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Leadership

7 Ways to Prevent Staff Burnout

One of my life verses is Proverbs 14:30, “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life” (TLB). I always think about that verse as it relates to the people I lead. 

Ministry carries eternal implications. We need those we lead to last in ministry. We need to make sure they don’t burn out. 

That’s why I’ve always encouraged what I call relaxed concern. That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s important to the longevity of your ministry team. Relaxed concern means we realize that heaven and hell hang in the balance of what we do, but we also know we can’t live tightly wound all the time. The quickest way to burn out your staff is to never relax. I’ve seen it happen in hundreds of churches. 

I don’t want that to happen to your church. It’s absolutely critical that your team learns to develop a relaxed attitude so ministry doesn’t drain their energy unnecessarily. 

Over four decades of ministry at Saddleback, these seven practices helped to limit burnout.

1. Don’t expect every staff member to work at the same energy level all the time.

It’s unrealistic. We’re all made differently. You can’t expect people to give more than they have. Some people are racehorses. Others are turtles. Most people fall somewhere in between. Spend the time to learn how the people on your time work so you can adjust accordingly. 

2. Be aware of external drains on energy and compensate.

When team members are in the midst of a major life event, such as an illness, personal crisis, or adding a new child to the family, it’ll inevitably drain their capacity. You need to be aware of those drains so you can compensate in other ways. Expecting people to put in the same amount of energy regardless of what’s going on in their lives isn’t realistic.

3. Plan your year according to energy cycles.

At Saddleback, we often organized our calendar around two primary campaigns—one in the spring and one in the fall. Those were intense periods of work for our staff, but we didn’t try to keep up that pace for the entire year. Everyone needs breaks (including the pastor!). Plan those cycles into your calendar so your staff knows what to expect.

4. Allow flexible schedules.

I was never interested in the time people put in at the office. I was interested in productivity. That’s why I always allowed people to go home when they got their jobs done. Also, when people had to work late, I compensated for that by letting them take some time off the next day.

5. Work smarter, not harder.

The Bible tells us, “A dull ax means harder work. Being wise will make it easier” (Ecclesiastes 10:10 NCV). Don’t let your team settle for working with a dull ax. Encourage them to develop their skills, so they are constantly becoming more efficient in their ministries. As a leader, give your team resources to learn and grow in their fields.

6. Focus on the long haul.

You’ve heard it said that Rome wasn’t built in a day. That’s also true of ministries. Long-term results, rather than short-term gains, are what we need to focus on.

Part of that long-term focus is building long-term relationships. At Saddleback, I always used the Billy Graham team as a model. They were together for decades, and it helped their work. When you’ve been together with people for 35 years, ego isn’t a problem. You can read the moods of others.

7. Make the work fun.

The most successful people are those who get paid for doing what they like to do anyway. You’ll wear people out if their work is drudgery. Plan excursions and encourage your team to enjoy what they do.  

We all want our ministry teams to last, not just for the sake of our ministries, but for their own flourishing. With these seven principles, you’ll help your leaders endure.

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