Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

5 Ways Pastors Can Keep from Burning Out

5 Ways Pastors Can Keep from Burning Out

“Always on, always here for you.” That was the slogan for the recent fundraising campaign of a local Christian radio station. It assured listeners that whenever they tuned in, the radio station would be there.

It’s a great slogan for a radio station…but not for a ministry leader.

Technology tethers us to our jobs 24/7. Smartphones deliver much more than phone calls. Committees, meetings, telephone calls, and preparation drain our energy and our time. The people we serve need us to be there for them. People working and volunteering in our ministries need us for training and direction. As Michael Thedford, pastor of LifeQuest Church in Palm City, FL, notes, “Ministry has an insatiable appetite.”

But ministry, even full-time ministry, isn’t the only thing competing for a piece of us. Family, healthcare, vocation (if ministry is not providing a means of support) all demand our time and attention. And let’s not forget the most important thing of all: our individual, personal relationship with God.

So how do we give ourselves to ministry without sacrificing our health, family, and even our relationship with the One who called us to serve him? If we’re not careful, we and our ministries will burn out like sparklers at the end of an Independence Day celebration.

Personal priorities

The Christian life, and especially ministry life, emphasizes putting others ahead of ourselves. But there’s at least one area where those in ministry must put themselves before others. That area is our relationship with God in Christ.

Ministry is not a substitute for a vibrant, dynamic relationship with the Lord. As Oswald Chambers said, “Service is the overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion.” Service is not the cause of intimacy with the One to whom we belong. It is the result of that intimate relationship. Chambers also noted, “The greatest competitor of true devotion to Jesus is the service we do for him.”

One of the biggest and sneakiest dangers of ministry occurs when ministry preparation becomes a surrogate for our own personal application. Preparing a message or lesson for others is not the same as studying for our own spiritual growth. We can’t give to other people what we don’t have ourselves.

Is quiet time alone with the Lord—apart from ministry preparation—a daily priority? If not, why not?

The value of rest

When was the last time you took a nap? They’re not just for kids. Rest has gotten a bad rap. In our driven world. Even in ministry, we’ve been conditioned to believe that six hours sleep a night is all the rest we need.

But rest involves more than getting a good night’s sleep. It’s more than taking an occasional nap, although both of these types of rest are necessary.

Times of rest and recreation are not a luxury. They are a necessity. We need to take breaks, vacations, even sabbaticals. At the very least, we should be observing one “Sabbath” day each week. For those in ministry, it usually won’t be Sunday, so pick another day. Of course, too much time off is not a good thing, either. But that isn’t usually the case for those in ministry.

Without rest, we become irritable, short-tempered, and drained. Even the prophet Elijah learned the value of rest as we read in 1 Kings 19:5-6. After a major victory over pagan prophets, an exhausted and depressed Elijah slept, ate food provided by an angel, then slept some more before ministering again.

However, rest is not just a physical discipline. We also rest emotionally and spiritually by trusting the Lord in the midst of activity. By acknowledging his sovereignty over our to-do lists. By submitting to his direction without forcing detours to follow our own agendas.

Are you sacrificing rest to accomplish your to-do list each day? Ask the Lord to show you which of the items on that to-do list were put there by you rather than by him.

Share the load

Kindergarten teaches us many things, but one of the most important lessons we learn there is how to share with others.

As ministry leaders, we don’t often think about our responsibilities in terms of sharing. If anything, we usually find it difficult enough just to recruit volunteers to accomplish the work of the ministry.

But if we’re going to have times of rest and recreation, we need to know there are people in place to share the work load. Staff or volunteers who can and will step up while we temporarily step out, whether for one day a week, or several weeks per year.

The benefit isn’t just for us. Those who are entrusted with the work gain valuable experience and the joy of variety in their own work. The ministry benefits from varied styles and perspectives.

Moses learned this lesson when his father-in-law advised him to delegate some of his duties. In Exodus 18, we read that even God’s ordained leader of Israel did not have to do it all himself. If Moses could delegate, who are we to say we can’t?

Before some of us can share the load, we need to train people to prepare them to step up. Those in ministry can take a lesson from corporate America in this area. Succession plans and cross-training keep organizations healthy. Succession planning identifies staff (or in the case of many ministries, volunteers) who will be trained for positions of greater responsibilities. Cross-training prepares individuals to step in to cover the duties of coworkers, should the need arise.

Who can you identify to assist you so that you can enjoy regular times of rest and recreation?


We live in a world full of distractions. Technological toys can be the most distracting of all.

Protecting our time with the Lord can be as simple as moving the cell phone out of the bedroom. Cellphones have become the modern equivalent of the Swiss army knife. I use it for email, texts, camera, calculator, even as an alarm clock. But when I use my phone as an alarm, all too often I’m tempted to open those emails first thing in the morning before I open the Bible.

Consider practicing a Cyber Sabbath: one day a week when you unplug from the Internet to focus on face-to-face relationships. It’s also a time when the beeps, bells, and electronic dings are silenced so the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit can be heard.

How has technology been a hindrance to you rather than a help? How might a regular time of unplugging benefit you and your ministry?

The importance of family

Ministry requires sacrifice. We pay the price in the way of time, effort, and resources. But our families pay a price, too.

Does your family know they are more important to you than your ministry? We and our ministries are not the only targets of Satan’s attacks. We can’t presume our families are safe because we’re serving the Lord. The devil will often trouble our families as a way to distract us from God’s ministry call.

Satan attacked Adam through Eve (Genesis 3:1). He attacked Job by destroying his children (Job 1:18-19). He attacked King David through a rebellious son (2 Samuel 15:1-12). He even attacked Jesus through his unbelieving brothers (John 7:5).

Make time for your family. Family meal times. Regular time off from ministry, at least one day a week, when you can enjoy activities as a family. Invest in your family—they are a gift from God to you.

Are you intentional about prioritizing your family relationships? If not, what will you do today to let your spouse and children know they are not competing with your ministry for your affection? 

“Always on, always here for you” may be a terrific slogan for a radio station, but it’s not healthy for ministry leaders. If we are to glorify God in answering his call, we need to know when to feed ministry’s insatiable appetite…and when to say no.

DRAva Pennington teaches a Bible Study Fellowship class. She is also the author of Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur.

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