Many of us in ministry have been there or are there right now—on the edge of burnout—and we put the blame on our church or ministry. But I have a radically different view. I believe that, for the most part, burnout is a condition of our own personal doing. Yes, there are times when burnout is not our fault, but even then, we have choices.
To avoid burnout, consider these alternatives to overwork and perfectionism:
1. Hard work vs. overwork. Most things done out of balance typically become an unhealthy vice or addiction. I was raised to work hard, so almost every year, I check myself in this area. Overwork is more than hard work; overwork is addiction. Some signs of work addiction are obvious—always checking your phone for missed calls, voicemails, texts or emails. Put your devices down for five or six hours and see if you can stand it.
If you take on extra hours because you prefer to be at work or you're afraid you'll miss something, your work life is likely out of balance. Personally, I have struggled with feeling like I have to be at work in order for tasks to get accomplished. If you feel you are the one who has to do everything in order for the work to get done, that's a red flag. Obviously sometimes you are the one responsible to get things done, but the problem arises when you are always thinking about your phone, email and work and that it's on you to finish things.
2. Excellence vs. perfection. Many people addicted to work think everything needs to be perfect. They aim for excellence but think they must keep striving until their work is perfect. Instead, know that excellence is reflected in your attitude and your ability to do your best, but perfection sees mistakes as problems that ruin everything. Excellence, on the other hand, sees mistakes as ways the team can get better. If you remain frustrated, however, instead of proceeding to problem solving, you may be a perfectionist. Remember, there's a fine line between coaching your team and pushing too hard.
When you start to beat yourself up, you're on your way to burnout. To avoid this, I developed a benchmark, what I call the "audience-noticed mistake," a term I coined because I worked in the live production field. Take a step back, look at the problem from a high level and determine if it derails your program. Ask yourself, "Was this something that derailed the team and was noticed by the audience, or was it a mistake only I noticed that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things?" If, for example, we accidentally make the stage lights red instead of blue for an event and the audience didn't notice it, we can simply correct the error for the next event. It's not something that should derail the team during the event.
So how do you work hard and with excellence while avoiding burnout? Put boundaries in place that, if crossed, will alert you and help you achieve balance again. And before the situation worsens, implement these three don'ts:
1. Don't always go to the rescue. Every problem isn't an emergency and doesn't require you to go to work. Understand what a true "emergency" is and how to approach it.
2. Don't forget about margin. During your busy season, you will be very occupied, but in slower seasons, take down time in stride. Set aside one day off a week, maybe more. If you miss that particular day, take a makeup day. Just as with a financial budget, build margin into your schedule. Plan your day and budget your time.
3. Don't stress about overwork. I often hear people say, "My boss asks me to do so much more than I have time to do; therefore, my planning will not work." The solution to this problem is simple. Track your hours, requests and the time it takes to complete your tasks. Show your boss a log of all of your tasks and their completion times. When your log is presented with a positive, solutions-oriented attitude, a good boss will want to help correct the overwork issue.
There will be extreme situations where a job change is necessary, but burnout is often the result of self-reliance. Avoid burnout by creating a good life balance, setting boundaries and planning well and, most importantly, trusting in Jesus, who promised that in Him, we would find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28-30).
David Leuschner is associate senior director of technology and technical arts at Gateway Church in Dallas-Fort Worth. He directs more than 500 volunteers and staff to facilitate several hundred events a month for Gateway's seven venues. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@davidleuschner).
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