Leisure and Burnout in Ministry Articles

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Age and Longevity as Burnout Prevention

Let’s say that you are a few years from retirement, or you have been in an appointment for six or seven years. Things may not be going well, and you are a little bit touchy. All signs are pointing towards “burnout”, right? Wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, age and longevity do not increase one’s susceptibility to burnout.  They are actually strong preventive factors.   In study after study of helping professionals, age was always conversely related to burnout (as age goes up, burnout goes down).   In a study of WNCC clergy, older clergy scored significantly lower than younger clergy on the Maslach Burnout Inventory.   The same could be said of clergy in longer-term appointments.  You are probably asking, “Why is that?”

  • With age comes experience and life skills that only time can give you.  Over our lifetime we learn to deal with conflict and everyday annoyances in ways that are different from when we were in our teens.
  • People skills are not easily obtained through education or study.  Most of us learn from our interactions with others.  Someone who is 50 has the potential for many more encounters with people than a person does half that age.
  • The longer a person is in a job or appointment, the better prepared a person is for dealing with the people and situations that arise.  Longevity builds a body of knowledge that cannot be matched by a new comer.
  • The longer a person is in a position the easier it is to establish healthy work and leisure habits that may not be possible in a brand new job.
  • In general, long-term workers develop strong support systems and carry greater credibility than those in short-term positions.

Who is most at risk from burnout?  My research showed that younger clergy in new appointments are at most risk. Based on the data, under 30 years of age and under 10 years of service were key marks.

Why is this good to know? Sometimes being informed is prevention in itself.


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