(Miss part one? Read it here!)
Part two of this series deals with how to help those about to deal with burnout, those already dealing with burnout and how to work through it.
Let me start with a disclaimer: “Hi, I’m Anthony Coppedge, and I’m a recovering church staff burnout person. Not only have I personally experienced burnout, but I have been a leading contributor of burnout to volunteers while I served at one of the three churches where I was on staff.” I speak both from my own personal experiences of where I blew it and where I’ve learned and grown from my mistakes. Plus, I’ve now worked with enough staff and volunteers in my consulting role – as well as my own volunteer role – to provide even more insight that extends beyond my own personal lessons.
So now that you know I’m a qualified expert at burnout, here’s where we uncover the ugly underbelly of ministry and find out how to recognize warning signs and make course corrections before it’s too late.
Don’t Blur the Lines
I’ll share a revelation that I had a while back: Work and ministry are two different things. Don’t confuse them. That can be a tough thought for more than a few church staff, as life in a church tends to blur all the lines between what’s work and what’s ministry. Some will argue that you can’t separate the two, but I personally disagree.
We read a lot about how Jesus taught in public – that’s his ministry side – but not as much about how he handled the day-to-day of training his disciples – that’s his work side. Yet there are several examples of where Jesus would make a point to give the disciples instructions outside of the public setting. Paul’s letters are chock full of “church business” instructions. In our context, that’s like the running of the “business” of church that’s not so much in the public eye or actively involved in evangelism or discipleship. For us techies, that can be the mundane stuff: building graphics, editing videos, relamping light fixtures, setting new light cues, setting up mics, EQ-ing the audio system, updating the web page or even designing the next bulletin. It has to be done, but it’s not ministry – it’s work.
Sure, some (most?) of that work leads to ministry opportunities, but don’t confuse the messenger with the message. Just like our secular counterparts (our volunteers!), we have routine work that has to be done week in and week out. The difference is we spend our time in the same place where we have church, so it’s easier to let the distinction between ministry and work become blurred. And here’s the first main area where we see burnout: The same environment that is both work and church leads to burnout. There’s no two ways about it: it’s hard to get excited about the weekend when the surroundings never change. No matter how cool your tech booth or media suite, it gets old to go in there five or six days a week. It loses the wow and fun factor. But you need the space because that’s where the equipment is located. So how do you avoid the first stage of burnout? Change the scenery and go mobile!
Change the Scenery
Changing the scenery means that you need to do something most of us guys don’t think about (or like to do): decorate. This is where having a volunteer who never touches a button, but who loves interior design can help. Bring in those artistic folks to help give the room some new life! Change your office around every few months. Hang new pictures. Change the lighting. Shuffle the iPod music library. Whatever it takes, keep the work space creative and fresh.
Go mobile means just that: get out of the office! Now I know that some of your gear is, shall we say, “less than portable”. I’m not saying rip it all out and take it with you, but I am recommending that you have your church invest in a top quality laptop and broadband wireless card (not just Wi-Fi, though that can work) so you can get out of the office and still get work accomplished. With more and more retail shops offering free Wi-Fi, it’s getting easier than ever to be connected without wires. And with the new broadband wireless cards, you can be nearly anywhere and have instant on capability. Plus, many of your software applications will run on a laptop, so working out of the office isn’t hard to do. And here’s the bonus: It gives you new perspectives and keeps you creatively charged!
Don’t Work All the Time
“It’ll still be there tomorrow.” That’s true of just about any project you undertake. You can always work on more stuff, tweak existing stuff or think up new stuff. More work for a tech arts person is an easy order to fill. But let me point out a warning: If you are regularly working more than 50 hours a week with a MAXIMUM of five work days, you need to say “NO!” to some of your projects! Now let me qualify that a bit more: Weekend Services are NOT work days!! WHOA! Did I just say that? Yes I did!
Staff Must Also Become Volunteers
Your work is what happens in preparing for the weekend. Your Volunteer Time is what you do during the weekend. Think about it: We ask our volunteers to work a full time job somewhere and then come and volunteer their time on the weekend at church. Why should we not be held to the same standard? What makes us better than our volunteers that we somehow think we deserve to be paid for our time spent with them on the weekends? When it comes to the weekend, church staff are volunteers, too! All too often, Stan or Susie Staffmember assume that they must be at the church whenever the doors are open. WRONG. Time after time, Jesus withdrew from the crowds and took time to rest, relax and pray. But for some reason, Stan and Susie Staffmember spend 7 days a week at the church. That’s unbalanced, unhealthy and unbiblical.
Keep Priorities in Line
If you’re married, your priorities are God, Spouse and Children before work and ministry. Sure, you work a lot, but when it comes to how you prioritize your time outside of a normal work schedule, putting ministry and work back before those three is out of whack.
For you singles, it’s a bit easier to spend more time in ministry activities than a married person, but that’s not an excuse to work 60-70 hours a week at church, either. Building friendships is a large part of looking for the right mate God has for you, and to neglect that is a mistake, too. I once overheard a pastor say “hire young, single people so you can work ’em hard and get the most out of them.” Personally, I find this repulsive. Jesus didn’t leave one shred of evidence that suggested he have his disciples find “young, single people so they can work more hours”.
If that’s the modus operandi for your church leadership, I suggest that they have this disclaimer on their job applications: “We want to use you to get the most possible work and effort from you. In return, you will use us to have a great resumé and we’ll give you a great reference if you just do what you’re told and don’t question how we run things.” At least that kind of burnout is expected and agreed upon in advance.
But for the rest of us in healthy situations, I know that if you will take the time and effort to separate work from ministry, change your scenery, go mobile, work no more than 50 hours a week and volunteer your time on the weekend you can avoid burnout. If you don’t take those steps, you will experience burnout. It’s not “if”, but “when” it will happen.
The final part of this series will deal with how to prevent volunteer burnout as well as how to get those who have experienced burnout back into a healthy ministry volunteer role.
My name is Anthony D. Coppedge. I’m a follower of Jesus and my job is helping ministries leverage technology to effectively communicate the Gospel. I’m passionate about this, so that makes me a Technology Evangelist. I attend and volunteer at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX and love it in every way!