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4 Ways to Prevent Ministry Burnout

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Ed Stetzer: "To create boundaries, pastors must be able to say no when other people want them to say yes."

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When I planted my first church in the inner city of Buffalo, N.Y., I was in addition to those duties a husband to Donna, an insulation installer (to support us) and a Pittsburgh seminary student who drove four hours to class.

Perhaps surprisingly, I was actually able to maintain all of those roles for a while. It wasn’t the rapidity of my activity that hurt me, but rather my lack of solid boundaries around my schedule, particularly at church.

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 those I have gleaned. Think of them as four fence posts that set up a defined boundary around a healthy ministry. 

The First Post: Recognize your role in the church.

While you, as the pastor, have some responsibility for the church, only Jesus bears that ultimately. When this boundary is ignored, the church is built around the pastor, who becomes part of the problem. 

At my second church plant, we had grown to a congregation of about 125 after 18 months. While this might seem like a positive development, it became an Achilles’ heel for me. Obsessed with attendance numbers, I called all regular and occasional attendees every Saturday to encourage them to attend the next day.

When pastors misunderstand their role like I did, they tend to put all their focus on some predetermined view of success rather than those things they are biblically called to, such as shepherding and equipping.

The Second Post: Pursue personal health.

To create proper boundaries, pastors must be able to say no when other people want them to say yes.

As an interim pastor, a family once asked if I could talk to their son so he could receive Christ. I very kindly answered no, explaining that I did not want to take that opportunity from them. Unfortunately, Johnny’s parents didn’t see it that way. They called two small groups worth of people explaining that the interim was the devil. Within two weeks, however, they thanked me.

It doesn’t always work out that way, but in this case, the boundaries created a special moment for this family. Pastors must not allow the people in their congregation to bring cultural expectations to their boundaries. Instead, they must allow the Bible to inform boundary implementation.

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