Church: Burnout Prevention

Symptoms: Depression, burnout, fatigue, lack of joy, withdrawal, sleep disturbance, difficulty in facing life each day. Physical symptoms, called depressive equivalents: Chest pains, stomach problems an, headaches, immune system weakened so getting a lot of infections.

Ministry is a high stress life. Not dealing with it creates losses. (Louis McBurney, psychiatrist, Marble Retreat.)

Holy Rhythms for Ministry

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I wont’ let anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and high. –Matthew 11:20 The Message

Personal Burnout Check-Up and Life-style Prescription

By Charles A. Calahan, Ph.D., C.F.L.E.

Burnout Inventory*

How Often Scale:
0 = never
1 = a few times a year or less
2 = once a month or less
3 = a few times a month
4 = once a week
5 = a few times a week
6 = every day

Directions: Answer the question “How often?” for each of the Inventory questions below according to the scale described in the box.

1. ____I feel emotionally drained from ministry.

2. ____I feel used up at the end of the day.

3. ____I feel used up when I get up and have to face another day in ministry.

4. ____Working with church members is really a strain for me.

5. ____I feel burned out in ministry.

6. ____I feel frustrated by what I am expected to do in ministry.

7. ____I feel I am working too hard in ministry.

8. ____Working in the church puts too much stress on me.

9. ____I feel I am at the end of my rope.


Burnout Inventory Scoring: Are you emotionally exhausted in ministry?

High 27 or over

Moderate 17 – 26

Low 0 – 16

What can be done if we find ourselves highly emotionally exhausted on the burnout inventory? Significant life-style change is the way to overcome emotional exhaustion.

If you find yourself in the middle of an “extra crispy” burnout, the following inventory may provide some areas of focus and options for life-style changes. The recovery from or the prevention of emotional exhaustion requires holistic steps to start the healing process.


*The subscale is adapted from the Maslach Burnout Inventory published by Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, California.

Life-style Prescription Inventory

How Often Scale:
1 = almost never
2 = sometimes
3 = often
4 = always

Directions: Answer the following “How often?” questions by using the scale described in the box.

____ I can say “No!” to doing ministry that is not effective or productive.

____ I take adequate time off during the week away from ministry.

____ I actively cultivate relationships with people who are outside my ministry responsibilities.

____ I get adequate and regular physical exercise.

____ I have healthy eating habits.

____ I have someone who will listen to me openly express anger, hurt and disappointment.

____ I get adequate sleep at night.

____ I laugh 20 or more times a day.

____ I cultivate hobbies, interests and recreation away from ministry.

____ I have someone who will listen to me openly express feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

____ I take my full vacation time each year away from ministry.

____ I avoid the misuse and abuse of alcohol.

____ I do not allow people who misuse my time in ministry to monopolize my time and energy.

____ I do not spend excessive hours working in ministry each week.

Lowest Scoring Life-style Items to Work On: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What can you do? Notice the items that you rated yourself as “almost never” (1) and develop a plan to improve these areas. Ask a friend to hold you accountable to implement your plan. If you had no “almost never,” (1), responses then select your lowest items and go to work. Work on only a few lowest areas at a time. Do not get overwhelmed by trying to work on all 14 at once. You only need to start improving a few areas to head toward healing and recovery.

Books for Ministry Stress

by Dr. Archibald Hart

Professor of Psychology
Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary

Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions, Word Books, 1984.

The Hidden Link Between Adrenaline and Stress, Word Books, 1986, reprinted 1991, 1995. Chinese edition; Kowloon, Hong Kong; Baptist Press, 1991.

Healing Life’s Hidden Addictions, Servant Publications, 1990.

Dark Clouds, Silver Linings: Depression can be a healing emotion when you learn how to cooperate with it. Focus on the Family, 1993.

Also see books in the article titled Books and Magazines Providing Clergy Support.

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