Strategies to Prevent Burnout

by Allan Cleanthous

If your mentoree who is a Christian leader asked for strategies to prevent burnout, what would you say? Here is one attempt at an answer…

In order to avoid or to at least minimize the effects of burnout, I would ensure that I have a good leadership team around me. Such a team does not have to be high-profile, high achievers or even successful in the secular world, but rather people who

  1. accurately understand the present situation that they are all faced with, and
  2. have the individual and corporate capacity, and ability (spiritually and practically) to lovingly and privately correct as well as to openly support the minister.

The above two criteria however can only be realized if the mechanisms are in place before a crisis hits. It would indeed be a tragedy to try and create these relationships in a crisis environment. These relationships need to begin to be developed as soon as a new position is occupied. Unfortunately some ministers get caught up in the busyness of a new appointment and regard the time needed to build good relationships with the team members as an initial impediment instead of an imperative for establishing relationships, procedures and systems. From the beginning I would try and institute a workload of moderation. There will obviously be peaks and troughs, but we shouldn’t live as though life itself only existed in peaks and troughs. Establishing order in my own life, early on, is essential in order to have a pattern or a habit of pacing myself for routine matters.

Regular rest along with regular medical checkups would also be an absolute necessity. There should be a long-term relationship with the family doctor so that any physiological or psychological changes could be picked up at a very early-stage and dealt with appropriately. Again it would be a tragedy if someone in a crisis went to a doctor who was expected to diagnose and prescribe in isolation to the rest of that person’s life. The more information and a history that the doctor has available to him or her, the better the chances are of a correct diagnosis – and therefore – prescription to address the presenting problem.

Effective networking, which needs to include a trusted confidante, is another means of ensuring that I don’t work in a vacuum — especially a vacuum that I have created myself out of my insecurity or inability to share of myself at a deep level. The reasons or causes would be many, but one that needs to be addressed quickly is the perception that as the professional pastor I am always in control and have no weaknesses or deep emotional needs. Here I could vary glibly say that God looks after all my needs and whilst there is a very strong element of truth in this statement, the other truth which needs to be also acknowledged and embraced, is that all of God’s children have been created to live in New Testament koinonia or community. Jesus, the Son of God, so understood and modeled this principle that he lived with 12 very ordinary people around him. In His desperate time of human need in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mat 26:36-46) He went to them and wanted to involve them in praying for His personal as well as His Kingdom mission.

I recently came across (source unknown) this formula for self respect. Self Respect = Expectations divided by Successes. If I have 10 expectations but only realize 2 or 3 of them, then I am in a constant state of frustration which could easily exacerbate any existing stress. I believe I need to plan to have a multitude of small expectations or goals which are likely to be quickly realised in order to offset the big visions which are likely to be slower and more laborious.

I would also ensure that I do not have a team of “yes” people. I am to value diversity and actively encourage these differences in order to cover a wider perspective than the one I am able to bring to the table.

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