Pastor Burnout: It happened subtly; like a frog in a kettle, I didn’t know I was headed to disaster until it was too late. I didn’t see it coming, but I knew when it had happened.

The church I led had plateaued and I was working my tail off to get it growing. Before I knew it, like a smoldering wick, my fire had gone out.

I had lost the ability to feel. I had no joy, enthusiasm, or hope. Life was tasteless. I had no passion for anything—work, sex, other things I would normally enjoy, nothing!

 

RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS

If you have never experienced burnout, you should know the signs. Read Carey Nieuhwhof’s article “9 Signs You’re Burning Out in Leadership” for a more complete list.

There was no unconfessed sin. I still read my Bible and prayed daily. I was clueless as to what was wrong. How could someone who loves God feel nothing for God, God’s work, and life itself?

The clincher came one Sunday morning. I was sitting in the front row of the auditorium. We were two songs into the worship set. I leaned over and whispered to my wife, “I don’t think God is here.” She affirmed, “God is here. You just don’t sense him.”

I preached that day like a blind and deaf person takes a walk in a crowded park. I trusted that God was there, but I didn’t sense him. That was the last time I preached without a sense of his presence.

I took an emergency five-week sabbatical that I stretched to seven. It took seven weeks before I was restored. I learned something about sabbaticals that I’ll share at another time. It is enough to say that rest is not all you need.

As I prepared to leave town, a friend stopped by my office and said something that stopped me in my tracks. “If you don’t stop doing much of what you are doing, your recovery will be for nothing.”

I didn’t argue, but neither did I have a clue what to do with his admonition. Fortunately for me, he outlined exactly what I had to do.

 

THE DANGER

When you plant a new church, or take over a church that has plateaued or is in decline, initially, you do everything.

It is only natural that you hold on to these ministries you have worked so hard to birth. These are the very ministries that are producing church growth.

However, if you do not delegate these things, the results are predictable:

  • Your church will again plateau.
  • Eventually, you will burn out, and everyone counting on you will lose.

You have a limited capacity. When you push beyond your limits, plateau and burnout are as certain as the setting and rising of the sun.

There is a better way. Make a commitment to doing what only you can do.

What follows is a modified version of what my friend told me to do.

A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO DOING WHAT ONLY YOU CAN DO

1. Divide a sheet of paper into three columns:

  • Demands, the left column.
  • Skill, the center column.
  • Passion, the right column.

Under “Demands,” list all the things your job demands of you, all the things you are doing regarding your leadership position. Don’t rush this. Take your time and be thorough. If, however, you leave something out, don’t sweat it. What you are going to learn will give you a system to quickly filter all your tasks so you do what only you can do.

Under “Skill,” place a check mark next to all the things in the demands list that you are skilled at. These are the things you have the gift and training to do well or can easily learn.

Under the heading “Passion,” list everything you enjoy doing. These are the tasks that give you energy.

2. Make a separate list of all the things that are in all three columns

This is the start of your new responsibility list. I say start because there are a couple more steps to nailing down a final list.

3. Go over your short list and ask, “What is on this list that only I can do?”

That means there are tasks you are skilled at and enjoy performing, but that can be done by others. Just because you are skilled at something and enjoy doing it does not mean that only you can do it.

In 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, the apostle Paul models for us what it means to do what only you can do. He says, “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius… For Christ did not call me to baptize, but to preach.” Paul had a unique calling that only he could fulfill.

GET SERIOUS

What preacher doesn’t love baptizing? Baptisms are monuments to our success. But a lot of people can baptize. Give that job to a layperson. Let them have all that goes with that ministry.

What else are you doing that someone else can do—weddings, funerals, counseling, budget review, preaching? Yes, I said, “preaching.” Don’t put yourself in a box. If others can preach well, why not let them preach and let them preach regularly?

Get serious about doing what only you can do. This is a good word to remember that I picked up from Andy Stanley: “He who works to replace himself will never work himself out of a job.”

Be bold! Do what only you can do. You and the church will be better served when you focus on what only you can do.

There is one important step to take before you are finished.

4. Make a list of all the things you will STOP doing

Just as it is essential to identify what only you can do, it is equally essential to commit to what you will NOT do. Label this list Things I Must Not Do.

You are finished!

Now you know what you alone can do and what you must NOT do.

QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK:

WILL THERE BE TIMES YOU MUST DO THINGS YOU ARE NOT GOOD AT AND THINGS YOU DO NOT ENJOY?

Answer: Yes, always. But ideally, you won’t do these things often or for long. You will delegate them or agree they don’t need to be done.

WHAT IF THERE IS NO ONE TO DELEGATE THESE TASKS TO, BUT THESE TASKS MUST BE DONE?

There are three parts to this response:

  • Reconsider the belief, “These tasks MUST be done.”

What are the consequences if these tasks are not done? Often, we only think they must be done because of expectations others.

  • Reconsider the belief, “There is no one who can do it.”

Write up a brief job description. Share the need with all your staff and team leaders. Post it in your church bulletin, on your website, in any other form of church communications.

  • Consider outsourcing the work.

Look for a retired person with the skills you need and offer a stipend for their services. Use a temp service. Contract an individual who offers these services.

This is a vital truth to remember and trust: God is building his church. He is putting people where they belong to build up the church. Speaking metaphorically of the church as a building, the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:21, “In him the whole building is joined together…” The term joined together comes from the Greek word, “to fit”. Like a bricklayer fits a brick or stone, God is “fitting” each person in the church to build it up into a holy temple in the Lord. If that brick, or person, is vital to the work of the church then trust that God will bring that person to the church or has placed them in the church.

If there isn’t a volunteer or money to outsource the work then don’t continue to do it.

WHAT IF THE CHURCH CAN’T GROW WITHOUT THIS MINISTRY?

Answer: There are more ways to grow a church than numerical growth. God may want to grow the church in prayer. God may want to grow the church spiritually. Often God grows a church internally before he grows it externally.

Remember and trust, God is building his church. Leading a church to health and solid growth should not require you to sacrifice your health, your family, or your faith.

“Leading a church to health and solid growth should not require you to sacrifice your health, your family, or your faith.”

TAKE THE FIRST STEP NOW

So where are you in the process of burning out? Could it be that you are like the frog in the kettle, slowly cooking, and failing to notice?

Don’t wait until you are cooked. Take the first step now and follow the step-by-step guide above and begin doing what only you can do.

Shoot me an email and let me know, “I’ll do it! I’ll follow the step-by-step guide to doing what only I can do.” I will pray for your success.

Why share your commitment? There is an added benefit to making a pledge before another. When you publicly declare your commitment, you are more likely to stick with it. Let me know. craig@PassOn.live.

Got a question? Ask. I’ll get back to you soon.

Consistently doing what only you can do will ensure you trust God to build his church, that you remain fully engaged at what you are fit to do, and is a huge step toward leading your church to health and solid growth.

You will be surprised to discover all the people who are able and willing to step up and do what only they should do.

Delegation is a skill all its own. Delegation is a core skill every leader must master.

For help delegating effectively read my article, A Pastor’s Guide to Delegation.

Consistently doing what only you can do will ensure you trust God to build his church and that you remain fully engaged at what you are fit to do, and is a huge step toward leading your church to health and solid growth.

You will be surprised to discover all the people who are able and willing to step up and do what only they should do.

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