Leading with a Full Tank: 4 Keys to Eliminating Ministry Burnout

If you are like me, burnout and dejection are familiar companions in ministry. In fact, I’ve struggled with both for most of my ministry career.

Before serving as Executive Pastor at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas for almost 20 years, I was a Chick-fil-A owner/operator in Cincinnati, Ohio.  And I was DRIVEN!  I set high goals and relentlessly pursued them. I sacrificed everything for my vision of success and impact.  

It paid off. In 1996, our store won the highest Chick-fil-A honor, the Symbol of Success Award, for a 30%+ year-over-year sales increase. But it also came at a high cost. I flamed out. I was done and burnt to a crisp. When a friend called about a ministry position at a church in Las Vegas, I couldn’t hit the escape button fast enough.  

I entered the world of full-time pastoral ministry in Vegas and quickly went to work. I used my leadership gifts and learning from Chick-fil-A to pull the lost, people who were drowning in the ocean of Las Vegas, into our lifeboat at Canyon Ridge. It was awesome. Witnessing life change was the norm. Every day, people far from God who were living destructively came to know Christ as Lord and Savior. It was like a scene from the book of Acts all over again.

And you know what happened?  By 2002, I was again burning out.

When I left Chick-fil-A in 1997, I blamed the company. By 2002, I was blaming Canyon Ridge and the megachurch in general. Sound familiar to anyone else?

And then God used two men to change my life: John Walker and Kevin Odor. With God’s help, John and Kevin led me to see the real problem.  In the name of doing something great for Him, I was not trusting Him for the results. I was trusting myself.  

Through this journey, I discovered one of the keys to avoiding self-dependence, and the burnout that follows, is to monitor the “fullness of my tank.” Burning out is effectively like running out of fuel in your car. You have no more to give and no energy to keep going. Just as you routinely check the fuel level in your car as you drive, I believe there are four areas each one of us needs to monitor as we lead. Although we are all wired differently in terms of what fills our tank, each of us must regularly refuel in these four areas.

Spiritual Life.  What are the practices that most relationally connect you to God? I had this vision that a great relationship with God was waking up an hour before my family, reading on the sun porch in a rocking chair, and then journaling for 30 minutes. I’ve discovered this just isn’t going to be the way for me. However, I can’t deny the importance of making this connection with God.

Here is my solution. I now do my quiet time in bed for five to ten minutes every morning before my feet hit the ground and I get going. Since making this change, I’ve been more consistent and more connected to God than ever before in my life. I now have a regular rhythm of spiritual connection and it is filling my spiritual tank.

Physical Life. What does your body need to feel energized and ready to go? Running was once my nemesis. I hated it. Now, 30-60 minutes of running 3-5 times a week releases energy for the rest of my day. I actually crave it now. It helps me lead from a more centered, connected, and energized place.

Emotional Life. What activities fill your emotional tank so you can be healthy and available for life’s demands? For me, it’s the ocean. The form this takes or the way I engage with the ocean doesn’t matter. I can be in it, on it, or by it. But however it happens, the ocean does something for me like nothing else. When I am near it, all is right in the world. I sense God more keenly. I exercise more regularly. I have deep and meaningful conversations with my family there. The ocean is my own personal psychiatrist.  

Intellectual Life. What stimulates your mind? What challenges you to learn? For me it is adventure and discovery. I love traveling outside the US. I enjoy going to the downtown area of a new city and exploring, or trying a new “locals only” restaurant. I have learned that these activities intellectually stimulate me. These experiences motivate me to research and learn like no class or book ever has.  

I’ve worked on church leadership with hundreds of senior and executive pastors over the last few years. In addition to growing in my understanding of my own struggles with burnout, I’ve realized how prevalent this issue is with many other leaders. I am convinced we must all be leading from a full personal tank – spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual – if we want to see the fullness of what God can do through our leadership. What needs to change in your life in these key areas?

At Intentional Churches, we have the privilege of leading church leaders through Intentional LifePlans.  Maintaining a full tank and avoiding burnout is just one aspect of the many things we review while we pray for clarity and conviction about God’s plan. It would be an honor to speak about a LifePlan for you and your leaders!

Doug Parks

About Doug Parks

Doug served for seventeen years as the Executive Pastor at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. Over the last several years, Doug has been helping churches throughout the country develop a plan to grow and a prioritized way to execute the plan.

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