How to Avoid Burnout and Painful Member Care Obstacles

member care
Burnout! A common condition we hate to see fellow workers walk through. Depression. A mental health issue more common in ministry leader’s lives than you would think. Marital difficulty or divorce. Again, not unusual. Heart attack! Almost predictable in busy leaders who don’t take care of their health. As I write that, I think about my own need to be watchful about my health, careful to prioritize it amidst ministry demands.
All of these issues are a major concern for those trying to start movements, especially in pioneer regions of the world. Member care issues join our list of obstacles that block a Disciple Making Movement (DMM).

Strategy Matters, But It’s Not the Only Thing That’s Important

Many of the things that block a movement’s growth have to do with strategy. The health of those initiating the movement also plays an important role. When team members are overworked, emotionally drained, and struggle in their own lives and families, it has a major impact on the movement.

Exhaustion That Runs Deep

Some years ago, I felt utterly exhausted. One doctor who saw me called it “chronic fatigue”. I could barely walk up the stairs without becoming so tired that I had to sit down. I was completely depleted. A few weeks off helped me recover…somewhat.
Then another crisis hit. The medical evacuation of a fellow missionary. They nearly died. I came home and collapsed. There was absolutely nothing left inside of me. I didn’t realize that following that pattern in my life would lead me toward medically diagnosed depression. I would later face a season when I needed to take significant time off to get medical care and help.
Paul, the great movement initiator knew what this kind of exhaustion felt like. The pressure of ministry can be incredibly heavy upon us.

“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” 2 Cor. 11:28 NIV

Stop It!

A pastor I often listen to said recently, “Don’t give out more than you take in. That is just plain dumb! Stop it.” That is about as direct as it can get.
There is real truth in his statement. At times, we need to hear it said that way. We can be a bit dumb when it comes to taking care of ourselves.
As passionate people, deeply committed to the Great Commission, we give and give and give. We push ourselves to help others, even when there is little left inside. Sometimes we give out more than we have taken in. Eventually, it catches up with us and we pay the price. Often the movement does too.
Maintaining spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational health is crucial. It is necessary if we want to release a thriving, multiplying, and sustained movement. Below are some of the things I have tried to practice to keep myself and my team healthy.
How to Keep Yourself And Your Team Healthy

1) Practice spiritual disciplines like the Sabbath.

Do you take a weekly day to rest and refill? Or do you go week after week without any breaks? Many church planters do.
We tend to think we are somehow superhuman and able to keep going without rest. But God didn’t create us to function that way. The Sabbath is a command of God for a reason. He gave us that law to bless us with the health we need. We can not give out what we don’t have. Each week, find a way to practice Sabbath personally and as a team. I’ve written several articles on this that you may find helpful.

2) Maintain boundaries, even when growth is happening.

In community-oriented cultures, this is quite difficult. But it is necessary. Brene Brown in her book, Rising Strong, says, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” Henry Cloud has also written an excellent book called Boundaries for Leaders.
It is easy to feel like the needs of those you minister to and lead must take priority. Christian ministers can feel they must have their phones on 24-7. They must always be available to those they lead.
This is a recipe for burnout. While we are called to love others deeply, we must also love ourselves. We show that by setting and upholding boundaries.
That means learning to say, “I will meet you tomorrow. Today I have another appointment.” Even when that “appointment” is your date night with your spouse, or taking a nap on your Sabbath.

3) Seek out mentors and peer community.

Make sure you have upward mentoring in your life. The more we grow in leadership and ministry the more difficult it can be to find mentors who speak into our lives. We are helping many, but who is helping us? Take responsibility to find those people and seek them out.
Also, look for peers you can relate with. Take time for those Skype or WhatsApp calls with an old friend. Join a peer group like the one we have for DMMs. Cultivate meaningful relationships, even when it takes energy to do so. It is vital to your emotional health.

4) Practice “friendly accountability” related to your physical health.

Do you have someone who holds you accountable for things like exercise, healthy eating, and sleep? If you crash and burn, chances are the movement will too. Maintaining your health is much easier than recovering from burnout or depression. Set goals in these areas and then find someone to hold you accountable and encourage you.
Do you see a friend who is ignoring these things?  Be willing to speak up.  Take the risk of them getting annoyed with you and be a true friend.  A colleague and partner recently reached out to me to express concern for my health.  I needed to hear it!  And I listened and took action.  In a sense, it permitted me to slow down a bit.  Someone you know may need that kind of friendly accountability as well.
We are whole people. Our physical health is as important to God as the rest of who we are. Make space in your life for exercise and sleep. Don’t believe the lie that you are superhuman and don’t need sleep like other people. Get regular physical checkups.
Your healthy lifestyle speaks loudly of what you value. It’s part of being a disciple-maker to model this too, not only modelling ministry skills.

5) Make space in your life for friendships and play.

There have been times when ministry demands crowded out the space for these things. I was too busy to have friends. Those I had been close to moved away. I was left with no one I could share deeply with. My travel schedule made it hard to develop new friendships. I was always gone.
Loneliness in the life of leaders is both common and dangerous.
We are human beings. God created us for community. It can be hard work to develop new relationships and to stay connected to those friends we do have. Especially amid a busy growing movement.
Again, this has to do with self-care. You are valuable as a person, not just because of your ministry!
It is okay to take time off from work to hang out with friends. If no one else has done so, I want to give you permission to do this.
Go play football with your neighbor. Have coffee with a friend instead of visiting that person in the hospital. Do a puzzle with your kids (if you have them) or play a board game. Playing is good for you and necessary for your emotional health. Last night I played Uno with some kids who came over It was good to be like a child again and play with them. Time for play is important for a healthy life.
What was helpful or convicting to you in this blog? Any questions this brings up? Feel free to comment below or join the DMM Facebook group and share your thoughts there.
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