Leisure and Burnout in Ministry Articles

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Personal Accomplishment and Burnout

One of the most interesting dimensions of burnout is how it affects our sense of personal accomplishment.  In a study of clergy, nearly all had a college education, many had two advanced degrees, yet a significant number scored low on the personal accomplishment sub scale, indicating that they were experiencing burnout.  It seems odd that some of the brightest and most talented people in the country, educated at some of the finest schools, would feel that way.  But that’s the nature of burnout.

The burnout syndrome works this way: Persons involved in people work can become overwhelmed by the demands on their time and of their resources and can become emotionally exhausted.  This, if not halted, can lead to negative feelings toward those they are supposed to be helping, and that can lead to what is known as “depersonalization.”  If this process continues unchecked, it eventually can lead to a decreased sense of personal accomplishment.  Related, those who have a lower sense of personal accomplishment may also show signs of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization.

So what does this really mean?  Here are a few kernels of truth based on the research:

1) Take care of yourself.  Emotional exhaustion can spiral out of control and make you see things much different than reality.  If you are emotionally exhausted from your vocation it usually because you have not taken adequate measures for insuring rest, relaxation, and collegial support.  Nobody will do this for you, so take the initiative.

2) Review your accomplishments regularly.  Sometimes we forget just how good things are and that can be a step toward burnout.  Many clergy are perfectionists at heart and have the tendency to be oversensitive to criticism and conflict.  I suggest keeping an ongoing resume of your work that can be consulted when the need arises.  You have accomplished more than you think in your life.

3) Check to see if your goals and expectations are realistic.  If you expect too much of yourself you may find yourself on the edge of burnout because your sense of personal accomplishment is flawed.  It is not uncommon for pastors to set goals for congregations that do not match the leadership or the dynamics of the community. Take time to analyze, evaluate, and plan for your specific situation and you will find a better sense of personal accomplishment.

4) Don’t forget to enjoy yourself and the people along the way.  After all, lots of accomplishments with little enjoyment and without friends to share them with can be hollow.  Even in the most difficult of times, there is something to be enjoyed.  One particularly stressful day I was driving my six-year-old through the community when he turned to me and said, "This is a great day isn't it?" In spite of the morning I had experienced, he was right.

So: How are you taking care of yourself? What have you accomplished? What are your goals and expectations? What about this day is great?


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