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I survived ministry. Only barely. But I did survive. I still love the Church, I still love my church, and I still love God.

Unfortunately, I?ve seen way too many people leave ministry because of burnout or because their walk with God is gone. That?s not the way it should be. And it isn?t the way it has to be.[quote]I?ve seen way too many people leave ministry because of burnout or because their walk with God is gone.[/quote]

My Story

I started working for a church while I was still in college. My dad was the pastor, and he brought me on board to design the website. Shortly after graduating, that role snowballed. I soon became head of the arts department?leading worship, creating videos, designing graphics, and overseeing the tech department.

Then my dad handed over the church to another pastor who had experience with growing churches. Attendance exploded. And as the church grew, we had more and more to do?more projects, volunteers, and ministries. Then came a building project.

I loved it. In fact the only reason I left was because of an opportunity for my wife to attend school in another city. My wife and I moved a couple of weeks before the church got into its new building. I loved visiting the place I helped build.

How did I survive? I?d like to share a few ways I think I escaped with only minor scars.

Avoiding Burnout

I think there were a few keys to my survival in ministry. The first was to avoid burnout.

While working at the church, I began putting together a resource called Church Stage Design Ideas. This project put me in the center of hundreds of ideas each month. I believe that was one of the keys to avoiding burnout.

Saturation of Inspiration

I saturated my mind with ideas before I even needed them. I didn?t need five different stage design ideas each week. But I got them. So when it came time to design the stage, I was absolutely filled with inspiration.

I often didn?t even mimic ideas that were on my site. I?d come up with my own designs. But I believe surrounding myself with great ideas gave me the inspiration I needed to come up with my own great ideas.[quote]Surrounding myself with great ideas gave me the inspiration I needed to come up with my own great ideas.[/quote]

Days for Research and Play

The next key was to choose some days for research and play.If you don?t have a Sabbath day of rest, you?re missing out on something huge. God created us to work best when we have down time. If you don?t have one full day each week where you aren?t required to work at your church, you need to start. Then use that time to experiment. To play. To research. To relax.[quote]God created us to work best when we have down time.[/quote]

I experienced the need for this when writing Created for More. I started the project trying to write one chapter each day. It seemed reasonable to write 600 words each day for thirty days. But I quickly found, four chapters in, that the pace wasn?t sustainable. I got burnt out.

So I changed my schedule. One day was just for research and experimentation, and the other was for writing. I did this for the rest of the writing project. On my off day, I played around with a concept and didn?t require anything from myself on those days. No writing. Just inspiration.

You might not need time for research. But why not develop a side project? Start a blog. Write a book. Design a toy. Get something that can occupy your mind and help you switch gears.

Saying No

Finally, it?s important to learn how to say no. I?ve always had a difficult time saying no. And in ministry, there are thousands of things popping up all the time that require attention. This was tough for me, because I could always make time to do more. I could skip a meal. I could come in on my off day. I could stay a couple of hours later.

But it?s important to remember that every time you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else. You might have to say no to family. To rest. To another project. And that?s the key to being able to say no?realizing what you?re giving up when you say yes.[quote]Every time you say yes to something, you have to say no to something else.[/quote]

This might mean you need to tell that leader or volunteer what you have to give up. ?I really want to say yes to this request, but if I do I won?t be able to put the appropriate time into designing the sermon series packaging for next month.? If it?s your pastor, they get to determine your work time. So if they?re cool with you spending less time on graphic design, you can be cool with it. But if they aren?t your boss, they don?t get to set your schedule. Learn to say no.

Avoiding Spiritual Drift

Now, when I tell you I barely survived ministry, I have to qualify that word ?barely?. I wasn?t completely unscathed. The truth was, my walk with God wasn?t where it should be.

And it took a few months in our new city until I realized how far away from God I had fallen. Over the next few years, I had to learn how to reacquaint myself with the God I had served so faithfully in my church for years. It was a struggle.

Looking back, I know what I should have done differently.

Remember Your Boss? True Identity

The first thing I should have done was to remember my true boss. This fact can be extremely confusing because it?s easy to confuse your church with God.

I know my pastor was happy with my work. I know the congregation was happy. But was God excited about having me as an employee? Did I have as many ?meetings with God? as I did with church leadership? Did I focus on the traits my true boss wanted me to develop?like patience, love, mercy, and peace? It didn?t matter if I was growing as a church leader or as a creative person. Was I growing as an employee (as a child) of God?[quote]Did I have as many ?meetings with God? as I did with church leadership?[/quote]

The traits God is looking for from you carry into any job. They have nothing to do with your church. They have everything to do with the Fruit of the Spirit becoming stronger and more evident in your life.

Remove the Comparisons

One of the main traits I needed to develop?and I see many church workers needing?is the refusal to compare yourself to others. There are two areas in which I see church workers comparing, and this kind of comparison will kill your walk.

Other churches. If you?re comparing your work with that of other churches, you?ll either feel completely inadequate or overinflated. It?s fine to see what other churches are doing. But if you start trying to ?catch up? with those churches or if you start patting yourself on the back, you?re playing with fire.[quote]If you?re comparing your work with that of other churches, you?ll either feel completely inadequate or overinflated.[/quote]

Other church staff. I realize you might work with some lazy co-workers. Or you might work with people that make you seem like a slacker. You can?t compare yourself to other people. Your work ethic, your walk with God?they are yours. They have nothing to do with other people.

Devotion

Finally, you need to spend daily time with God. This doesn?t mean listening to the same sermon five times during the week. This doesn?t mean a conference, a staff meeting, or an assigned book. There?s nothing wrong with those things. But they aren?t enough.

If you aren?t developing a personal walk with your Savior, you run the risk of spiritual drift. Pick up a devotional, and don?t start your day without talking to God. No amount of work for God can replace a relationship with Him.[quote]If you aren?t developing a personal walk with your Savior, you run the risk of spiritual drift.[/quote]

I don?t believe church workers are doomed to get burnt out, abused, or jaded. Ministry doesn?t have to be one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. But it?s up to you to change the way you approach ministry. Your survival in ministry depends on you.

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2 replies on “Surviving Ministry”

Nice article? although I might disagree a bit with you on the “remove the comparisons” part. True, comparisons tend to be a breeding ground for envy, dissatisfaction and unfair expectations. But given the right mindset and focus, comparison can be a healthy gauge for one’s growth, as well as a useful measure to check what we’re missing or lacking.

For example: It’s easy to get excited with a few likes on our church FB page, but I realized that unless people are actively participating (sharing, commenting)? it’s just an illusion. I learned this when I noticed that our own church members are sharing posts from other groups instead of ours. It made us rethink our we’re doing social media, and gave us a clearer perspective about our face on the internet (which we thought was okay, but actually not).

In the same way, comparing ourselves with each other (without the envy/jealousy) is part of the “as iron sharpens iron” principle, and is also reminiscent of the “imitate me as I imitate Christ” statement by Paul. Sure, we must focus on God? but how do we know we’re still on the right track in our focus on God? Christians also have the tendency to err, and we don’t need someone else to keep correcting, rebuking and disciplining us: by comparing our own walk and attitude with others, we avoid the pitfalls and mistakes.

That said, I believe avoiding burnout also entails a healthy degree of retrospective comparison. Just like in any team sports, we need to be constantly checking ourselves and one another in order to give our best performance? watching each others back, stepping in to help, giving way to others who can do better, knowing our place and limitations as well as when our strength is needed most. When we learn how to function like a coordinated body, we still burn up some fats and muscles? yet still have the energy and enthusiasm to celebrate/enjoy your win/loss in the end.

Keep writing!

Definitely see what you’re saying. I just see so many people approaching ministry like a teenage girl with a fashion magazine. They think they’re comparing their fashion with the girls’ in the magazines…but instead they start developing body issues and feelings of inadequacy. It’s a tough balance to strike. So it’s definitely a heart thing. A heart of comparison is always a dangerous thing.

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