Preventing Burnout in Ministry—A Health & Wellness Approach -- By: David P. Mann

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 39:0 (NA 2007)
Article: Preventing Burnout in Ministry—A Health & Wellness Approach
Author: David P. Mann

Preventing Burnout in Ministry—A Health & Wellness Approach

by David P. Mann*

I became a Christian in the early 1970s, and during that time there was a saying that seemed to capture the fervor of new commitment: “I’d rather burn out than rust out for God.” This seemed like a wonderful rally cry for those who desired to follow the Lord closely with all of the zeal we could muster rather than simply being a person who claimed the title without putting into practice the things necessary for the Christian life (see James 3:2–5). As with most clichés, there seemed to be another message within the message that I’ve reflected on over time. What has stood out to me is that either way the common theme is out (whether by burning out or rusting out). What is missing is the call to a balanced life wherein one will neither burn out nor rust out as we serve Him.

Over the years that I have served in the pastorate, in chaplaincy, and in outpatient clinical counseling ministry, I have seen Christian leaders whose passion for the Lord and his work lose their zeal and come to a place wherein they are questioning both their walk with Him and their call to ministry. They have never been close to rusting out but have most definitely come to a place where they have either burned out or, as I’ve been known to say a time or two, have become very “crispy around the edges.” In the worst case scenarios, these leaders have even fallen into moral difficulties that have cost them their ministries.

But how can this happen? To answer this question we’ll need to gain a brief understanding of the term “burnout” as well as its application to Christian ministry. We’ll also take a look at how one cannot only prevent burnout but also achieve a healthy, balanced life through giving attention to a wellness model of living.

Burnout Defined

The phenomenon of burnout was present long before Dr. Herbert Freudenberger coined the phrase in 1974 to describe behaviors he observed among staff members of human service agencies. Working with people and programs is draining work whether it is in clinical or ministry settings and caring individuals can become prone to experiencing burnout (James & Gilliland, 2005).

Burnout has been defined as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). When dealing with burnout, people feel as if they are trying to muster enough energy not to keep their heads above water, so to speak, but rather to keep just...

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