Church Involvement

Creating a Culture of Involvement in Every Church

Month: December 2015

Burn Out: Its Stages & Prevention

Burnout-featureStages of Burnout

In July, 2003, after 30 years in fulltime pulpit ministry, I hit the wall. I had a physical, spiritual, emotional and mental experience that scared me and made me curl up into a fetal position. I burned out and it has taken years to fully recover. I share the following in hopes that no other church workers have that experience. Burn out is real and it can be prevented.

What is burn out? There are differing types of burn out.  My burn out was a result of exposure to overwhelming stress over a long period of time.   This type of burnout is dealing with more stress than a human can possibly handle.   Prospects for burn out are those who are in helping occupations and ministries.   It is sometimes called “compassion fatigue” as a result of empathy.  It occurs when a person empties him/herself in order to help others.   Those experiencing burn out have neglected themselves and in many cases they have also neglected those they love like spouses and children.

Please consider the stages of burn out (my personal experience); the first one is…


Yes, this is the first stage to burnout. When someone enters a new ministry or a new venture in life, there is expectation, anticipation, hope, enthusiasm and excitement. It is exhilarating. It is a time when one’s emotions and faith are high. It is also a time when folks around us may not understand us or comprehend why we are so excited. It can also be a time when we are not open to listen to others because of our euphoria . This stage of burnout is important because our excitement, if not handled wisely, can open us up to disappointments that create the next stage


In this stage we begin to doubt (for some reason) our original intentions or the intentions of others. This is the stage wherein a person has great (or unrealistic) expectations of  him/herself, church leaders and members.


When hope grows weak and doubt takes over, you will begin to feel fatigue with your ministry and at times even be disgusted with it. You may even experience a feeling of being trapped.

Over commitment and a personal determination to do things your way do not help this stage; they exasperate it.   In this stage I felt that I needed to do more; I felt this would resolve my fatigue.   One’s thinking is not clear and fullly rational.


The next stage is anger. When we experience adulation that is followed by doubt, fatigue and disgust, anger will follow.

Such anger can lead to bitterness and resentment; these can linger for months and years after the burnout occurs.

In order to get over any resentment, bitterness and anger, we must think through the whole process of what really occurred and be brutally honest with ourselves. I have since learned that the problem was me not someone(s) else.


When there is no resolution, apathy is the next stage. Unclear thinking and reasoning allow a person (in this downward spiral) to continue downward to apathy.

Apathy will kill any relationship or any leader. It happens in many marriages. It happens at work. It happens in the church. It is focusing on the wrong things and the wrong people.

All these stages are usually the result of an improper focus upon self and not on the Lord who is the one who ultimately empowers us and assists us in thinking clearly. With that said, however, there are legitimate times when we should step down from various ministries. We cannot be objective and clear-thinking unless we step down.

After I stepped down from my position, I still had anger and I tended to blame everyone else for my bad choices and decisions.   I have fully recovered and I will tell you that every negative thing that happened for MY fault.


It took me four years to get mentally and emotionally healthy again. I left full-time ministry in early 2004 and returned to part time preaching in 2005.  I returned to to full time ministry in late 2008 and it was not to preaching. My relationship with the Lord returned and my enthusiasm returned (notice the co-relation).  When I finally turned the whole thing over to the Lord and stopped living in the past, my healing began.


How do we prevent it? It is not enough to be involved in ministry where you are properly fitted. Your spiritual gifts, your life experiences and your passions are not enough to prevent you from burning out.

Let me suggest the following to prevent burnout:

1. Have a strong relationship with the Lord. Our enthusiasm should not come from people or even ministries; it should come from the Lord. In fact, the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek words “God in you.” If your enthusiasm is not from the Lord, you are more susceptible to the stages of burnout. Your goal should always be to please the Lord, not the brethren (see I Corinthians 4:1-4). If you try to please the brethren (which is an impossibility) you will fry. Your main relationship should be with the One who called you into ministry. He will bless your efforts. I cannot over-emphasize this point. The Lord refreshes and renews us daily if we allow Him. He should be our focus. He is the one we should seek to please. He is ultimately the One we serve.

2. When you feel like you are not receiving the support you need, verbalize it to those you feel aren’t supporting you—in a non-accusatory manner.

Don’t expect to always be appreciated and to have the full support of leadership or membership. People are people. However, there is no excuse, especially among leaders, to withhold encouragement and appreciation. You may have to be the one who teaches them this. Don’t be afraid to do so; the Lord will be with you.

3. When you experience burnout, learn from the experience and don’t repeat the same mistakes again. You will learn that God can use you in greater ways after this experience. You will be humbled and you will become more dependent upon Him.   If you haven’t experienced burnout you can learn from my experience.

4. Resign from a ministry before you get to the apathy stage. In fact, when your enthusiasm begins to wane, you need to do some self-examination (especially as it relates to your relationship with the Lord). Seek renewal then not months or years later. Take a break. Recreate yourself. Even Jesus got away from the demanding crowds from time to time. Get help before you get too far along in the burn out stages.

5. Pay attention to any warning signs. Know these stages; knowing them will help you. Other warning signs are constant fatigue, forgetfulness, cynicism/negativism or being critical of everyone and everything. Add to that list anxiety, dread, hopelessness and defeatism.

6. If you have a supportive spouse, listen to him or her! My wife attempted to talk to me; I brushed her aside (to my destruction and almost to the destruction of our relationship). I had 3 men (notice the gender here) tell me the same thing. Duh! Don’t be foolish as I was; listen to your spouse first. When others say the same thing, you can bet your spouse was right all along. Most spouses are very supportive and they hurt when they see us on a collision course.

7. Have realistic expectations. As ministers and church leaders we cannot expect people to be as “dedicated” or “committed” as we are. We cannot expect perfection and untiring devotion. This does not mean you compromise anything; it simply means you face up to reality and let the Lord do things His way in His time.

8.  Beware of the Messiah complex.   Some folks have a Messiah complex; they feel like they have to fix everybody and everything.   Carmen Renee Berry does a wonderful job of explaining this principle.   Her burn out cycle is based upon false concepts of one’s self and helping others.   Her book is When Helping You is Hurting Me.    This is an excellent read.    I find many of the things she’s says in her book would apply to me and she has challenged my thinking and has caused me to grow.

In closing, I think it is important for you to know that it took 22 years working with one congregation to get me to the point of burnout (30 years total of full time ministry). It may only take you a month or a year for you; everyone is different. However, if your thinking is faulty or you are co-dependent you are more likely to struggle with burnout in your future. Draw close to the Lord, seek wisdom, step down when you need to, humble yourself and seek wise counsel.


Suggested reading: Boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.

It’s Not My Fault by Drs. Cloud and Townsend.

Paul Tripp’s A Dangerous Calling.

Ministry Evaluations: Why & How?

evaluate7Why Do Some Churches Have Ministry Evaluations?

There is a part of me that loves to read ministry evaluations; there is so much encouraging information found in most ministry evaluations.   However, there is a part of me that hates the preparation for these and the constant ‘begging’ folks to fill these things out.    So why do some churches have periodic ministry evaluations?   This can be answered by other questions:   Why do the church leaders want these?    They may want them for several reasons:   to give an account to those ‘above’ them, to give more resources,  to offer support, to create new budgets, to pray over them, etc.

What helpful information do ministry evaluations supply church leaders, deacons and ministry leaders?   Once again, these are discovered by asking questions:

Are you on course?   Because deacons and ministry leaders need to know if they are reaching their goals.   Evaluation forms guide them through this simple process.  If they are not on course, they can get back on course.

Are you fulfilling your ministry’s mission statement?   Many ministries just float along and most never have a mission statement.   Those which have mission statements need to evaluate themselves to determine if they are fulfilling their original purpose.   If they aren’t, they may want/need to change their mission statement, revise it or cease to exist as a ministry if the need is no longer there.

Are you funded?   What other resources do you need?   Evaluations allow ministry leaders to ask for more money if needed in the middle of the fiscal year and to ask for new money before the beginning of a new fiscal year.

Are you accountable?    Evaluations allow/give the opportunity for ministry leaders to give an account of how they are using the resources entrusted to them.   Accountability is huge to the Lord and it should be huge to the church also.

Wise church leaders and ministry leaders will welcome such accountability.

How Should Evaluations Look or be Worded?  You must…

Determine your questions.   Your questions must be relevant to your local and congregational needs.   You need to know what information you want and incorporate it into your evaluation form.  Please request a copy of my evaluations if you need a starting point.     Also, you may place questions in these evaluations such as “how may the church staff or leadership assist you?.”

Determine how often you need evaluations.    Some church leaders want quarterly evaluations, others twice a year and some only once a year.  You’ve got to do what’s best for your congregation.

What are the Preferred Results?    What is the ultimate goal of ministry evaluations?

Good stewardship.    Fulfilled intentional purposes.    Accountability.  Encouragement.     On all levels:   such things positively affect the ministry leaders but also those involved in his/her ministry and the leadership (above them) also become more involved and interested in the ministry and they (the paid staff and the church leaders) also are accountable to the Lord and to those who give.  But I suppose the greater benefactors are those who are served by these ministries.  It is a win-win for all involved.

What If Ministry Leaders Will Not Cooperate?

In some ways, this is difficult to answer.   Generally speaking, unless a ministry has a multi-thousand dollar budget, full time/part time staff, dozens of volunteers and serves scores of people, an evaluation takes two to five minutes to fill out. However, here are some suggestions to you as an elder, deacon or involvement minister:

  1. Have an understanding with ministry leaders that periodic evaluations will take place—preferably before they start leading a ministry.  This is the ideal time to inform and train them in this.
  2. If they are already leading a ministry, they still need to be informed of ‘why’ this is being done and ‘how often’ it will be done.   Questions need to be answered at the time of informing also.   Use #3 to gently remind them ‘why’ evaluations are done.
  3. We expect and demand accountability at work, by our government, by our schools, by charitable organizations to which we give and yes, even our local church.    When we ask folks to give their hard-earned money, valuable time and limited energy, we should feel an obligation and responsibility to win and keep their confidence.    Note:   our older members are most trusting in this area.   However, some millennials feel entitled to such accountability.
  4. Suggest that each ministry leader assign someone in his/her ministry the job of keeping up with events, money spent, number of folks served, etc.(e.g. the information requested on the evaluation forms) and to give that information to the ministry leader upon request (so he/she can fill out the form) .   Some ministry leaders are not good at details.    This is just one more opportunity of service for someone in the church.
  5. Give your ministry leaders time to fill the forms out and return them to you.   I usually give them six weeks.   Six weeks before they are due, I send them copy-pasted and file-attached in emails.   Paper copies are given to folks who do not do email.

I have found that most volunteer ministry leaders are busy people; they have families, jobs, hobbies, church attendance/activities/events, school activities, recreation and a host of other important things pulling at them.     Gentle regular reminders go a long way in getting the information you need from your ministry leaders for your church leader.    Sometimes you may have to make a personal contact by phone or in person to get the information, but the benefits are worth the efforts.   Trav

Developing Spiritual Gifts

Dark chalkboard with a Personal Development illustration.

Dark chalkboard with a Personal Development illustration.

Developing Spiritual Gifts

There is some writing about the spiritual gift list in Romans 12.   Most folks believe that these are “spiritual gifts” and these are the terms used.   Others believe that these aren’t gifts; they believe that they are “capacities.” In other words, God gives us the capacity to do certain things.   And, then one brother calls them “passions.”

Either way, most of my brethren will say that these gifts need to be developed.   I agree.     The church is full of gifted folks who are NOT using their gifts in any shape, form or fashion.     Others are using them in a limited manner.  However…

What would happen in the church if:

  1.  Every member discovered his/her gift?
  2.  Every member developed his/her gift?
  3.  Every member deployed (exercised, used, put to work) his/her gift?

Now, seriously, stop and think that through.   What if every member maxed out his/her gift for the glory of God?   What would the church look like?   What would the announcements sound like?   How many baptisms would there be a year in the local church?   Would there be more or less church fusses?   Would we always be short of volunteers?   What new ministries would be created?  What opportunities of service, unknown to us, would be fulfilled?  What affect would that have on the assemblies of the church?   What would the community think?   What would He think?   Just think of the positive possibilities!

For you more conservative bashful folks:  what if just 25% of your church membership was equipped (had developed their gifts) for ministry?   What about 50%?   75%?

How many of your members know their gifts, have developed them and are using them in your local congregation?   There is a co-relation between numerical and spiritual growth and the number of folks using their gifts.

But you ask, “Yes, but that’s a lot of trouble.”    What you may be saying is this:   “We like things the way they are.”     The more important question should be, “Does He like things the way they are?”    He has gifted you; your response ought to be thanksgiving for and the usage of your gifts.

If you are interested in developing the gifts (people) in your congregation, I have materials that I would like to share with you.   Please email me at           Trav

The Latest Statistics for Church Involvement


If you are interested in discovering how your church’s overall involvement is, you can go to the link pasted below.

Pew Research says that the churches of Christ average about 44%.   I think that is pretty impressive.   It is also interesting what churches/religious organizations place near the top and near the bottom.

I am still an advocate of 100% involvement, and I am still convinced that we can have it (please see my article on 100% involvement on this website).

Travis Irwin, Athens, TN

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