Our topic this month is burnout and self care. Matt has worked in a wide range of Christian ministries in paid and volunteer positions over the last 15 years and has seen many sides of the coin. I asked him 4 questions about his experience...
1) What is your experience of burnout in ministry?
I have seen burnout do many things to ministry workers. Some people become very guarded, others become cynical about the work and disengage with it somewhat. Some bury themselves even further into their work forgetting about self-care and their relationships and some even leave ministry. But many, like myself when I first began ministry, continue to work through the tiredness without realising that they are burning out.
2) Why do you think those in ministry burn out?
I think there are many reasons people burnout but it's also extremely difficult to avoid it during ministry. The pressure to serve, which can come from church members and yourself, can be very powerful. There's not much of an understanding of healthy boundaries in many ministry contexts. When you combine that with an ever-growing to do list it can mean that the value of yourself as a person, not just as a worker, can get lost in very noble desires to serve God's church.
3) What's helped you care for yourself throughout your ministry?
The first, and I think most important thing, was recognising the symptoms of burnout before they happened. Symptoms such as emotional and physical exhaustion, losing interest in work, and leaving little time to do normal self-care things such as eating a good meal or socialising. I made sure I talked to supervisors about how I was going and tried to keep regular work hours, even if I didn't finish everything! It helped me to know that the work will go on forever! I'm just one part - I don't have to do everything.
4) What would you pass onto others in ministry?
I guess I would pass on that it's okay to have limits, because God made us that way. I know that there can be a natural sense of guilt at going through burnout or creating more work for other ministry staff. It's okay to hit your limit and have to stop. It's not your job to do more than God has given you the resources to do. Take time out to nourish yourself and enjoy relationships with friends and family.
Matt is a co-founder of Australian Clergy Families and heads up our The PK Place project for school-aged clergy kids.
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