I Was A Burned Out Pastor

One of the hardest conversations I have ever had in my life came the week after my birthday this year. I sat down my pastor and told him that I could no longer be a healthy individual and be a staff pastor atthe church where I was serving.

I was burnt out, and I couldn’t do it anymore.

This was not the first time I had experienced “burn out” but it was different this time for one important reason. I was married —newly married —and the mistake I had made half a dozen times before, the subsequent “burn-out” I was experiencing, wasn’t just affecting me anymore. It was taking a toll on my wife.

When I agreed to join the staff team of this church, I told myself it was going to be different. I was going to finally “mature” and not leave angry, hurt, and unfulfilled. So you can understand why I was so disappointed when circumstances led me to the same place of burn-out again.

I could feel it rising up in me, slowly. A familiar feeling. Anger toward my church, my pastor, and an overwhelming hatred of my circumstances. I felt the urge to run from ministry —again.

But as angry as I was, it was becoming clear: I could no longer blame my circumstances for the way I felt. Several different churches. Several different leaders. Several different circumstances. Same resentment. Same burn-out.

The common denominator was me.

It was all my fault and I felt so ashamed.

As a single guy in ministry, it was really easy to take on 70 hours a week. I was the only one to suffer the consequences, and it felt good to work hard. I received constant praise for being the “hardest worker” which fueled me to work even harder. But as a newly-married person I was beginning to see the consequences of my actions.

My wife was stressed. I was stressed. Our marriage was stressed. We were tired, overwhelmed and it was creating an unhealthy foundation for our marriage. Why had I done this to myself again?

This time I had to do something different.

And because I wasn’t sure what else to do, I resolved to at least talk about it. I started conversations with my wife, my family and my pastor. I wanted to get to the root of the issue instead of running from these circumstances into yet another situation that would end just as tragically.

What I found, as I talked, was that I was insecure.

I was using my work (which happened to be for the church) as a validation for my wounded understanding of myself. I didn’t think I was worth much, so I was trying to prove my worth to God, to myself, and to others by contributing something of value to the church community.

I would have never admitted this out loud, since I knew that I was saved by grace not by my work in the church, but the story I was living wasn’t in line with what I believed.

My insecurity was causing me to be really arrogant.

It hurt me, and it hurt other people, and the only way to fix it was to start being honest with myself.

There are two really important lessons I’ve learned about burn-out in this season. First, I’m less likely to burn out if I’m doing what I was made to do, what I love to do, instead of what other people expect me to do, or what I perceive as “valuable” for one reason or another. For me, this meant admitting I wasn’t gifted as a pastor.

For you, it will mean something different.

The second thing I learned is that no matter what work I’m doing for work, I have to make sure that my identity doesn’t get wrapped up in it. When that happens, I’ll burn out no matter what I’m doing. And my burn-out doesn’t just affect me. It affects everyone else around me, and it impacts my ability to love people and be myself

Darrell Vesterfelt is the CEO of the Prodigal Media Group, a storytelling firm based in Minneapolis where he lives with his wife Ally. Darrell is the original #unblogger. You can connect with him on Twitter or call him at (612)802-5227