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A Barna 2017 Study of 14,000 Protestant Lead Pastors in U.S. revealed that 37% of lead pastors are at medium to high risk of burnout. That percentage has grown even higher in the past two years. Here’s the thing about burnout – getting healed up is not like flipping a switch. It takes longer to recover than you imagine.

When I was a young lead pastor, I was burning out but didn’t know it . . . until I slammed into the wall of suicidal depression. The difference between burnout and depression—if you’re burned out as a leader, usually you can function in other areas of your life. When you are dealing with major depression, it impacts your functionality in every area of your life.

So . . . how can you know if burnout is near?

Not an exhaustive list: These are the most common symptoms we observe:

  1. When your week feels like a gauntlet instead of something you’re looking forward to – I love what I do for a living. But when I look at the upcoming week and think, “how am I going to get through that?” I may be operating on less than a full emotional tank.
  2. Heightened irritability – Some leaders confuse irritability with immaturity. Is it possible that your irritability means you need to mature? Yes. But often, we’re working with leaders who really have grown up, and yet they find themselves out of proportionately irritated over things.
  3. Difficulty concentrating/focusing – most leaders are decisive (that’s one of the qualities that make them leaders.) They’re focused and productive. When burnout happens—decisiveness, focus, and productivity are diminished.
  4. Chronic fatigue – Burnout fatigue is fatigue that a good night’s sleep or a real day off or even a vacation doesn’t remedy. Burnout is more than physical tiredness . . . it’s tiredness on the inside.
  5. Insomnia/Hypersomnia – If you are having trouble falling asleep, have early morning wakefulness and can’t get back to sleep, and these issues have been happening for a few weeks, it’s possible burnout is knocking on your door. If you haven’t been able to get out of bed in the morning for the past several weeks, even after sleeping a solid eight hours, burnout may be lurking.

If you’ve been wrestling with 2 or more of these symptoms over the course of several weeks, pay attention. Burnout may be just around the corner.

So, if you think you may be suffering from burnout what can you do about it? Three words: Ownership; network, rhythms,

  • Take ownership for your emotional well-being – Nobody else can (or should) do that for you. no one else will do that for you. You ultimately own your emotional health. You’re responsible to care for your well-being. No one else is responsible for it but you. That being said
  • You need a network – Leading well for the long haul comes only with a strong relational network: a doctor, a counselor, a mentor, and some deep friendships to help you process life. Emotional and mental health rarely develops in a vacuum.
  • You need healthy rhythms
    • Work/rest rhythms – Daily, weekly, annually. Consider margin. Do you have any? If not, why? What is driving you to overschedule? FOMO? (Fear of missing out?) FODP? (Fear of disappointing people?)
    • Physical Rhythms – Regular exercise, 6-8 hours of sleep nightly, and good nutrition.
    • Spiritual Rhythms – Commit to daily moments of meaningful connection with God
    • Relational Rhythms – As I mentioned earlier, we need relationships that fill up our bucket, mixed with times of solitude . . . much like Jesus modeled for us.

Burnout is real. It’s becoming more prevalent. But it doesn’t have to ruin your life. Burnout can be prevented, and it can be recovered from. My books, Unshakable You: Five Choices of Emotionally Healthy People, and Unshakable Leader: The Simple Yet Amazing Power of Alignment can help you build a both a preventive and curative game plan.

Rooting and praying for you to be well,


John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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