“I feel so distant from God,” one pastor admitted. “One of the greatest mistakes of ministry is to think that because you work for God, you’re close to God.”
If you’re a ministry leader, you too could be vulnerable to spiritual burnout.
Most people think over-working is the cause of burnout, but that is normally not the case. A hidden cause of burnout is becoming emotionally distant from God.
Everyone has times of not feeling God’s presence, but for some leaders, it’s more than a passing emotion or spiritual season: They’re burned out on ministry. As one put it, “I am tired in my soul . . . and a nap won’t fix it.”
What causes burnout? Being on call 24-hours a day? Extending compassion to people in crisis? Meeting the needs of everyone we serve on the mission field or in churches? These things do take a toll.
But the real culprit to burnout is when working for God crowds out personal intimacy with God. That may be what you are experiencing. We know better, but in the press of ministry, our devotional lives and soul care may slowly erode.
It’s an easy mistake for any of us to make. That’s because your ministry is urgently needed by the people around you. That’s especially true for pastors and missionaries since those you serve often desperately need your loving presence, practical help, and encouragement. “Love your neighbor,” Jesus commands (Mark 12:30). How do we say no to that?
Actually, we need to regularly say no to the urgent demands of our ministry and work in order to say yes to enjoying “the Father and Son intimacies and knowledge” (Matthew 11:28, MSG). Jesus’ teaching is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).
True self-love is like soaking your soul in God’s beauty and lovingkindness. When you’re finding soul satisfaction in Christ you’re not likely to burn out!
The best time to re-soul is before you burn out or go flat (2 Samuel 16:14).
Here are four little, but surprisingly powerful ways to renew your intimacy with God (because it’s the daily soul-care activities that keep us fresh):
- Share your real emotions and struggles with someone you trust to give you empathy.
- Get outside to run, hike, walk, or sit and breathe in the beauty.
- Make a healthy meal and savor it.
- Sleep or lay in bed for eight hours.
Probably you’re wondering, How are those activities intimacy with God? It’s in how you do them. Let’s go back through the list:
- In your soul talk, look to the presence of Christ in your friend.
- In the beauty of nature, pray a favorite Scripture.
- While you eat, give thanks to God.
- On your bed, be like the Jesus Farmer and entrust all your work to God (Mark 4:26-29).
Offering resources to prevent burnout and strengthen the souls of pastors, missionaries, and other servants of the Lord is a Soul Shepherding specialty.
You can find more resources to help care for your soul and increase your intimacy with Jesus at Soul Shepherding’s website. We offer a Sabbatical Guide Coaching Experience — an online program with short videos, practical help, and live coaching that is your “all-in-one Sabbatical toolkit.” Our Soul Shepherding Institute is a five-day retreat for ministry leaders offered in different locations around the country and via zoom. You can also check out these podcast episodes, Soul Care to Get Unstuck and Re-Soul: How to Love and Lead WITH Jesus that invite you to unplug and make space for deep rest.
This article is submitted by Carolyn Trevino of Soul Shepherding. Soul Shepherding is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.