The New York Times recently had an article on rising burnout among pastors entitled "Taking a Break from the Lord's Work" that focused on the toll the 24/7 nature of ministry takes.  The article was followed by a thoughtful op-ed entitled "Congregations Gone Wild" about the pressure on pastors to provide spiritual entertainment rather than on their calling to make disciples. 

Work without rest is a clear and obvious path to burnout.  Other causes of burnout are not always as apparent.  In our research, we've found that many people who feel the burnout coming, can't always articulate what's driving it.   Typically we find they are experiencing what we refer to as the "Values Gap." 

Our long-term effectiveness at work is closely linked to aligning our personal values and behavior. In the case of pastors, putting a muzzle on them so they are unable to preach in a way that is consistent with their Christian values is another sure path to burnout.

Giving careful thought to whether or not your organization's values are in sync with your own is a critically important issue that everyone should take time to reflect upon. Set aside time this month to write out your values.  Ask yourself, "what do I believe in and what's important to me in the way I live my life?"  Consider the relationships that are important to you (e.g. Jesus, family, friends) and the work that's important to you.  Then compare what you wrote down with how you presently live.  

Here are some values presented in a question format that we suggest people consider:  

  • Do you, your colleagues at work and your employer share a similar value for people and relationships in the workplace?
  • Do you, your colleagues at work and your employer share a similar degree of passion for excellence and impact in your work?
  • Do you and your employer share a similar degree of value for work/life balance?  (Consider that many individuals place a higher value on work/life balance when they have children, an ailing family member or friend, or an aging parent with whom they want to spend time.)
  • Do you and your employer share a similar value for a collaborative work environment where individuals are kept informed and their opinions and ideas are requested and considered?
  • Do you and your employer share a similar value of honesty and integrity?
  • If you're in ministry, do you and your employer share the same core theological beliefs and how they should apply to your work and life?

During the Depression, a young financial analyst working in London did this kind of exercise. Reflecting on it years later he wrote that "people, I realized, is what I value and I had no desire to be the richest man in the cemetery." That young man, Peter Drucker, left his well-paying job and went on to become the father of management consulting. In "How Peter Drucker Changed My Life" I (Michael) wrote about how Drucker's writings affected my own career decisions.

What if you discover there are differences in your values and how you are presently living?  Our advice is to invite two to three people you trust and respect to meet with you to discuss your analysis and thoughts about how you might take action to close the values gap. You may find all that is necessary is to speak with your supervisor about making changes to your present job or something more may be required such as moving to a different job or business unit in your organization, or, in the most extreme instances, changing careers altogether.  You may also find that you need to unite yourself with others who share your views and approach the individuals who don't to try to work through your differences in a spirit of love, kindness, gentleness and patience.  


Ignoring the present stressful state is never wise because it affects your mental and physical heath, your relationships and your job performance. Having conversations with people you trust and respect will help reduce the stress you feel and also help clarify your thinking so that you can develop a clear plan to move forward to a better state of work and a better life.