Thursday, April 16, 2009

Yes, Christian Leaders Burnout

One of the very real hazards of Christian leadership is burnout.

During a recent interview with Katelyn Beaty about her first book, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic, Anne Jackson relates typical responses she experienced when interviewing Christian leaders in the course of her research.

“Traveling and speaking on burnout since my book released has been an intriguing experience. I’ve found three kinds of people. The first is open to discussing burnout and is actively creating environments that are healthy. The second group is hesitant, but curious. They may not want to admit they are burned out, but something inside compels them to listen. The third group consists of the people who are in denial about burnout. They don’t think it’s possible for them or for their staff. It seems like everyone loves their jobs and everyone is passionately committed and running 110 percent. Burnout, for the most part, is a silent disease.”

Read Katelyn's post here.

For many years I have coached leaders, Christian and non-Christian, in business and in the church, around dealing with burnout. I can vouch for Anne's observation. That third group Anne mentions, “in denial about burnout”, typifies the attitude many take and why she is justified in calling it an 'epidemic'.

For the record: There are Christian leaders experiencing burnout right now.

Burnout has not resulted from these leaders 'getting away from the Lord' or losing their “I'd rather burnout than rust out' attitude. They've put the hours and passionate commitment in. Mostly its source traces right back to people and leaders having to deal with their entrenched attitudes.

I don't mean to sound simplistic in saying this. Burnout is complex. There are always other contributing factors. Of course the leader themselves knowingly or unknowingly contributed to their own situation.

But in my personal, leadership and coaching experience, primary external causes of burnout can often be attributed to people the leader has to deal with.These individuals or small groups hold entrenched ways of thinking and resist considering or exploring any new perspective, commitment or action. They may be vocal or never utter a word.

Where forward commitment meets entrenched attitude, the mix is sure to produce cumulative stress.

The leader, totally committed and passionate in caring about and serving these people, simply cannot make any headway against such attitude. And there is an exacting toll to pay, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

And let's be honest. It can go the other way. The leader certainly can be the problem at times. The leader may have a lot to learn spiritually, emotionally and interpersonally. Other leaders can be swamped in their destructive wake.

Which brings me back to the current reality of Anne's parents. Her Dad having left the pastorate ... “But almost 13 years later, my parents are still deeply hurt from the last experience. They have only recently started attending a church. . . . Their faith in the local church has yet to be rekindled.”

Take notice. Wake up. Burnout in Christian leaders is real, alive and well. It has serious consequences. This story is one of thousands. I hear them all the time.

Leadership teams - start learning the signs of rising distress in your fellow leaders. Converse honestly about the strains each of you feel. Read Anne's book. Read other books on burnout. Read articles on my website or elsewhere that I have written. Have a conversation with me. Get coaching. Bottom line, ratchet your awareness way up. Look out for one another. Be proactive in caring for one another.

Al Gore has dibs on the first 'Inconvenient Truth'. Burnout, across North America and around the world may be the second inconvenient truth. It is the 'silent disease' that stalks committed leaders, executives and professionals. But it is not the end of the story. There are solutions and there is recovery and life after burnout.

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