For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.
In this video, John Starke talks about burnout and issues of pace during different seasons of ministry.
The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.
So even if you have a regular rhythm of rest or maybe in your culture you have a rhythm of a sabbatical and all those things are in place, the sustained weight of ministry can still be burdensome and exhausting. It doesn’t mean you won’t be tired, and so you’ll need to be mindful of things. So I’d tend to try to be aware of a few things in your life. If you are tired all the time you’re probably really tired. If even though I get seven or eight hours of sleep I’m just constantly tired, you’re probably tired. But another one that’s not as obvious is that if I’m having a hard time imagining the future, a hopeful view of the future, it might be some deeper exhaustion happening. Or maybe if someone says, “Hey, what does this fall look like?” or “How do we plan out next spring?” or “What should we do for the next ministry season?” and that begins to stress you out in ways that maybe hasn’t in previous seasons, you probably need rest.
Maybe you haven’t struggled with depression historically but suddenly you experience a season of melancholy you just can’t get out of. When I struggled with depression for a season, I remember talking to my wife and trying to explain what was happening and trying to make sense of it. It’s as if you’ve fallen asleep on your arm, and your arm falls asleep, and you see a glass of water, and you try to grab that glass of water, you look at your hand, you look at that water, and you’re not connecting. That can sometimes happen with you on an emotional level with people and with ministry. So just to be aware of some of those things and even with just life changes.
Physiologically, you’re not the same person at age twenty seven than at age thirty seven. Passions and desires change. And so some of those things you need to just to be aware of. Pete Scazzero says that your body is a major prophet not a minor prophet, so just to be aware of how some of those things are interacting. Those dynamics can tell you when you’re tired and when you’ve come into a regular rhythm of rest.
It could be I’m taking on too much of a burden that I shouldn’t carry myself, or I’m not allowing other people to go shoulder to shoulder with me. I’m trying to control things in a way that only God controls things or I’m trying to control things in a way that a whole body of people should be controlling things. So I may need to assess how much of these responsibilities other people need to carry with me or I need to assess whether my rest rhythms are healthy. I need to assess if I’m working too much in the times that I’ve allotted during those weeks, and it’s helpful to do that within community, with other leaders speaking into that. These should be a few markers that you can be thinking about your own life.