On Preventing Burnout

Burnout is very real and extremely costly. The New York Times ran an article about the pressures faced by physicians today. According to a studies sited in the article, anywhere from 33% to 50% of all doctors suffer from burnout. Burned out physicians can have tremendous clinical implications. Doctors experiencing burnout depersonalize patients, treat them as objects rather than persons, and are more likely to make errors in diagnosis and treatment. This is a serious problem in the medical community as with so many of our professionals.

Recently, there were published reports citing a study which examined the effects of a year long intensive and enrichment experience to help doctors challenged by the regimine routine in the medical field.. There were four components to the course: meditation, writing sessions, discussion, and lectures. The results were dramatic. Participating doctors became less burned out and less emotionally exhausted.

Reading through the article reminded me once again of the plague of burnout in the professional environment. There must be a conscious effort for care professionals to maintain a sense of spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health. Anything less than promoting a pro-active and preventative self-care strategy will result in burnout. This is the same for ministers. As caring professionals, we are subject to burnout. In fact, I’m not so sure burnout isn’t the result that leads to a simple majority of resignations from ministry.

As I read through the components of the physician course, I re-interpreted their components as these for ministers. Here’s my list: study/reflection, journaling, authentic and transparent dialogue with a peer, and learning. Do you have a strategy to deter or defeat burnout? Are you running at extraordinary speeds impressing friends and churchgoers only to know you’re empty? Take the step to combat burnout. Allow God to fill your soul, mind, and heart through Scripture reading and reflection. Write down your thoughts, struggles, and blessings with God. Use them as a letter reflecting your heart. Find someone you can talk to who understands your role and profession. You need someone who knows you and what you do to be able to talk sensibly and godly with you. Take time to read and learn. Listen to sermons online, read books, or periodicals. Fill your mind with new tidbits of useful information. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s a great place to start.

Burnout is real. No one is immune; it is no respecter of persons. Take care of yourself. God has a plan for you; don’t get shelved for a season because you’ve burned the candle at both ends. It is not worth it for you, your family, or your organization.