The truth is burnout can happen in any of us. May I suggest that we not take this problem lightly saying to ourselves that
“This won’t happen to me!” Not long ago a pastor who has served God in that capacity for 22 years contacted me in this
regard. One of the most prominent men of God that dealt with this problem was King David. We see from these two
incidents that burnout can happen to anyone regardless of rank or status or longevity in leadership. Receive this as a word
of wisdom; it is instruction in righteousness and a warning to the wise.
Let us set to rest one error, hard work and long hours in serving God do not produce burnout. Burnout is a spiritual
condition not a physical one even though as we will see later in this teaching it does produce physical symptoms. Since it is
spiritual in nature, it must be dealt with using spiritual weapons and techniques. (II Corinthians 10:3-5) Make no mistake
about it, the evil one is the culprit here. Burnout is the result of the work of the enemy in the life of a servant of God. It is a
direct attack against God and an attempt to thwart His divine Master Plan on the earth and you are a part of that Master Plan.
How Do You Know If You Are In Burnout? Obviously each of us handles things differently than anyone else, so we must
speak in generalities in answering this question. One of the first things is the thought, “I am just not getting it done.” You
look around you and compare what you are doing to another minister who seems to be successful and flourishing, and you
do not measure up. You may question your calling or your decision to be where you are or your ability to hear the voice of
God. These thoughts lead you to work ever harder in an effort to succeed. You strategize about various programs that
might work in your church or how you might do this or that or what you can change that will be the magic wand to lift your
church into the ranks of the “successful churches.” This drive to achieve starts to affect your sleep, your relationships, it
consumes your waking hours and even diverts you from ministry tasks you should be doing. You are frustrated. You are
anxious. You are disappointed – with yourself, your church family, and even God. All in all, you are miserable and the
thought to “throw in the towel” looms in the back of your mind. We might put it this way: colors have turned to gray. This is
Allow me to offer several possible contributors to burnout:
INSUFFICIENT SELF-MAINTENANCE. The "vessel of honorable use" is still human and therefore still subject to certain
natural dynamics such as rest, proper diet, recreation, quiet times, etc. When these are ignored the results are not good. If
you understand that the devil is an opportunist and he will seize any opportunity given to him such as fatigue or weakness,
then you must avoid such things as much as possible and remove some of his avenues of attack against you.
MISDIRECTED EFFORTS. Perhaps the most frequent cause of ministerial burnout is misdirected efforts. Your programs and
ministries in your church may be "good" and not evil; however, they also may not be the result of a specific commission
given to you by God. I think we can assume that if God does not tell us to do something that He is not obligated to bless it?
Several “good ideas” I had as a pastor years ago turned out not to be “God ideas” and they fell flat and did not produce
much fruit. This happened even though much effort and money was spent and much prayer and intercession went into
them by me and my staff and our intercessory prayer warriors. I learned the lesson I want you to learn which, is this: Take
No Initiative. Jesus teaches us this concept of humility through both His life as well as His teachings. John 8:28 says, “Jesus
therefore said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I
speak these things as the Father taught Me.’”
MISPLACED MINISTRY OFFICE. The truth is this: there are five ministry offices that an ordained minister can occupy.
(Ephesians 4:11) Jesus is the Head of the Church. He is the only One who has the authority to determine who occupies
which office. (I Corinthians 12:18) It stands to reason that Jesus would not have created five distinct ministry offices if
there were no differences between them. In fact each is unique and each carries an anointing the others do not. When
used in conjunction with one another, the ministry of Jesus is carried out.
If you are attempting to function in one office and you are not called to that office, the Lord’s blessings are not fully upon
your ministry efforts. The result of this is only a very marginal success and hardly any lasting fruit; these give rise to
frustration, fear, anger, guilt, etc., all leading to burnout. As an example, I am aware of a prophet who is trying to pastor a
local church. He is failing at it and as a result the church is slowly deteriorating under him. He apparently does not hear the
voice of God about following His plan or he refuses to obey the voice of God and move into his calling as a prophet. I have
seen in him the evidences of burnout. This is a prevalent problem in the Church today!
HIDDEN SIN. The wages of sin is death. We know the verse. We apply it theologically to those who do not know Jesus and
who will suffer eternal death. But this is much too narrow an interpretation of the verse. Any sin of any kind will produce of
some kind of death. The sin of unkindness produces death in relationships. The sin of stinginess produces financial death
in the unrepentant believer. In our study here, the sins of the flesh or the sins of the heart in a minister will produce death
as well – death to the vision of God for his church, death to his inner peace, and death to the potential good he would be
doing if he were in the will of God. Sin will certainly contribute to burnout.
TRANSITION. Seasons of change are seldom easy; this is true in the ministry as much as it is for the saints on the pews.
When one is in transition into another level of ministry or is being called to a different assignment there is a "holy unrest"
produced by the Holy Spirit within His servant. The purpose in this unrest is to move him into the will of God and cause him
to fulfill his Kingdom destiny. Any unwillingness to move forward and follow Jesus into the new thing will have bad results.
This unrest can be misdiagnosed as a symptom of burnout and can even lead to burnout if left unattended and the proper
action is not forthcoming.
Fear, in one of its various forms, usually accompanies burnout. This is often deeply embedded especially in faith folks who
know the Word and have walked in faith and lived by it; that is why fear may be difficult to detect. The victim may feel
anxious about his future; he may feel uncertain about his calling because of a sense of failure; or he may doubt the validity
of certain promises in the Word of God because they seem to not be working for him. Each of these is a form of fear. Fear is
the enemy of faith; the one who walks in faith will not suffer burnout.
Anyone is the ministry operates with a certain degree of optimism and expectancy about the results of his efforts. When
we preach the gospel, we expect to see souls saved because of the power of the Gospel. When we pray for the sick, we
expect to see them healed because the Spirit is at work causing the will of God to happen. When we work hard to build the
church to which we are called, we expect growth to happen. Results are our expectancy. When results do not happen, at
least as quickly as we want, frustration can set in if we are not careful. Do not give in to the temptation of frustration.
The psychological illness of depression is usually one of the final stages of burnout. This is a serious and potentially
deadly problem. When the root cause of the burnout is left undetected and not dealt with properly, it can spiral downward
into the black hole of depression. Hopelessness, despair, and guilt consume the victim and render him all but useless for
The victim of burnout especially in its advanced stages will usually experience physical illness and weakness. Energy is
nowhere to be found in burnout and there is a supposed need for much sleep and rest. Sleep is often negatively impacted
leaving the victim tired or even exhausted. Eating habits can also be disrupted causing weight gain or loss.
Relationships suffer when burnout happens. Marriages seem to be the most frequent victims, and the staff of the burned
out minister along with the church family all see and feel the strain that his burnout produces. In the context of the church
family, everyone suffers to one degree or another when the shepherd is in burnout.
Another good reason to not allow burnout is what I call the “down-flow principle.” Simply stated, the down-flow principle is
the truth that what is happening in the one in authority is likely to flow downward to those under his charge. This can work
in a positive sense or it can work negatively. I have seen where sexual sins in the pastor cause others within the church
family to fall into sexual sins as well. On the other hand, when a leader is a great man of faith and his expectancy is always
strong and there is a powerful optimism that flows out of him, so it will be in his congregation. Burnout is no different. The
evidences of burnout will start showing up in the saints in the church family if the burnout in the shepherd is not dealt with
in a timely manner.
The vision of God for a particular church is a holy and wonderful thing. The evil one as we know does everything within his
power to disrupt or derail this vision because he realizes that its success means much damage to his evil kingdom. One of
his effective weapons is burnout. We must understand how our enemy works and how to be victorious over him. Keep in
mind that lies are the weapon of choice by Satan; therefore, truth is our main weapon against him. When we know truth, as
John 8:32 promises, we are free from such things as burnout and our Kingdom success is assured. Amen.
Not to sound harsh or condemning, but we need to realize that burnout is actually the direct result of being out of the will
of God in some way. This is not to imply necessarily that there is either hidden or overt sin in the burned out man, but it is
to realize that this psychological condition is contrary to the covenant promises of God for His children; this is why we must
conclude that God's will is being violated in some manner when we see the evidences of burnout. The good news is that
when we hear the voice of the Lord and obey Him there is a constant refreshing that envelopes us, there is a flow of
strength and vitality by the Holy Spirit, and optimism and faith are strong in us. None of these things are evident in the man
suffering from burnout. Ephesians 1:15-19 is a good prayer for the one we see in burnout. He needs for his spiritual eyes to
be opened so he can see properly. When he sees as he should see the deception by the devil is over and his lies are no
longer effective against this man of God.
One final thought to those who stand in authority over other fivefold ministers, namely apostles and pastors. Be ever
aware of the condition of those under your charge. None should ever suffer from burnout. Detect it early and defeat it
quickly. Be sure to be patient and non-condemning with those who are in burnout. They are weakened and vulnerable
when they are in burnout, so be gentle, understanding, and operate with them in an effort to restore them rather than cast
them away. They are precious and valuable to God, and He has given them to you to cover and lead, do so with the same
spirit Jesus dealt with the frailties in His disciples.
As you can see, burnout is avoidable, and if it happens, it can be defeated. Amen.
|Burnout In The Ministry
By Bishop Randy Barnett