Dodging Bullets: Burnout Bill

Burnout Bill

Everybody loves Bill.  Bill is the type of youth worker who is always there in a pinch.  Bill knows he has a big job and eagerly pursues all of the different areas that he is in control of with zeal and vigor.  Bill is a very reliable servant too, he often pinch hits for children’s ministry and is always available when a student needs a ride or a parent calls him.  Bill believes that he should always be available and that keeping parents waiting for an answer is a cardinal sin.  Bill is such a great guy that he even shows up to his student’s games on his days off and will help anyone move when they ask.


Bill pleases the parents of his teens by being available and having information readily available to them.  They also love his sense of humor and ability to be flexible around their crazy schedules.  Students love that Bill is at school almost every day where he spends time shooting hoops or organizing games like capture the flag.


Bill is intent on keeping his office hours, he knows that the other Pastor’s are watching and the administrative assistant makes reports to her husband who is on the board.  Bill spends hours on his lessons and even more time on PowerPoint, finding the perfect videos online so that students love his messages.  Bill also strives to keep himself abreast in the field of youth ministry and adolescent culture.  He reads tons of blogs and watches a few hours of podcasts each week.  In the evening hours Bill keeps himself available by being on Facebook and Twitter in case a student needs to have a late night talk.


Bill doesn’t realize it at first but he slowly starts losing his steam and energy.  Then he starts resenting his fellow office staff for wanting him around all the time and finds those last minute requests to speak in Kid’s Church to be very annoying.   As he grows more tired, he finds his quiet times and the time spent on “The Perfect Message” to become more and more of a chore.  Gradually his determination grows into a warmed over apathy.


It all comes to a head one day when a few people were waiting to use the church copier and Bill, having a dozen places to be and go didn’t have time to wait, Pastor Justin cut ahead of him to make a quick copy, Bill snapped.  After a brief tirade about not being appreciated and that he had stuff to do and places to go.  Pastor Justin looked at him and said “My Office.”


Eccl. 5:19

To every man whom God has given wealth, and possessions,

he has also given him the ability to eat from them,

to receive his reward and to find enjoyment in his toil;

these things are the gift of God.


Justin and Bill sit quietly for a few moments in the office.  Bill, not knowing where that came from tries to make an apology, which Justin seems to ignore.  Instead, he asks Bill a question of his heart: “Are you keeping your Sabbath?” Bill looks puzzled,  “Your day of rest?” Pastor Justin restates, “I’ll take that as a no, and I’ll bet your quiet time is in the gutter too.”  Bill almost comes to tears.  Lucky for Bill, Pastor Justin knows burnout all too well and chooses a compassionate response.  (You may not be so lucky.)  They sit and talk about burnout and building margin in ministry.  Among the things they shared, these are some of the ways Pastor Justin suggested Bill avoid burnout.


–       Keep your Sabbath, a 24-hour period where you are not doing ministry or are in charge of anything.  Read a non-ministry book, date your wife, and love your children.  Also, what hobbies can you develop that are non-ministry related.  Mine is football officiating.  While I am around teens, I get to exercise, hang out with adults and provide a community service.  Aside from a few games, I’ve always loved preparing for, being at and leaving games.  Find activities that satisfy your soul and give you respite.

–       Get out of Dodge.  If you are easily sucked in to other peoples drama, leave the area so helping becomes impractical.

–       Recruit more volunteers to help you do certain tasks to free you up for your ministry objectives.  Work to find ways to reduce certain strains by overseeing a team rather than grand marshal in a one man parade.

–       Know yourself and what recharges you.  Get exercise and eat right, both are scarcer then they should in the youth ministry world.

–       Build yourself a realistic schedule of what your week should look like.  The more rhythm you have, the better you will be able to keep a healthy cadence to your life.   My friends at Youth Ministry Architects gave me this link to share with you:

–       Along with Sabbath, attend youth conferences and get into mentoring relationships to help you maintain balance and refresh periodically.

–       Take vacations that make sense for you and your family.  Figure out your yearly calendar.  After a few years you will notice when a break is most advantageous for you and your ministry.  Some signs of burnout are:

  • Increasing tiredness and boredom, especially with those tasks you normally love.
  • You are easily irritated.
  • You feel yourself going through the motions
  • Your self-care routines are failing (Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, Sabbath, exercise, eating, and even dress/hygiene.)

–       After huge events and long stretches of ministry business are good opportunities to get burned out, take some time then to recharge.

–       Honor your time off, if you don’t, nobody else will.  While there are a few exceptions to this rule, it’s okay not to check email and voicemail incessantly.  This will show your students and your family who comes first.

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