Scott writes in to ask, “Hi, Pastor John! I have been a youth pastor in California for about ten years and I’m wondering if you can give me some tips on how to avoid burnout. I want to serve faithfully and for the long haul.”
Great question, Scott. Let me just give you some bullet points here.
Eight Counsels to Avoid Ministry Burnout
1. Love your ministry.
Love what you do. Find those wonderful aspects of your job that are really useful for the young people, and really godly, and really fit you, and give yourself to those. Do the other stuff that you have to do, but do what you love to do. I think after 33 years in the ministry, I can say that one of the reasons I lasted is because I found those aspects of the ministry that I loved to do. I did those with all my heart (most of the time) and was energized enough to do the parts that weren’t as pleasing because I glutted myself on the parts that I really loved to do. So that is number one. Love what you do.
2. Linger with the Lord.
Linger with the Lord every day. Find a time, find a place, stay with him, listen to him, be real with him. Get to know him. This is not a performance there or in the service of your kids. Come out of the closet with the aroma of Christ on you. Act out of the overflow of what Jesus is to you in your lingering with him.
3. Pray for perseverance.
Ask the Lord for perseverance. Ask him to protect you from burnout. And that seems so simple, and yet I think a lot of pastors don’t do it. I think I probably prayed Psalm 16:1 as much as anything: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” And what I meant was, Don’t let me quit. Don’t let me get so discouraged I want to walk away. Don’t let me not like this ministry. Restore the joy of the ministry to me every day. So pray that he would give you the persevering power that you need.
4. Set Aside the Sabbath
Keep Sabbath. That is, keep one day in seven to disengage. Go out to pasture. You are not just a shepherd, you are a sheep, and sheep need food. Find what spiritually refreshes you on that so-called day off, and don’t default to the world’s way. Movie and supper, movie and supper, movie and supper — that is what the world does to kick back every Friday night. And what do you do? You go to bed defiled most of the time with a sense of uncleanness that you went to a movie that, well, you might be able to find some kind of redeeming feature, but there was enough risqué clothing or no clothing and enough bad language and enough mean spiritedness that you are not spiritually refreshed.
God has a huge, big, beautiful world, and there are lots of works and lots of books. Find what refreshes your soul.
5. Exercise regularly.
Get exercise. Beat your body, Scott. Hammer it three times a week. Make it sweat, and be exhausted. It will reap mental benefits you cannot measure. I mean that. There is something going on with exercise that God knows about and some psychiatrists know about, but very few people know about. And it makes a difference.
6. Get adequate sleep.
Sleep eight hours a night. Nothing brought me closer to quitting than sleeplessness. Hope and rest rise together. So don’t be overly spiritual and say you can get five hours of sleep and the fruit of the Holy Spirit will carry you. I think the fruit of the Holy Spirit works often by the Holy Spirit telling you, “Hey, you are not God. Go to bed.” That is the Holy Spirit talking. And what you get from your restedness, you got from the Holy Spirit giving you the humility to stop playing God.
7. Find soul brothers.
Have a couple of soul brothers that you love to hang out with and talk about everything with, and then let them pray for you. But just enjoy them — enjoy God with them, enjoy doing things with them. You need some soul brothers to bear your burdens with you.
8. Fix your eyes on Christ.
Keep your eyes, Scott, on Christ and his loving you and your making much of him. And don’t let your eyes drift toward, “I have got to have some growing crowds here to be made much of by; The kids have to like me.” And then you start shifting the whole focus on off of Christ and onto your need for people.
That is my counsel for not burning out in youth ministry or any ministry.