonight carch. I am.

  • cnieuwhof

    I’ve heard from quite a few readers through the comments and other messages. I want you all to know that I’m praying for you and my post tomorrow will have 12 elements that were important to my personal recovery. Let’s help each other too. For those who have recovered, I’d love to know what’s helped you. Grateful for this community.

  • Renee

    Anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s post. I’ve been “operating” in burnout mode for the past 8-9 months to the point of stepping away from my ministry. Struggling with “what now?”.

  • Brett Ullman

    Great post. As someone who has been through a year and a half of depression & anxiety from a breakdown this hits home. Thanks Carey. An amazing book that helped me in my breakdown was Wayne Codeiro’s “Leading on Empty”

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks Brett. I’m sure it’s been a very difficult journey. What parts of Wayne’s book resonated most with you?

      • Brett Ullman

        I think the part that touched me most was his openness about his struggles. It is really hard to find conversations like this in the church world. When he talked about finding himself crying during one of his runs I had a similar thing happen to me while on tour in Windsor. Found myself crying in my car one day. I know then something was wrong.

  • Love what you said: More than most environments, ministry combines what you do (your work) with what you believe (your faith) and your community (your congregation/friends).

    So true! It is hard for people not working in full time ministry to understand that. I do not mean that judgmentally. I need my friends and church to understand: my world is wrapped up in this…please understand if I need to take a Saturday morning to go for a run instead of attending a prayer meeting! (you can also exchange shopping trip for run!!)
    I thank God for an understanding husband, supportive family, a very gracious church, and some close friends!

    • cnieuwhof

      I hope you find the vocabulary to share some of that Kara. It’s so important.

  • Maureen Kelley Small

    Any tips on how to help and support a pastor who is burnt out? Both my brother and the pastor of my church are in a time of burn out right now; both are taking time away from ministry.

    • cnieuwhof

      I hope my post tomorrow will help. I think empathy, space and professional help (counselor and medical help) can really be key. I’m sharing 12 keys to my personal recovery tomorrow.

  • Gary

    So I’m there now. If I were honest I would say my life and ministry are in shambles. Still going, but no one really knows except my wife, I am ready to quit. The problem though in my ministry is that I do not have an elder board who would understand. If I shared with them how I was doing (which I did a couple years ago) I get blank stares and useless advice on how I need to manage my time better. I don’t even have a wife who understands and I love her dearly but she just doesn’t get it. I love the Lord, I want His direction and will for my life but I have absolutely no idea what to do. I’m stuck.

    • cnieuwhof

      I’m praying for you tonight Gary.

  • andrew

    My Pastor was at burnout stage several years ago and with the prodding of the Elders and Church board, John went on a 6 to 7 month Sabbatical. He came back refreshed, ready to take on the ministry.

    John has in the last year proven that it takes more than just a Sabbatical to rescue. it takes small Sabbaticals staged out year over year. I want so much for my Friend to have an imposed one week out of every 8 to refrain from taking his week to build sermons but to soak in reading and study and prayer.

    I am sure this can happen. Your posts inspire me, thank you Carey!

    • Kendra

      You’re correct Andrew. Although not in burnout, our Pastor announced he had wisely asked the board to allow a change to his annual sabbatical, as he’d discovered research that showed a majority of pastors quit after coming back from sabbatical. Since the beginning of the year he takes one week off per month, Sunday through Saturday, which works out to be the same amount he would’ve taken at one time before, & he seems more refreshed.

      I myself am in a time of “recalibration”, as I’ve stepped away from worship leading after about 6 yrs of being on the platform more Sundays than not. While not in full burnout, your points are so well-spoken & revealing, I can very much identify with your message. I am discovering my personal relationship with the Lord, and it’s so sweet! As Bill Gaither said recently on a radio program, if you’re spending more time on the platform than with the Lord, something’s wrong.

      Our main purpose is to serve the Lord, not burnout serving people. Only He can keep us healthy, balanced and in tune with His will. His ultimate approval is what should matter, not man’s. Fear of people (and their opinions) will keep me striving and from knowing the fear of God (an awesome reverence for His majesty & glory).

      Thanks for your message, I pray for a harvest of good fruit as a result of your honesty!

      • cnieuwhof

        Great advice Kendra…and so great to hear about your journey. You are so right. The authority we have to lead comes from our willingness to follow first.

  • David

    I coined a term “compassion fatigue”. I see it as an intentional distancing or objectifying. I may even justify it as maintaining a professional distance. But, I like your use of the word, “numbing”. Rather than identifying the people I serve as the ones who have the problem, it better identifies the person unhealthy spiritually as me. I have experienced a series of personal spiritual struggles over the last decade that have rendered me injured. While I love the Lord, have skills in ministry, I show all 9 signs.

    • cnieuwhof

      David…thanks for the candour, and you are right. I have had ‘compassion fatigue’ as well (great phrase). And as much as it’s tempting to blame others, the finger does indeed point back at me. Can’t wait to share how things got better tomorrow.

  • Not Carey

    Oh —–!
    9 out of 9.

  • tanyam

    You know, it doesn’t even have to be a Christian counselor. And that’s important to say, because not everyone lives close to a Christian counselor, and because in some states, all you have to do is hang a sign that says “counselor” — not all “Christian counselors” are good.
    Any decent counselor (for instance, one you might find at your local county mental health office, who might even work on a sliding scale) can help diagnose and treat depression. Sure, you need friends who share your faith to talk with and pray with, but any good mental health counselor — is a good counselor. Whether they share your faith or not, they should respect it, and talk with you about how it can help you.

    • cnieuwhof

      Hi Tanya. For sure there are great counselors who are not Christian. And I agree that there are many Christian counselors I would not recommend people to go see as well. But I think the combination of excellently trained counselors who are Christians can speak to the deepest needs of the soul and understand the unique faith perspective a Christian leader brings. So that’s why my standard recommendation is for people to find a highly competent Christian counselor. I know they have helped me tremendously on my journey.

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