Ashes are for Ash Wednesday, not Your Ministry

Ashes are for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday should signify a contrite heart, not symbolize burnout. Yet, Lent is a hectic, demanding season that can expose signs of burnout in church leaders.

To help ensure ashes mark Ash Wednesday and not your ministry, here are some basics on dealing with burnout.

Understanding Burnout

Burnout is the result of prolonged emotional, physical and spiritual stress. It is often marked by circumstances that seem hopeless. For example, when there is no end in sight for a stressful situation at work or a conflicted relationship.

Burnout is pernicious because it happens slowly, over an extended period of time. The descent can be almost imperceptible. Recovery from burnout also takes a great deal of time. Those I know who have made that long trek said it took longer than they anticipated.

Friends who have experienced burnout were often considered successful before they flamed out. Some of them paid such a high price for success that they ended up emotionally and spiritually drained. Others were energized by developing a ministry, but drained by sustaining the ministry.

Know the Signs

When I suspect a leader is experiencing burnout, I ask three questions to evaluate my suspicion. Is the leader chronically tired? Has the leader lost interest in his or her vocation? Does the leader lack motivation for work or service?

An affirmative answer to one or more of these questions does not prove leaders are experiencing burnout. It does mean I should explore the issue more thoroughly. The same questions are useful for personal assessment as to whether you are experiencing signs of burnout.

Verbalize Concerns and Intent

If you suspect you’re burning out, talk about it with someone you trust. After generations of research about the power of verbalizing intent, we still don’t fully understand why it is so powerful. Yet, it is. Talk about your concerns.

When you talk, focus on what has happened in your life the past year, not the past month. Look for consistent pressures or stressors during that period of time. Review the above information together, especially the diagnostic questions.

If people you trust think that you are experiencing burnout, you can either seek professional help in recovering or try to recover on your own.

Know Yourself

If you choose to reverse the process yourself, the more self-aware you are, the better. You must understand the cause of your burnout and what recharges your batteries.

One quick source for self-discovery is taking a personality profile, such as the DiSC profile or Strengths Finder. Each of these reveals contexts and relationships that drain or energize you.

Supervisors or co-workers can also prove helpful in assessing what takes a toll on you and what builds you up. Make sure you confide in fellow workers you can trust.

Taking a couple of weeks to reflect and pray about the sources of your burnout and wellness can also provide insights. You can capture insights about how you are wired through journaling your thoughts and questions.


Next, you need to figure out how to lean into those activities or relationships that energize you. The rule of thumb is to do something daily, monthly and yearly.

Each day I do something that is creative, whether it’s writing or photography or graphic design. Even 15 minutes helps fill my tank.  Once a month I explore a new wilderness area or new trail in a nearby park. Yearly, I take time off for more adventuring. This is usually with my family but sometimes alone in isolated places.

How do you recharge your batteries? Share your thoughts on burnout in the comments or shoot me an email.

2 thoughts on “Ashes are for Ash Wednesday, not Your Ministry

  1. I really like this one. Right now, I am finding some burnout in my life. I really like the “recharge section” at the end. 15 minutes a day, a half day or day a month, and a longer period each year is doable. It is the beginning of measurable goals that can help us before we crash and burn. Thanks for the blog and for your friendship.


  2. I once read an article on this topic and what you shared was also mentioned. I still remember the advice that I’ve sought to follow: “Divert daily, withdraw weekly, abandon annually.” Blessings!


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