Don’t Blame Your Schedule for Your Burnout

FencepostWe live in a world that is defined by boundaries. Our roads are painted with them, our sports games are designed around them, and our psychologists tell us we need to expand them around that codependent crazy aunt of ours.

While it may be true that the term boundaries has been “Oprahfied” in the last few years, I think it’s an area that is vital in the lives of church-planters and pastors.

People often point to too much activity as the inherent culprit of fatigue and early departure from ministry. The problem, however, transcends a busy schedule.

Pastors and ministry leaders who experience burnout tend to exhibit lifestyles that neglect the discipline to handle their activities. Without properly set and upheld boundaries, individuals will more likely experience exhaustion of both body and spirit.

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When I planted my first church in the inner city of Buffalo, along with all of those duties, I was husband to Donna, blowing insulation to support myself, and a seminary student in Pittsburgh, driving myself four hours in the snow, uphill both ways. I may have made that last part up, but it was Buffalo after all.

Surprisingly, I was actually able to maintain all of those roles until I failed to create strong boundaries. That was what finally got to me. If a car hits a dog, the dog isn’t injured because he was running at it too quickly. He's hurt because he didn't abide by the boundaries that were set for him.

Similarly, it wasn’t the rapidity of my activity that hurt me, but rather my lack of solid boundaries around my schedule, particularly at church. I became the focal point for the entire ministry that took place. I was the one everybody needed to talk to if they wanted to follow Christ, receive counseling or have someone visit them after their toenail surgery.

I had a congregation full of people who would lean on me from all directions for their spiritual growth. It was these lack of boundaries that disabled any effective ministry and led to burnout.

The fact that I’m still in ministry today should tell you that I have learned some lessons along the way. I’m passionate about sharing the four guidelines I gleaned from my own experience with other pastors and leaders.

Think of them as four fence posts that set up a defined boundary around a healthy ministry. I’ll take the next four blog “posts” (pun intended) in this series to explain each ministry fence post in detail.

Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research. This is the first of a four-part series called “Mystery Fenceposts.”

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